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The Head That Wears a Crown

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Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. –Henry IV

 


 

Her people no longer look at her.

All right, Audrey admits to herself, that is a gross exaggeration. They look at her, but they never meet her eyes. They keep their gazes averted, murmur their greetings and concerns to her shoulders, to her left ear, even to her feet if they are feeling particularly abject.  

Audrey tries not to let it bother her. She is queen now, in the wake of her father’s poisoning. This type of reverence is due her rank. Sometimes, though, she just wants to meet someone’s gaze without the other person flinching.

Still, she is too busy to let it trouble her all that much. There is so much work to be done—Savage’s plans have destroyed her palace, her father’s mind, and a major percentage of her kingdom’s economy. Her people, the peasants and nobility alike, cry out, and she must figure out a way to answer them.

There is also the matter of rooting out Savage’s compatriots and putting them to death. Audrey will find these traitors to the crown, find the one who poisoned her father, and she will—

Well. Perhaps that is something best left unsaid, even in the privacy of her own thoughts.

 


 

“And I tell you, Kasnia’s factories stand ready to build another space station,” Audrey says, holding tightly to the reins of her temper. On her computer screen, the committee looks unimpressed. “You cannot let the actions of a madman and a few henchmen condemn the rest of my kingdom, gentlemen, madam. We can still provide whatever materials you need. My people are crying out for work to do.”

“With all due respect, Your Highness, the loss of the space station was a major blow to many nations.” General Marcos steeples his fingers and leans forward, close enough that the screen shows the acne scars on his cheeks. His voice, oily and insincere, washes over her. “We understand that Kasnia poured a lot of money and labor into the project, but your nation was not the only one to lose money when the space station was destroyed. Many countries are suffering financial repercussions.”

Audrey fights back the sharp retort that rises to her lips. Besides, this is not the first time Marcos has used the wrong address for her. She is beginning to think it deliberate. She extends her hands, looks to the other members of the committee. “Tell me, what shall I tell my people? That we will close the factories? The space program has been Kasnia’s life-blood for twelve years. Our economy depends upon it.”

The lone female delegate sighs. “I am sorry, Queen Audrey,” Miyamoto says. “It will be at least a few years before another similar project is even contemplated, much less begun.”

Audrey does not let them see her slump. She will not radiate defeat like some beaten dog. Instead she tilts her head and says, “And in a few years, will this committee seek Kasnia’s aid once more?”

Miyamoto shifts in her chair, her expression tightening. “I do not speak for this committee, but if I am still a member when the project begins anew, I will recommend your factories. Savage is gone. I see no reason not to utilize your workforce.”

Audrey keeps her gaze focused on Miyamoto and dips her chin the slightest bit in acknowledgement. It is a small thing, to have a single voice in favor of Kasnia on the committee, but one favorable voice is better than none.

Still, as Marcos continues his insincere apologies, Audrey wonders what she will tell her people.  

 


 

“I do not know what you should say to them,” Diana says, when Audrey asks her in the privacy of Audrey’s bedchambers. Diana’s frown is apologetic, her voice soft with sympathy. “We do not use money on Themyscira. I am…unused to this type of concern.”

“Ah, yes, Themyscira, a land where communism works,” Audrey says. It’s meant to be a joke, but it comes out a little bitter instead. She rests her head on Diana’s thigh so that she cannot see Diana’s expression change, cannot watch the sympathy turn to irritation at Audrey’s childish pettiness.

There is a moment of silence in which Audrey takes a slow breath, and then Diana begins to stroke her hair. The gesture is soothing. The tension that has tightened her neck and shoulders when Audrey first studied the committee’s faces and realized their answer starts to ease.

“So many of my people were already angry about the space station before it was destroyed,” she says bleakly. “Now we have spent twelve years draining the treasury for nothing.”

“If I could help, I would,” Diana says. She does not stop stroking Audrey’s hair. “I find my skills as a warrior are not as useful in diplomacy in this century as they would have been a millennia or two ago.” Her voice turns wry as she adds, “Apparently hitting things to prove your point is no longer politic.”  

“You could hit Marcos for me,” Audrey suggests, only partly serious. Against her cheek, Diana’s thigh muscles tighten in anticipation or amusement or a mixture of both. Audrey can’t help but giggle quietly at the picture her words conjure; it is exceedingly lovely to imagine one’s lover beating up a particularly insufferable man. “It would not be politic, but I would enjoy it. And I suspect Miyamoto would as well.”

Audrey shifts in place, turns her head just enough that she can drop a quick kiss on Diana’s toned stomach. Audrey laughs again when a muscle jumps against her mouth. Diana shifts on the bed, a soft repressed sound escaping her lips as Audrey lowers her mouth a little further, lets her lips linger at the spot where Diana’s hip bone presses against skin.

Audrey is not known for delaying pleasure, but she holds off the more enjoyable part of the evening for a moment. Some things need to be said. “You are helping, truly,” she says after a moment, softer, affection coloring the words. “Although I’m certain you must be tired of my whining by now.”

“You are not whining,” Diana says, and Audrey raises her face to stare at this boldfaced lie. Audrey has been bleating like a helpless child for the past half-hour at least, if not longer. “You’re concerned for your people and your country. You are voicing legitimate worries.”

“Thank you,” Audrey says after moment. It feels inadequate, but she cannot think of what else to say. Besides, Diana’s expression is set in a way that means she will argue them both breathless if Audrey tries to object.

It seems to be enough, for Diana’s grave look shifts to something else entirely, her eyes darkening with a familiar hunger. “Now,” she murmurs, her hand dropping from Audrey’s hair to caress her cheek, “I think we have done enough talking for the evening….”

Audrey gratefully banishes her concerns, putting them away for a few hours.

She raises an eyebrow, assumes a surprised look. “Oh? I thought perhaps we might talk about the League. I saw that last video. Did you really tell the ambassador of--”

Enough,” Diana growls, smiling, and Audrey, laughing softly, offers Diana kisses rather than more words.

 


 

The once bustling factory is empty of people save for herself and her bodyguards as Audrey walks through the workspaces where her people had built bits and pieces of the space station.

She was a child when she stood by her father’s side as he cut the ribbon on their newest, state-of-the-art factory. She remembers being bored and too-warm in her formal dress, but it’s a distant memory, feels more like a hundred years ago rather than only a dozen.

Audrey walks the corridors, studying the space, the empty desks, the discarded twisted pieces of metal left abandoned in the aftermath of shutting down the building. Her heels clatter loudly on the linoleum no matter how she adjusts her stride; her guards, with their thick-soled boots, tread more quietly.

Her guards have done a thorough check-through of the factory, she knows, so it is perfectly reasonable to let out a surprised gasp when she opens the laboratory doors and sees a man standing there.

He is facing away from her, hands clasped behind his back as he studies one of the machines. He turns, smoothly, at the sound, and smiles.

One of her guards growls and takes a step forward, but Audrey’s already holding up a hand. She recognizes that face, would recognize it even if she still only read fashion magazines. That smiling face has graced the cover of nearly every American and European magazine currently in print.

“Mr. Wayne,” she says, voice dry, switching over to English smoothly. “I do not believe we have an appointment.”

Bruce Wayne’s smile twists somewhat, turns rueful. “We don’t. I was hoping to speak with you in private.”

Audrey raises an eyebrow and lets her gaze travel slowly around the abandoned laboratory, at the dust already beginning to coat the machines. “This is indeed private,” she agrees, then turns. “Go. I will call for you if I need you.”

Her guards wear varying expressions at her command. Some look surprised, others resigned, and a few others almost mutinous. “But--” one of the surprised ones begins to object, silenced by an elbow to his gut.

Audrey speaks in Kasnian, sharpening her voice. “Bruce Wayne is a playboy who sometimes remembers he is a decent businessman. I will be fine. Go and wait in the hallway.”

Her guards mumble assent and file out one by one. Once the door is shut behind the last of them, Audrey turns to find Wayne’s smile has turned amused. “A playboy who sometimes remembers he is a decent businessman?” he says. “I’m flattered. That’s a more generous description than most.”

Audrey raises an eyebrow. So the man speaks Kasnian, and with the barest trace of an accent. Interesting. “Your company is one of the most powerful companies in the world, Mr. Wayne. You must be doing something right.” She allows herself an honest, self-deprecating smile. “Besides, I understand too well how the title of a rich partier might not describe one's self completely.”

Something flashes in Wayne’s eyes, and he dips his head in acknowledgment. “It’s because of my company that I am here, Your Majesty. I believe that Wayne Enterprises and the country of Kasnia can help each other.”

Audrey studies his features, sees nothing but raw honesty. But then, she had not seen through Savage’s lies either, until it was too late. “And how do you propose we help each other?” she asks at last, keeping her voice neutral.

Wayne pauses. “First, let me say how sorry I was to hear about your father. I’m told the doctors have done everything they can for him.”

It’s not a question, but she answers as though he asked one anyway, forcing the words past a suddenly tight throat. “Yes. And thank you.”

Wayne nods. There’s a pause, and Audrey cannot decide if the question was meant to throw her off-kilter or if this pause is time for her to compose herself. Whatever the case, she sets her shoulders and says, “You were about to explain, Mr. Wayne.”

“Yes. Your father built a state-of-the-art factory and kept it state-of-the-art. This factory is one of the most advanced in the world. It seems to me that it would be a criminal waste to permanently close such a factory.”

“You want to use the factory,” Audrey says flatly. She firmly squelches any hope that wells in her chest. Wayne Enterprises has branches in western Europe and Asia, but he has never ventured into the northeast part of the continent.

“Yes,” Wayne says again. “I—that is, my engineers—have been working on a few car designs that utilize some of the technology created for the space station and shuttles. It would save my company millions not to have to build our own machines, and the collaboration would help keep your factories running.”

It’s his turn to study Audrey’s face. Apparently she hasn’t hidden her skepticism well, for he nods and pulls out a small folder from under his coat. He offers it to her. “Look it over, get a second opinion from your lawyers. Put it to a vote if you feel your country deserves a say. The project doesn’t have to start immediately, so there’s no deadline on the answer.”

Audrey takes the folder, her gaze focused on his expression, which radiates earnestness. “That is generous of you,” she says, still doubtful. It seems too perfect, somehow, even though Wayne has stated his non-altruistic reasons.

And there is also the fact that Wayne has not attempted to flirt with her at all during the conversation. She has heard stories. Wayne is not against mixing business with pleasure. She knows she is beautiful. It is a fact that has worked both for and against her over the years.

“I believe this project will help us both, Your Majesty, but you must do what is best for your country. Take all the time you need to decide,” Wayne says.

“Very well,” Audrey says. She turns towards the door, and then pauses. Time for a test. She turns back, offers him a slow smile. “I understand you like to mix pleasure with your business, Mr. Wayne.”

“I do, from time to time,” Wayne says, his voice neutral. When she looks at him, his expression is impassive, but there is something in his eyes that makes her want to take a step back.

This time, when she smiles, she lets it reach her eyes. “Then let me drive you to Kashta’s. You have not lived until you have had real Kasnian cuisine, and Kashta will give you a table if I ask.”

Something flickers across his face as he realizes she is not trying to seduce him, merely testing him, and then he smiles. This one, unlike the others, is genuine, and softens the harsh lines of his face. He is even more handsome when he smiles, she thinks idly, and if she were not enjoying the unique experience of monogamy with Diana, she would probably try to seduce him. As it stands, she simply smiles back as he says, “Thank you. I believe I would enjoy that.”

“Let us go,” Audrey says, and keeps the folder tucked under her arm and safe against her heart.

 


 

When Audrey tells Diana about the encounter, standing on the roof of her second palace, she is a little startled by Diana’s reaction. At first Diana’s expression goes blank, and then, after a long moment, laughter bubbles up from her chest and the Amazon laughs until she cries.

“You did not trust him because he didn’t try to seduce you,” Diana says at last, still a little breathless as she wipes her eyes.

Audrey tosses her head and says, a bit loftily, “Well, I am beautiful. It seems strange he would not at least flirt.”

Diana’s expression softens and she reaches out a callused hand to stroke Audrey’s cheek. “I believe he was looking at you first as a businesswoman and queen instead of a potential lover,” she says.

“A novel experience,” Audrey mutters, leaning into Diana’s touch. “I have my lawyers looking the proposal and contract over.” She sighs a little wistfully. “If this proposal is what it seems to be, this could save Kasnia’s economy.”

“I’m glad,” Diana says softly. “And I believe you can trust Bruce Wayne.”

“Forgive me, Diana, but I wasn’t aware you knew the man. What makes you so certain I should trust him?”

The corner of Diana’s mouth creases, like she’s hiding a smile or a frown. Her eyes, though, are bright with amusement as she says, “We danced once-- the night I met you, actually. And I have studied enough of Man’s World’s businesses to know he is an honest entrepreneur.”  

Audrey wrinkles her nose. “Very well, I will think on it and see what my lawyers have to say. Now, on to lighter matters. Did you know I have never been to the Grand Canyon?”

Diana blinks, thrown off by this non sequitor. “I didn’t,” she says, a little puzzled.

Audrey leans forward into Diana’s space, close enough that she can smell the pear-scented shampoo from Diana’s earlier shower. She smiles. “I thought we might go see it together. I realize you probably saw the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World being built, but I doubt you’ve seen the Seven Natural Wonders.”

“I protected the Great Barrier Reef from a villain once,” Diana deadpans, and Audrey laughs.

She presses a quick kiss to Diana’s warm, willing mouth. “First the Grand Canyon, then perhaps we can visit the Great Barrier Reef for pleasure rather than duty.”

“Now?” Diana says, and Audrey can hear the smile in her voice.

“Now,” Audrey agrees, and throws herself from the roof.

“Audrey!” Diana yells, more exasperated than concerned.

Audrey laughs, feeling free for the first time in weeks. She spreads her arms, watches the ground rushing towards her, and waits for Diana to catch her.