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Complicated Lives

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Diana felt that she was lost. After Darkseid’s latest invasion, she was left questioning herself, her history. Darkseid was now the least of her concerns, though he was not put to rest once and for all. He was around. Somewhere.

But as her memories of long past began to contradict each other and she couldn’t find her home she knew she couldn’t turn to the people she normally worked with. The Superman that appeared after Clark’s death hadn’t quite warmed up to the Justice League. Batman and the others were not there for her beginning. They would not be of any help.

A part of her felt bitter and self loathing. Why had she lost sight? The people who had been there in the beginning had always been there. She had moved on, leaving them behind. None of them deserved to be tossed aside for the sake of her new role in the world. Her reasoning for losing contact, in fairness, was a valid reason. She did not want them to get hurt. Especially after one of her dear friends was nearly killed twice within the last couple of years just for the fact that he was involved with the League by association.

Already, she had lost a great love in Clark Joseph Kent, replaced by another Superman again...except it isn’t him. It will never be him. This Superman didn’t know her history like the past one did. Hell, the Superman she knew didn’t exactly know either.

And now, more than ever, she needed people who knew her before she became Wonder Woman. When she was Diana who first stepped into this strange world. When she was at her most vulnerable. Those who offered a hand to get her acclimated into this world.

She realized that she missed that connection, the connection she had with the people here when she could barely understand the language. Those who she could communicate with just on emotion alone.

She would always find it incredibly ironic yet highly appropriate that the first person she met from the outside world was a man. Not one who came bearing war and aggression, despite his uniform and the tales from her sisters. A man who came injured and wanting help. Diana had come to realize that this man felt deeply just like she did and try as she might, she could not ignore that their history since the moment they met was always linked. And would always be surrounded by conflicting emotions, deep wounds, and heartfelt feelings.

The closer and more complicated her relationship with that man, Steve Trevor, became, the more she tried to distance herself. It was too much. She never let him know that, but it was. It was of no fault of his, but Diana really needed a place where things weren’t complicated. Where it felt that she and everyone around her would be simplified. She wouldn’t have to worry about having the blood of Steve Trevor and many of her friends on her hands. She could BE a hero among heroes.

Now she realized that was a shallow and forced thought. Steve Trevor and Etta Candy are heroes. Both fight for things without the benefit of having any powers. But their fights were complex. Diana fought to protect mankind. Etta and Steve fought often against fellow man but still pursued the greater good of humanity.

She found Clark. Who appeared to be best of both worlds. He was raised in this world but still had perspective she had. They both became close, both sharing the fear of what would become of their loved ones should the worst come to fruition.

Diana at this time she had assured Steve that they would remain forever friends, but she was disgusted with herself with how she handled it. Rather than sit him down and tell him the truth, she stopped contact while keeping the door open. That was perhaps harder than their relationship, leaving him oblivious to what she was wanting and feeling. Leaving him with the burden that he had somehow failed her. That he somehow wasn’t good enough.

It was one thing to peg down the male ego. It was quite another to inadvertently crush a man’s self-worth. And that she did. And that she would never find the heart to apologize for. No apology would suffice. Not after he was STILL hurt, despite her distance.

Lex Luthor called him pathetic. Grail called him a pet. Everyone called him “ex boy toy.” As if everything he had built up for himself over his life was suddenly just a shallow facade after Diana cut off contact. Those words spoken about him likely hurt her more than him. It brought the guilt to the surface. And it still connected him to her, despite her being involved with Clark.

Then with Darkseid and his daughter Steve was used as a weapon against Diana. The most vindictive kind of punishment for an innocent man.

Punishment seemed to surround the people she was closest to. Barbara Minerva, the first woman she could have a full conversation with in this world, was punished for her own greed and curiosity. Meeting Diana directed Barbara to the wrong gods. Gods who took advantage of her willingness and thirst for knowledge and the divine.

Etta Candy, along with her supportive generals were frequently dragged through the mud by their peers for making such accommodations for the metahumans, especially Diana. Etta handled it well. She ignored the criticism and remained on task. She got a happy ending in getting a promotion she so desired, but so long as Etta was considered an ally to the metahumans, she would receive the most ire should one of the metahumans go rogue.

All three had been shot at, stabbed, maimed, mind controlled, and broken during the hard years of working directly with Diana and her influence. Even more had suffered.

However, shame was the last thing on her mind when she reached out to Barbara after years apart and Barbara, now cursed with the Cheetah, was still dwelling in the jungles. Her great fortune not only brought her back to Barbara but she found Steve as well. Tied up and in a bit of distress, but probably not the worst thing he experienced. Quite quickly, her desire to get help from her first friends brought them all back to her again.

After they took Barbara home, Diana thought to confront her feelings head-on. And the first person she had to confront was Steve. She asked him after his meeting with his commander if they could meet somewhere alone. Wherever he chose, she would find him.

Talking to him had been on her mind ever since Darkseid’s defeat and Clark’s death. But just thinking about Steve gave her great sorrow. How much she wasn’t able to protect him from Grail and how she treated him when they broke it off. Steve wasn’t the type to hold a grudge, but she had a feeling that she and Superman were not people he wanted to engage with recently.

But he said to her in Africa, “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” she replied, not even thinking.

Now, she found him sitting on his truck, overlooking the beach, taking a harsh swig of the beer he had in his hand. He cleaned up, shaving his beard into a goatee, washing his hair so that it was no longer damp with sweat and grime, but rather soft against the setting sun.

He looked older than his years, not by much, but here in his mid thirties it wasn’t hard to tell that his experiences was having an affect on him. It was strange thinking of Steve and how he had progressed throughout their time together. When they first met, he was fresh faced with a sunny disposition, naive, optimistic. Then as his responsibilities in the military grew his temperament took a bit of a 180, especially once he became the Justice League liason. He still did his best to considerate to everyone, but his patience was thinning. His new responsibilities trained him to be paranoid around metahumans and the League. The amount of pressure and abuse caused him to have a more bitter outlook. Defending the League for their mistakes in front of Congress left him enemies within the very government he served. The League didn’t exactly treat him well either. With the exception of Batman, who recognized his value as an ally in government, he was otherwise regarded as Amanda Waller’s dog, a bureaucratic slave. Sure they would save him if he was in trouble, but in every other regard he was treated with little to no respect, in spite of his attempts to help. Diana leaving him certainly exacerbated his bitterness, and left him a more taciturn man, prone to distrust and anger, and becoming less and less willing to defend a group of superpowered beings who all but proved to him that they regarded mankind as inferior.

By all intents and purposes, one would think it would get even worse for him when Amanda Waller removed him from his position in A.R.G.U.S. Apparently, the Wall wasn’t exactly keen on having a man who was just mind-controlled by an Amazon and the Anti-Life Equation being the top officer in the unit. To her, it was a weakness. A weakness she could not tolerate in an agency that dealt specifically with metahumans. He wasn’t demoted, per se, but he no longer held as high of a command that he did previously. Being transferred to being Master Chief upon Waller’s recommendation meant that he would be serving under a longer line of authority, taking direct orders more often, and only working in military affairs.

It turned out to be the best thing to happen to him. In his new position he could help people, one of the very reasons he entered the military. He could save lives, instead of playing politician between his government and a group of powerful beings.

Now he seemed calm. The world weariness settling down into calm wisdom of how the world works. A maturity that they both had grown into.

Diana herself had changed. She came into this world full of wonder, critical but loving every step she took, every person she met. Joining the League, she now had a specific role to play. Usually aggressive, just given her part on the team as an enforcer. High pressure, high anxiety, she wasn’t exactly the wistful optimist she originally was. She learned that was not her path. It shouldn’t be her path. She was resolved that the only reason why the last several years had been as dark as they have was because the people who were supposed to bring hope were largely jaded individuals themselves. Now, after Darkseid, the Anti-Monitor and the loss of Superman, Wonder Woman had herself matured, realizing that loss and heartache was sometimes unavoidable.

Diana was late, but it should have come to no surprise to her that Steve was still waiting. He picked the location, probably incredibly telling that it was a beach, a similar setting of their first meeting. It may have been subconscious or that Steve like the sea. Either way, they were alone, walking side by side along the shores, struggling to come up with words. After a few moments of trying to decide who should speak first, Steve repeated, “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you a lot.”

She had no choice to but to repeat “I missed you too.” It was the truth. She had to speak the truth. And in speaking the truth she had reminded Steve that if ever he needed her she’d be there. The broken expression on his face was telling. Diana pushed him to tell the truth. “You never did.”

“You already had someone,” he replied staring down at the waves licking at their feet. That burned. It burned even more when he continued, “And he was Superman.”

There was bitter feelings. A bitterness that needed to be cleansed, even as his response to her reasoning behind her relationship with Clark was simply, “Well, when you two can fly…”

There it was. The insecurity. The belief that her relationship with Clark was superficial at best. He didn’t say it outright, but Steve wasn’t hard to crack. She would’ve been angry in any other situation. To imply that she gave her love away willy nilly to the first flying being she’d met should’ve offended her. But it didn’t. She knew what it looked like and a small part of herself believed that she was with Clark for the fact that he had similar powers as she. But she could not ignore that she loved Clark Kent at a time, despite an increasingly rocky relationship and a very apparent lack of understanding with one another as their relationship grew deeper. She wasn’t quite over his death, but she was prepared and ready to move on.

Diana told him what she long ignored. “As arrogant as it may sound I am very good at loving, but not romance.”

Romance was something that eluded her. She can love with all her heart, but when it came to steps in being in a part of romance, she had very little clue. Perhaps it was because she came from a place where love was free and flowing. The relationships she had on the island were the result of feelings and passion bubbling over. She had fallen in love with many women on the island, but obligations were not necessary. Romance, therefore, wasn’t needed. When it was time to move on, they moved on. Life moved on in blissful immortality.

With her male relationships it was different. There was an unvoiced expectation that whatever romance they brought, it should be reciprocated. It may not have been asked, but appreciated. Thinking that a romance would be easy with a man who was fragile enough she could hurt was naive.

It was also naive to think that a romance with a man with her powers would be any more simple. Steve’s expression, one that used to be full of hurt and strong feelings had softened to one of understanding. He listened. He paid attention.

He was patient as she tried to resolve her feelings and she explained them the best she could. “I have never forgotten you, Steve.” she pronounced.

Steve likewise made a pronouncement that shook her, “Wherever you are. Whatever you need. I will be by your side. As long as I live.”

She turned to face him. He looked timid, as if he didn’t intend to let that pronouncement slip. But he didn’t take it back.

“I am going to kiss you now, Steve,” she warned.

Expressionless, he replied, “I am entirely okay with you doing that.”

No more exploration. She knew how to kiss a man now. It wasn’t that much different from kissing a woman. The difference was the scratchiness of Steve’s beard. Even then, she didn’t much care. It wasn’t passionate. That wasn’t either of their style, especially at this point. No lust was involved, just intimate affection for one another, shared in one single moment.

When they pulled away, they didn’t part immediately. They let the sounds of the ocean fill the air as they touched foreheads, their touch portraying their feelings rather than spoken word.

His buzzing cellphone interrupted the quiet.

Laughing in his chest he pulled away. Now he seemed rejuvenated, as if Diana’s kiss washed away the years of stress and weariness and sadness. They smiled at each other, a wash of relief flooding them.

The phone call was moderately urgent. Diana was surprised at how quickly Barbara and Etta cracked the code to getting her back home. But the conclusion they came to made sense. Her home, her life was of spiritual existence rather than physical. No matter how much she refused to say that she was a god, they brought up points that seemed to indicate otherwise.

Regardless, Diana was set to get home immediately.

“I will take Steve with me,” she said. “His experience as an outsider landing on Themyscira can be useful. And to keep me focused.”

Etta would not stop grinning. Barbara rolled her eyes, but agreed, “Yes, however Mister Trevor landed on your island when it’s a spiritual place is quite baffling. It took me a while to find Themyscira and I was actually LOOKING for it. Mister Trevor for all intents and purposes stumbled into a spiritual dimension inadvertently. He could be a piece of this mystery.”

“But it all relies on her,” Steve spoke up. “I cannot just find Themyscira. She has direct access. Or had. I doubt me walking around will cause us to ‘stumble’ onto paradise again.”

Barbara gave a hollow laugh and rebutted, “See, you say that Mister Trevor as if you don’t have a history of falling into strange things yourself.”

“Hey--”

“I am just exploring the theory, Steven, that all of us, all of our involvement was no accident. If something’s messing with Diana’s memories, then who’s to say that same entity or whatever it is, has had a greater hand in this than simply confusing our princess here.”

“Please don’t tell me the good doctor here believes in One Consciousness. That everything isn’t coincidental.”

Barbara flew up her hands in a mock astonished gesture, “Says the man who is one cosmology book and a Bill Hicks album away from being a psychonaut.”

Diana thrust herself between the two, “Okay, okay, enough of theories, they don’t matter right now. But Barbara is right Steve, we have to assume that everything is connected somehow for now.”

“Right,” Etta spoke up, “We will reserve a landing point for you tomorrow late at 1900 hours. Steve will keep us in touch, just in case you two need any assistance. Right now, all of you go home and get some rest.”

“I would hope that would include you Etta,” said Diana, “You’ve been up non-stop for the past few days.”

The short, plump woman smiled, her freckles stretching with her grin, “I will most assuredly get rest. No need to worry. Now get along, all of you.”

Everyone murmured their agreements. Steve however lagged behind with Diana.

“Well, as the boss said, I should probably head home. Do you need me to drop you off somewhere Diana?” he asked, cursing himself for the offer. Diana could goddamn fly, she didn’t need a ride from him.

“I think I’ll go home with you,” she said casually as if she were deciding on which restaurant to go to, but it made Steve give a sudden stop. He glanced around wondering if anyone caught what he just heard.

He lowered his voice, “Y-you wanna go home with me?”

Diana nodded, looking rather impatient, “I would.”

Perhaps she was going too fast for Steve, but tomorrow they would search for her home. She wanted him with her, but who knows what would await them. She rather spend her evening with someone she held newfound affection for rather than alone.

Steve licked his suddenly dry lips. He ran a rough hand through his goatee as if the very request was a surreal dream.

“Sure, sure, of course.”

Chapter Text

It was dark when they drove to Steve’s government issued condo in Alexandria, Virginia. It was a different apartment than she remembered. His old one was on the ground floor, was a studio with the bedroom, kitchen, and living room all combined. A regular bachelor pad and pretty menial for an officer of Colonel status. However it was closer to the metropolitan DC area for convenience as he worked regularly with the White House.

When he transferred to being a full time Navy SEAL Master Chief and his duties no longer lied with working directly with the White House every day, they gave him updated accommodations and moved him nearer to the base where military families were housed. His condo was larger, probably able to hold a small family. A living room, a fairly large kitchenette, a second bedroom that Steve converted to an office, and a master bedroom.

“It’s not much,” Steve sighed. “It’s home away from home, if I’m ever home.”

She laughed at his little saying. “It’s quite alright. My flat in London is about the same size. I, too, do not see it often.”

It wasn’t as if Steve ever considered this his home. It was more of a place to sleep until his next mission. The sparse furnishings reflected that. Diana knew home for him was a house on the rocky cliffs of northern coastal Maine. He frequently lamented not being there to keep up the place he was raised in. He paid property taxes, and occasionally would rent it out during the summer if he wasn’t on shore leave. But he wasn’t able to live there full time.

He and his sister inherited the title of the house after their mother perished in a jet plane crash. His sister lived in a duplex in Alexandria now with her family and would go up to the house every once in awhile for upkeep, but in regards to actually living there, his sister left that open to him. However, every year they’d get together and have the same conversation on what to do with the house. And every year they were never able to pull the trigger and sell the place. Mostly because his sister insisted that their childhood home would be a perfect place for a family if Steve ever had one, something that Steve didn’t have the heart to discuss at length with his sister, knowing that she just wanted him to be as happy as she was.

Diana saw the house when Steve took her on a quick tour of his hometown several years ago. Even then it looked like it needed some tender love and care. And it was apparent that Steve had little time for anything lately, let alone taking frequent visits to the house to keep it clean and well functioning.

Inside his current condo, he had little trinkets and objects she remembered from his last apartment. Like a model of a WWI bi-plane he made in high school engineering class, photos of his time with family and friends, including one of when he was much younger, holding his baby goddaughter, Sandy, at her baptism. There was a globe showing the stars and constellations of the night sky, standing next a bull’s horn with a sea serpent carved into it. He got that horn on a naval mission in the North Sea. An elderly Icelandic shepherd sold these carvings from his home.

He had quite a few books. He wasn’t a scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but it was apparent that he liked to read about all sorts of topics. Books on all sorts of languages, living and dead, several Greek to English dictionaries, essays on Babylonian, and a dusty notebook that held notes on the Amazonian dialect that he took when Diana first came to this world. She remembered when he first tried to speak her language to her and she found it hard to resist laughing. The Amazonian dialect was developed from a largely feminine source, so it was strange to hear the words come out in a man’s voice.

Underneath that shelf were books on engineering, military history, mythology, paganism, MK Ultra and other government programs, and Steve’s favorite book, a well-worn tome titled Am Bìoball Gàidhlig, a Gaelic bible that was passed down to him. Diana smirked to herself at the variety of books he collected. Barbara Minerva would have the spots stunned off of her. Sure enough though, Steve had The Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey, Biocentrism by Robert Lanza M.D., The Opening of the Third Eye by Dr. Douglas Baker, Existential and Spiritual Cosmos of the Kamasutra and Vedas by Shasirya Singh, Ph.D. and The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell.

“So Barbara was right about your dabbling in universal spirituality,” Diana commented.

Steve became a bit defensive, “So I read. Don’t use that against me.”

“Never, but…” she leaned over on the kitchen counter as Steve circled behind it to pull out a bottle whiskey from his liquor cabinet. “...you want to tell me what was all that with Barbara back there?”

He dropped two glasses on the counter with a sigh, “What was what?”

“Barbara, Mr. Anti-One Consciousness. You seemed to take offense to what she had said.”

He plopped on ice cube in each glass, “I’m surprised you weren’t. This idea that nothing we experienced was based on our autonomy. Just some cosmic blue prick pulling strings.”

“So the Gods---or in your case, God.”

“I don’t care who the hell it is. I refuse to believe that everything I have done wasn’t done out of my own will, all the feelings I have been feeling for certain people wasn’t preprogrammed for some cosmic joke. I am already a government patsy, I hope to God--or whatever is out there--that I’m not some Ken doll someone in the universe is playing house with.”

He immediately took a swig of his glass, before even pouring Diana’s. She followed his form with her eyes, trying to decode him as he spoke. He subconsciously ran his hand across his throat and then it hit her. No doubt his experience under the Anti-Life Equation, being played as an attack dog under Grail’s influence caused him to reject all notions of cosmic control over beings. It was his wishful thinking.

“I don’t think that’s how Gods work. At least my Gods seem to be very busy causing discourse to be able to micromanage people’s lives to the second.”

“What do you think then?” he passed her glass. Diana didn’t like whiskey that much, but she didn’t have the heart to refuse the offer. “Was it chance? Was it fate? Was it something about me or any of my crewmates that caused us to crash on your island?”

Diana shrugged, “You know me. We believe in the will of the Gods. So I haven’t thought about it much. I do believe the divine can be in all of us. It’s just up to us to access it.”

His jaw clenched, “I believe in personal responsibility. Sure there are things we cannot control, but falling back on Gods or God as an excuse of what we do and what happens to us just puts us in a hamster wheel...never changing for the better.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Diana laughed and took a light swig of her glass. Steve gave a soft grunt and rubbed the back of his neck.

“I’m sorry for being rude, Angel. I’ll try not to let my personal pessimism over the concept get in the way of things. I am just...afraid of what we might find if we find your home.”

“I am too, Steve. I am afraid of what will be revealed as lies, and as truth.”

Steve shoved the bottle of whiskey across the counter, moving out of the kitchen to sit at the counter next to her. He poured himself another glass and Diana could not remember if that was his second or third or fourth.

He said nothing, but gently placed a hesitant hand on her back, thinking of words of comfort. If he felt that everything would be revealed as normal, he wouldn’t hesitate, but he wasn’t sure.

“What will happen, if everything turns out different?” he asked.

“I don’t think you will be affected that much Steve. Perhaps you will, but if I trust what I know, I trust that I know how you came into my life. Details may be different, but I know in my heart that you have always been there, ever since my first step here.”

“Changed your life forever. Brought you to this…disaster.” He lifted his glass to take another drink, but stopped. Instead he sighed, placing the glass down. He focused his efforts in rubbing gentle circles on her back, something which Diana greatly appreciated, not realizing she liked the sensation as much as she did.

“Disaster? Yes. But I wouldn’t change my mind now or then.”

Steve stroked his goatee, “I always think of how confused you were. You got acclimated quickly, but those first few days had to be rough.”

“I was in a cell after leaving my homeland for what I assumed would be indefinitely. Never to see family, friends, or lovers again.”

His dark eyebrows rose at the “lovers” comment but refrained from saying anything. He had to have known, or perhaps he never thought about it.

“I never got to ask what it was like seeing your first man. I confess I have been curious about what you thought of me when you found me.”

Diana chuckled and it was her turn to take a swig of whiskey, “I don’t judge people by their covers. But it’s not like I haven’t ever seen depictions of men. I suppose it was like you seeing an Amazon for the first time. Surreal, but it wasn’t like some amorphous alien blob landed on our shores. All I knew is that you were hurting and needed help. I will be honest, I don’t think I thought of you anymore than that.”

“No lasting impression?” Steve arched a brow. “That seems to be a trend with me.”

Diana shook her head, “No you leave an impression when you want to. You are actually strangely shy around people you aren’t in any social circles with.”

“Do you want to know what I initially thought of you--”

“I know.” At his questioning look she smirked, “Boy! The lasso can transmit honest feelings as well as truth. And trust me Steve, it didn’t take any truth lasso to tell how much you were gushing. I practically had to scrub the affection off of me after that incident at the mall. And I am omitting the very intense feeling you were having the moment I captured those mall shooters. I almost dropped you in the mall fountain just to cool you off.”

His eyes were wide in horror. He opened his mouth to refute what she said, but clamped it closed. There was no way he could convince her or himself that the truth was anything different from what she had recalled.

He smiled. “I guess I am still only a man. Not advanced enough to think with my brain instead of my---” he glanced down at his lap. “I hadn’t meant to make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh you didn’t per se, but that was back when male feelings were foreign to me. I chalked it up to some innate natural male response to violence.”

He gave her an incredulous look, “I can’t say for other men, but violence doesn’t do it for me.”

Diana leaned in closer to him, giving him a knowing look, “Oh but violent women do.”

“Not violent. Just strong,” Steve explained. “I mean if violent women were my thing you still think I’d be with---you know what let’s just stop with this conversation.”

Now it was Diana’s turn to be taken aback, but pressed on with her curiosity. Steve was hiding something now. And it amused her that she could tell so easily, and he knew this.

“Hold up, big man. You what now?”

“Diana…”

“You’d still be with whom?”

“It doesn’t matter Diana.”

“No I’m genuinely curious. I’m not mad Steve, if you decided to go in a different direction when we were apart. It’s only fair. In fact, at the time I wished it. Now, who? Who’s the lucky girl?” He moved his lips, but barely any words came out.

“What?”

“...ina….yle”

Diana cupped her ear, “I’m sorry. What was that.”

“Selina Kyle,” he murmured, head down in shame.

It was Diana’s turn to be absolutely voiceless. She didn’t expect that. Selina Kyle was a very sexual person and could attract anyone, but she did not expect that Catwoman could entrap Steve. Steve could be an easy victim at times, but he wasn’t exactly one who let his libido dictate his heart. And to be frank, Selina Kyle did not seem at all Steve’s type, nor he hers.

Diana poured herself more whiskey, “Oh I have got to hear this story.”

“There’s no story. She was working with me on the JLA. She understood my heartbreak at the time and she was experiencing her own.”

“Bruce.”

“Most likely. Certain things don’t make sense when two lonely and rather stressed people are in so much pain and they only have each other to relate to.” He downed his glass. “And I regret it. I don’t know about her though. She seemed to take some sort of delight in bedding Wonder Woman’s ‘boy-toy’.”

Diana visibly shuddered, “Gods, I have come to despise that term.”

“I have too,” he chuckled. “I don’t know why I did it. Perhaps to regain some self esteem. But to sleep with someone just….for the sake of it...I don’t know if that’s me.”

“See that’s what confused me. I don’t see you going after Selina’s type. The bad girl. And she goes for the exact opposite, the bad-boy. Which, Steve, I am sorry to say, you are not.”

“Do you believe me now when I say violence doesn’t turn me on?”

Diana laughed, “Oh I believe. I believed you before you told me this story. I was just teasing.”

She leaned over on the counter, propping her head up on her elbow, “Still, I’m kinda jealous.”

“Why?” was his warning tone.

“Come off it Steve, you can be dead and still want to Pat the Cat.”

A bit mortified, but primarily amused, Steve’s confused expression shifted as his lips underneath his goatee split wide in a heavy laugh. Her own smile broadened, loving that she had made him laugh.

“Who knew the Princess of Amazons was such a poet of the lewd,” he managed between laughs.

“Oh, we are not prudes. Far from it.”

His laughter died into small coughs as he tried to get himself together. “If you’re looking for adventure, Diana, Catwoman is your girl. But it’s not for me.”

Almost like a reflex she placed a hand on his wrist and gave it a gentle squeeze, “It’s quite alright. I’d rather personal intimacy rather than swinging on chandeliers any day.”

Steve’s response was subtle as he placed his other hand over hers, a calm gesture, portraying his thanks for her understanding. He would’ve been content to hold that hand for the rest of the night if he had to. Perhaps it was the drink, but the churning in his insides to get closer was on the verge of making him bold. Bolder than he had ever been in front of her.

He turned to meet her beautiful blue eyes. Eyes that reflected every real human emotion possible. From wonder, to concern, to mischief. For all of Diana’s godliness, it shouldn’t be possible for anyone above mortals to portray such feelings so easily through eyes alone.

Steve wanted to say something, but words failed him. They always did. All he could muster was the soft sigh of her name. The expectant look on her face was too much for him.

“Fuck it,” he cursed under his breath, uncharacteristically. Before he could even stop himself, he embraced her and kissed her as hard as he could.

Diana seemed a little stunned, but she didn’t back away. In fact, she quite readily responded in kind, while pulling him towards his bedroom. Fevered and frantic, they both suddenly realized they could not get enough of each other at that moment.

There was no going back tonight.

 

Diana awoke later during the night, a bit relieved to find her partner still sleeping beside her. Steve was either a very quiet sleeper or he was in a heavy dream. Either way he appeared undisturbed. Peaceful.

She remembered that night fondly. She more or less expected the events of the night to turn out how they did, but she didn’t anticipate or imagine how it would go. Though she enjoyed herself, it wasn’t exactly how she could’ve imagined. There was the obvious, but she remembered the titillating feeling that ran through her spine whenever Steve would make less than sophisticated noises. Diana would always best describe the noises people made in the bedchamber as “personal sounds”, sounds that were only made during passion. Deeply personal noises that she was sure most would be embarrassed to make in any other situation. For Steve, it was the sound of lost control. Years of dancing around each other and him being particularly careful of how he approached her in more intimate matters, it was rather thrilling to hear him grunt and sigh, to feel him shake and tremble, being reckless in his usual cautious ways.

She rolled on her side, mindful not to disturb him. The full size bed may have barely fit Steve’s large frame enough for him to be comfortable, but now with two large people in the bed, there wasn’t exactly a lot of wiggle room without jostling the other. How they were able to coordinate a couple of hours ago was beyond her. Diana touched his whiskers, feeling the fine bristles that felt more silky than coarse.

Steve inhaled sharply and awoke. He lifted his head just slightly, trying to get a grasp of his surroundings.

“Ohhh maaan,” he sighed when he saw Wonder Woman over him. Naked. He suddenly felt as if he stumbled upon a rare animal, hesitant to move so as not to scare it away. It was a ridiculous thought, but the image was just surreal, as if it was just a dream.

“There you are,” Diana smiled. “I didn’t mean to disturb your sleep.”

“Hell, Angel, that was the best nap I’ve had in a long long time.”

“Is that so?” she said slyly, falling back down on her side, facing him, resting her head on her propped up palm.

“Yeah,” was his raspy reply. He cleared his throat to drive away the dryness. “Did you get any sleep?”

She shook her head. “I tried, but my mind tended to wander. To our mission, to my sisters, to how much of a mess you made.”

Steve glanced down under the sheets, face turning red with embarrassment, “I’m really sorry about that. I can’t imagine it being at all attractive having a guy lose control like that.”

“I’m sure if it were any other scenario, I guarantee there would be some sort of applause in order,” she reached over to the box of tissues she snuck from his bathroom to clean herself up and handed a few over to him to clean his lower body. The sheets would need to a good wash.

She turned away as he cleaned himself, sitting herself up on the bed. After he was finished, Steve placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Are you okay?” he asked for possibly the thirtieth time that night.

She laughed and nodded, before looking alarmed at the bruises she noticed on his shoulder and biceps, “Are you okay? Great Hera!”

He looked down at the bruises, “Oh yeah….did not notice those.”

“They aren’t painful at all?” she asked, massaging the bruise on his left bicep gently. “I am so sorry.”

“Do not worry about it. No harm done. The only painful part was the climax. And I mean that in a good way.”

He brushed a strand of hair over shoulder, his eyes watching how her skin contrasted with the midnight of her hair. So much beauty was dangerous to have in his bed.

“Besides, I don’t mind if you manhandle me a little bit.”

That earned him a light smack on his chest. He laughed as he wrapped his large arms around her and gave her a large hug.

“So you’re a masochist now?” she kissed his nose. He replied with a light kiss on the lips. Diana leaned forward so her forehead touched his. “I am so glad I have you by my side.”

“Always a pleasure.”

She fiddled with some of the sparse blond hairs on his chest, “We should get some sleep.”

“Or we could-”

“Make your bed even more of a mess?” she whispered before he even finished his thought. “We’ll run out of your ration of tissue paper.”

“That’s only if you aren’t careful with what you touch.” He placed another kiss on her lips, then her chin and jaw.

“You, Mister Trevor, are unexpectedly raunchy when you are in a mood.”

He laughed into her throat before placing a soft kiss there, “So, what’s the verdict? Okay for an average human?”

Smirking, Diana pressed him back down onto the bed, climbing on top of him. “Having just made love to a woman, would you agree they generally are better skilled lovers?”

“I’m not sure if you are asking me if ladies are better in bed, or if you are wanting me to sleep with some dude to compare.”

“If you don’t mind an audience,” she joked, playing with the lobes of his ears delicately. “I may not be great at romance, Steven, but I know how to enjoy myself in the arms of another.”

“Seriously, Angel. I genuinely would like to know. And I promise I won’t get offended. I am very aware that I am no expert in the bedroom.”

Diana stretched out on top of him, folding her arms over his chest, resting her head on them humming in thought. It seemed to her that men---and women---needed too much validation in terms of how they bring someone pleasure at night.

“Well, I will not lie to you,” she began. “You aren’t the best I’ve ever had, and if I had to guess, least experienced lover I’ve had. Also the sloppiest.”

“Oh…”

“But, for all your inexperience, you make up for earnestness. And you underestimate how much I enjoy playing with inexperienced lovers. And I never really imagined you to be an expert.”

“Not sure if that’s making me feel better or…”

“You’ll get better under the right tutelage,” she winked.

Steve glanced at the digital clock at his side noticing that it was now early morning. “Tempting to be under the seductive wing of an Amazon, but at this point we hardly have time for that,” he grunted, pulling up the covers to adequately cover themselves, “Let’s get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”

As Diana rolled over on her side, wedging herself as much as she could between the edge of the bed and Steve. As he wrapped his arms around her, she thought of how much could change tomorrow.

She wondered, as she drifted off to Steve’s slow even breathing, if she would be able experience this night ever again.

Chapter Text

He said his piece as best he could. He didn’t have much time to write it all out, but he did his best to put into words to explain his actions.

‘I put Wonder Woman in a psyche ward,’ Steve thought resentfully as he watched the ceiling fan of his hotel room spin round and round. ‘That has to be a sin in someone’s book.’

Whatever he thought they would confront, going to Diana’s home, he couldn’t anticipate going this south. The Themyscira they arrived in, was not the one he remembered. The surroundings, the beach, her mother, the Amazons, all looked and acted differently from what he remembered. Diana, however, didn’t seem as perturbed, until he told her what was on his mind. Then the cards began to unfold.

And she wouldn’t respond.

Then she looked at him as if he weren’t there. As if she knew he wasn’t there. She was on a different mental plane and Steve didn’t have time to crack it. The latest to spawn from the Dr. Poison dynasty, Marina Maru, had found them and were after them. He had to act quickly and get Diana away to safety while he assessed the situation.

When it came to survival, Steve was no stranger to its concepts. He had honed his survival skills ever since his years as a boy, wandering in the dense forests and cold coastal winters of his childhood home, and then onto his military career. That said, whenever he had to count on his survival instincts he never left scot free. This was no exception. It was all a part of survival he supposed, getting nicked and hurt along the way. If you didn’t struggle, you didn’t survive.

He hated that backwoods mentality in everyday life, but in certain situations like this one, it was necessary.

He managed to disarm two of Maru’s squadron before their leader managed to slip by and hold an unaware Diana hostage and shoot him in the leg. She used his injury to get Diana to follow her orders.

Thankfully, Manny, Davy, and Chris had found out they were in trouble and arrived in the nick of time. He escaped with Diana, leaving Maru on the island.

They took her to London, where she was stationed, but no matter how hard he would try he could not snap her out of it. So he pulled the page from the hotel bible and wrote his confession, his supplication, his explanation as thoughtfully as he could before committing her to the mental facility to recover.

The very thought conjured up the age-old images of asylums with mad men and women running around in their own waste, babbling through the rest of their helpless existence. This was different. Steve made sure of it as best he could. That facility was one of the top hospitals in the UK. The very building was used to house shell-shocked soldiers going through therapy in WWI and was a safe house during the Blitz. It was set up like any other housing building, but to Steve, it was eerily similar to a retirement home. Trying to make patients as comfortable as possible, however, the cabinets in Diana’s flat contained medicines and equipment no doubt used to quell incidents or fits. And Steve had been in the hospital enough to know the very bed she’d be sleeping in. She just wouldn’t be in a hospital gown or scrubs.

He grunted, feeling his leg throb. That bullet wound wasn’t healing as well as it should have. Whether it was shoddy surgical practices (Manny usually had steady hands, but in a rush to get the helicopter away from Poison, he wasn’t as careful as he usually was), stress in carting Wonder Woman here and there to escape whoever was after her, or if Marina Maru had special bullets, he didn’t much know.

All he knew was that he had to find Etta and Dr. Minerva fast. They were the only ones missing from Pickett. Everyone else was…

“Hey Boss,” Manny entered the room with a knock. He carried a toiletry bag in his hand. “Thought you could use a bit of relief.”

Steve cleared his throat and sat up. Manny proceeded to pull out a vial of clear liquid and a syringe from the toiletry bag. “A shot to numb it down.”

“Where did you get it?” Steve asked as Manny gave him few injections around the leg wound.

“I haggled with a trainer who worked for the Chelsea football club. They use this stuff all the time to numb injuries.”

“Well I’m just praying this thing won’t end up amputated,” Steve replied, not even flinching as the needle went deep into his thigh.

“Gangrene would’ve shown up by now if it was infected. It’s healthy, just not closing. It will, boss. You’ll walk on two legs again.”

Steve took a hold of his crutch and used it to pull himself up on his feet. Technically, the crew was not on duty so…

“Ech, I was never much a fan of English liquor,” Manny said as Steve hobbled over to retrieve a bottle of brandy from the portable fridge in the room.

“It’s Welsh actually,” Steve poured a glass at the minibar. “From a sleepy little place called Llanfaethlu.”

“Gesundheit.”

Manny took the offered glass anyway. Nothing wrong with being polite. “My family’s Spanish so we like port, but I suppose Welsh whiskey poured for you by an Irishman wouldn’t be all that bad.”

Steve chuckled, “I have a feeling I’ll get a nice port during our squad gift exchange from our resident Spaniard.”

“You’ll ruin the surprise.” Manny and Steve toasted before taking a sip.

“So what do we do now?”

Steve paused. Thinking of how he should phrase his next course of action. The people he relied on to have a good head on their shoulders to coordinate and organize were missing. They had to salvage what was left. And in his opinion, it would be better to scatter and spread so that a Pickett incident would be harder to replicate.

“Be as far away from me, Davy, and Chris as possible. I don’t care how. Everyone will need to keep a low profile and the more we spread out, the less likely they are able to use us to track down Wonder Woman.”

“What about you?” Manny asked eyes glancing down towards Steve’s leg. “You aren’t exactly in shape to be on the run.”

“I can’t tell you what I’m going to do. The less you know the better. I will touch base once I have finished.”

“This is war, y’know,” Manny replied, his voice deepening into an intense severity. “Whoever those mercs are, they attacked a US facility. Someone at the Pentagon is going to have a panic attack.”

Steve’s focus wasn’t on that. Whatever the Pentagon did in response to Pickett was only going to draw attention to the assailants. And if he knew Marina Maru well enough, she didn’t exactly give a damn. She had no governmental affiliation that he knew of. It’ll be labeled as a terrorist attack and nothing more would be done except sending more drones to some country that had nothing to do with the incident.

His team, however, was exposed. Their safety and the safety of Etta, Dr. Minerva, and Diana were the top concerns for him.

“Then they have a panic attack. Chain of command is broken unless Etta is found. Genius if you ask me. Wherever she’s hiding she’s probably going dark completely. I cannot do anything legally without her permission.”

“But you’re going to break sanctions anyway,” Manny didn’t need a response from his superior. By now, he knew his Master Chief well enough to know that he would break every law in the book if it meant saving lives or doing what was right.

That didn’t mean that Steve didn’t fear breaking laws. He took to heart his role as a representative of authority that all laws were made for a reason. The morality of his heart, however, trumped his instinct to obey the government.

Manny didn’t wait for him to answer. He packed up the toiletry bag as Steve remained sitting at the edge of the bed, with the glass of whiskey still unfinished in his hand.

“Am I wrong, Manny?” he asked distantly. “Should I have just left her there? Or should I have not given up and kept her close while we figured it out? It feels...wrong.”

Manny only pointed to the glass in Steve’s hand and demanded, “Drink.”

Steve did as instructed, feeling the numbness seep into more into his body, “I don’t mean to sound dramatic but...I have a feeling I will regret this for the rest of my life. I will have to face her, when she is well, knowing that my only solution to her....situation was to lock her up.”

He sighed, allowing Manny to refill his glass, “I wonder every day if I lead people to death traps. My first mission, A.R.G.U.S., you guys. If I hadn’t landed on that blasted beach she wouldn’t be in this situation and neither would you all.”

Manny held his breath, feeling a tad uncomfortable that his commanding officer was being so open and so negatively expressing his feelings. Taking pity, he casually reached down and tousled his boss’s hair, “Come on, Boss. We’re behind you every step of the way. We are all standing still after years together. We ain't goin’ nowhere. As for Wonder Woman, you don’t think she’ll understand? Man, if there’s one thing I know about her is that understanding is what she does best.”

“You don’t understand, she expects more from people like us. The good guys. It’s the bad guys where she goes above and beyond with her understanding.”

Manny gave an unintelligible noise. “You don’t believe that.”

“Right now, like her, I don’t know what to believe.”

“Well, alls I know is that we got her to safety. You got her to safety. No casualties. You avoided all-out conflict, brother. You can’t tell me she wouldn’t be proud of that.”

'Proud? For what?' Steve thought inwardly. It was a legitimate question. Was Diana ever proud of him? If so, what for? He could only be the best person he could be. 'But I’m not there yet. I don’t know how to get there.'

But now was the time for him to make that journey. A journey that was probably best done alone. He’s read plenty of coming of age and spiritual novels and the protagonists did most of the heavy lifting on their own. It was only fair. He had to make himself the better man and not rely on his circle of allies to push him there.

He glanced up at his brother-in-arms. Manny’s eyebrows rose expectantly. “Thank you, Manny. You’re always cool headed when I need you to be.”

Manny scoffed, shaking off the compliment as if it were no big deal.

“You and Davy leave without me when you’re ready. If you want to stop by and have a little poker game with Chris, I am not going to stop you. But this is where we part ways for now.”

“Understood, Boss. I should be getting to bed. Try not to think about...things too much. Just focus on healing that leg of yours. I’ll leave the pain shots here for you in case you need them.”

Steve managed a faint farewell, before he once again reclined on his bed, the liquor making it very easy to lie limp, once again staring at the ceiling fan.

He would finish the rest of the Welsh whiskey plotting out his course of action, his own journey in his head. He fell into a fitful sleep from his stupor the image of Diana’s oblivious eyes behind her glasses scorching his thoughts.

When he awoke mid-morning the next day, his head throbbed. Not a good start, going on the run with a hangover. Still, he powered through with a cool shower and packing his sparse things in a military duffle bag.

When he checked out, he did his best to look clean and ordinary. The girl behind the counter he recognized from last night as the same receptionist who checked him, Chris, Manny, and Davy in.

“Here is your receipt, and I hope you visit us again,” she said cheerfully.

“Thank you,” he said to the receptionist. “I came in here with a coworker, do you know if he’s still in 203?”

The receptionist must’ve been new, hesitating as if she were unsure of the rules regarding revealing who was in which room. She relented, though, probably because she had seen Steve and his crew around the hotel enough to know they were together, “Room 203 had checked out about an hour ago.”

'Good man, Manny,' Steve thought before thanking the girl and limping away.

As he promised himself, he didn’t even walk by Diana’s hospital as he made his way to King’s Cross.

Chapter Text

When it came to redemption, Barbara Ann grew up thinking it was only for those who were steeped in religion. But, guilt is a powerful motivator in its own right. A just mind would always seek to right the wrong. That was something she learned from her...friend, Etta Candy. Though unwilling, Etta allowed her to use her own methods to start her path to redemption.

As planned, Steve and Etta escaped from their tiny New York motel room, leaving Barbara alone to deal with what remained of the mercenaries. They did as asked. They brought her to that ragtag group of bitter women who wanted Wonder Woman in their paws for nefarious purposes

Cale was one thing, Barbara had thought. She was ruthless and clever, but she could be reasoned with. It was that devil on her shoulder, Dr. Cyber that was the real problem. Her vindictive Jiminy Cricket. Cyber was the devil in the archaic sense of the term. That nagging spirit that could push people to do things they would never normally do.

Cyber made Barbara’s teeth grind. Even back in the day when she joined Godwatch. The fact that she was literally untouchable made it worse.

As she was led to Cale’s office she quickly tried to figure out how best to deal with every member. Poison’s mercenary team would be the toughest to combat head on. Getting them out would make things much easier. I wouldn't guarantee any success but Barbara had to at least even out the playing field.

Veronica Cale was normally in her business suit at her office, sitting proudly behind her desk, her shrewd gaze falling on Barbara for the first time in years. Her two demonic Dobermans were at her feet, looking anxious. No doubt their mistress was rather displeased that they let Etta escape their fangs.

Marina Maru was in the corner, arms crossed, looking positively sour.

“Oh, dears, don’t make this too easy, ” Barbara thought to herself, trying to withhold a smile. There was tension in the room. Obviously, there was a fight beforehand. Something Barbara could exploit.

A metallic orb whizzed around her and her captors, it’s blinking red eye scanning them. A feminine voice spoke from the orb, “Barbara Ann Minerva, long time no see. Almost didn’t recognize you without your fur.”

Barbara scoffed, trying to hide a shudder down her spine. “I find being in flesh all the more better. You should try it sometime Adrianna. Being inside a machine must be so confining.”

Dr. Cyber ignored her and the orb opened up, projecting a hologram of the human Dr. Cyber. Make no mistake, though. It was all an illusion. Cyber sacrificed her humanity long ago.

Where is the lover boy?” the machine asked Barbara’s two captors.

“Escaped,” one mercenary responded. “Along with the Lieutenant.”

Dr. Cyber growled, “Incompetence. I expected better, Marina.”

In the corner, Marina Maru gave Cyber a rude hand gesture.

“Our instructions were to find one or the other or both. Mr. Trevor is no longer necessary,” one of the mercenaries replied.

Cale clicked her pen, fixing Barbara with a stern stare, “Indeed. That was what was instructed. And as anticipated, we found the easy target.”

“You got me, because I wanted to be captured,” Barbara clarified. “Adrianna is right. I would’ve thought a troupe of mercenaries would be more than enough to handle three disorganized fugitives. Instead, these Poison mercenaries, got themselves knocked out by a compromised Lieutenant and a giant blond buffoon.”

She stared right into the eyes of Maru, “You killed so many government officers and have nothing to show for it. I hope Ms. Computer can cover your sloppy work.”

Maru rolled her eyes and sighed, “I don’t need this. Cale! I did as you asked. Are we finished?”

Veronica didn’t look at Marina Maru. Instead, she stared straight into Barbara’s eyes. Barbara kept a straight face. Calm and casual. Finally, Cale gave a dismissive wave of her hand, “You can go. I have what I need.”

As Poison removed themselves from the office, Marina Maru fixed Dr. Cyber with a heated glare. Now it was just Barbara, Cale and Anderson. Perfect.

“Where is Wonder Woman, Barbara Ann?” Veronica Cale asked coldly.

“Somewhere safe. Where you won’t find her.”

Dr. Cyber gave a very digitized growl. “Don’t be brave now, Dr. Minerva. It’s unbecoming.”

“I’ll be the one to decide that, Adrianna.”

“Barbara Ann, where is Wonder Woman?” Cale asked cooly again. This time, Barbara just gave her a stare. They both held their steely gazes, almost challenging each other.

“WHERE IS WONDER WOMAN!” Cale screeched as she shot out of her seat, her face contorting from cool collectiveness to absolute deranged fury. Barbara did indeed jump, as did Dr. Cyber in her digitized cage at her display of rage.

Not tearing her eyes away from Barbara, Cale slowly sat back down in her desk chair, quickly regaining her composure. “If you do not know where she is. You will help us find her.”

“Even if you do find her, I hate to break this to you, she will not be able to provide the information you need. No thanks to you and your witch’s parlor tricks and fake islands.”

At this, both Cale and Dr. Cyber looked confused. Barbara didn't expect that out of them. She thought they were behind everything that has happened to Diana thus far, so why do they look at her like she was reciting a fairy tale?

Veronica Cale slowly stood, “Let’s pretend we know what you are talking about. What about Wonder Woman makes her incapable of showing us the way to her home?”

Barbara shrugged, “Beats me. But my guess if the God of War can’t get the way to her home from her, chances are you can’t either.”

Cale didn’t seem to believe her as her cold eyes narrowed.

“She doesn’t know, Veronica,” Barbara clarified. “You are fighting a meaningless battle.”

“Like we’d believe that," Dr. Cyber scoffed, her orb carrying her hologram pacing around Barbara's figure.

“You don’t have to believe, just accept it when you wasted everyone’s time for nothing.”

“What the hell is that supposed to--- zzzttt! ” Cyber suddenly went rigid, her eyes rolling in the back of her head as her normally cool blue holographic image turned red. Her voice turned to a clinical, almost robotic tone, “Report. Toll Road CCTV had spotted Master Chief Trevor and Lieutenant Candy with an unidentified bipedal creature around Brooklyn Bridge, New York. 2.3 seconds of footage. Still no sign of Wonder Woman.”

As the “report” from Dr. Cyber’s computer went silent, Cale gave Barbara a stern glare.

“I know why you have surrendered yourself,” Cale said cooly. “To save what you call friends. Let me tell you something---”

She reached under her desk and brought up a potted plant, a long green stalk with one wilting red flower at the end. Barbara instantly recognized it as what was left from Urzkartaga. “You aren’t going to save them. So you gave yourself over for nothing. What do you say Adrianna? Do you think our archeologist friend right here would look better if she had a bit more...teeth?”

Dr. Cyber smirked, “Oh definitely.”

“Let’s say for instance that Wonder Woman doesn’t know her way home. One other, however, was allowed there. A man no less. And I’m assuming Steve Trevor will die before he reveals any details. So...we just need to...convert his thinking. However, Etta Candy will not let anyone have their hands on him either. Am I right Barbara?”

Barbara was afraid to answer, but her silence was enough of an answer for them. Etta could handle herself, but Barbara wished that at least Etta would be safe from all this. That was why Barbara was here, to spare her. Now it was clear that Cale was no longer patient enough to cut losses. Barbara being her now became a mere delay in the inevitable.

“Steven Trevor wouldn’t be a bad vessel for a God of Masculinity, wouldn’t you agree?” Dr. Cyber suggested with a cool smirk on her face. "We could use an easily manipulated brute to take on a fuller form."

Cale nodded and plucked a petal from the flower on her desk, “I promise Barbara, that this time, your husband will be flesh and blood, not a bunch of twigs and leaves. But first…”

She snapped her fingers and Terror and Panic pounced with claws and teeth gnashing, making Barbara helpless to stop Cale from joining in, and spreading the juice of the red flower of Urzkartaga across Barbara’s lips. Dread filled her insides like ice, as Barbara was beginning to feel that familiar deadly hunger, that rage. This time there was no Wonder Woman that would be able to help the Cheetah.

Chapter Text

The snorting snarling deep rumble of a Kythotaur uttered in the night as three figures did their best to cross underneath the seedy overpasses.

 

After the hasty reintroduction, Etta corralled Steve and Ferdinand, the Kythotaur, to make their way towards Midtown. Being attacked by Poison had made tempers high and it was getting more and more hostile the closer they got to the plane they were going to catch to London.

 

Etta was going to be honest with herself and put the blame on any tension with Steve. Ever since he returned from London he’s been quick to rile and was very unforgiving.

 

“I don’t do my job to be a saint,” he retorted when Etta made the mistake of suggesting to give Barbara a chance. “Diana may be that way and she may have taught both of us to be that way. But I can’t, not in my position. You and I both know that the moment we forgive is the moment we die.”

 

Etta couldn’t disagree, but she did expect more from him. And now as Steve and Ferdinand were grumbling and growling at each other, Etta wished she had Barbara with her.

 

As a part of the military, Etta was used to being surrounded by male presence, so she was aware of how they could act in front of one another in high pressure situations. They puffed out their chests, took an aggressive stance and were particularly bull-headed. So to speak. Not all of them, but enough for Etta to know the pattern.

 

That took on both a figurative and literal stance with Ferdinand and Steve jawing at each other, Ferdinand’s concern and Steve’s frustration bubbling to the surface.

 

“How the hell does someone survive jungles and deserts on co-op missions and get his face all over the goddamn obvious CCTV in the middle of the city?!” Ferdinand grumbled.

 

“No offense, but a massive Kythotaur isn’t exactly discreet.”

 

“I was discrete. Living in a shanty town on the East Side. No one was ever gonna know I was there. Until you two showed up.”

 

“Shhh!” Etta hissed. “Quiet, both of you.”

 

Thankfully they caught their private jet from La Guardia, but it was close to three in the morning, by the time the wheels got off the ground. Steve did well co-piloting the lift off, being calm and collected.

 

“Tower, this is P-LAF Tail 333, please confirm lift, by exec order 890 CA.”

 

“Tail 333, please give confirmation code.”



“Sandy.”

 

There was a soft silence as the air traffic controller verified the code.

“Alright, Tail 333, you’re clear to go in two minutes.”

 

As soon as they were in steady air, Etta let Steve be relieved from his navigation duties. “Get some rest, Steve. We’ll switch off in about an hour.”

 

Steve didn’t respond to the suggestion of taking an hour nap. He just turned back into the main hull of the plane, where Ferdinand was all huddled up, big brown eyes drifting close.

“I’ll double check the equipment,” Steve said monotonously, as he rummaged through the supplies.

 

“You’ve already done that ten times already,” Ferdinand mumbled half asleep.

 

“An eleventh won’t hurt,” Steve sniped as he opened the duffle bags to recount the supplies and catalog every bit of Diana’s equipment.

 

“But it’s a waste of time.”

 

“Yeah, well now we can never be goddamned sure!” Steve’s eyes flashed as he threw the bag down with a loud clang. He straightened up, looking straight at Ferdinand with furious intent.

 

What followed was deafening silence. Only the rumble of the plane provided any sound as Ferdinand’s own eyes stared up at Steve, his lower jaw agape ever so slightly.

 

“You know what?” he said with a resigned shake of his head. “Maybe recounting the equipment isn’t such a bad idea. It will surely keep you occupied.”

 

Jaw tightened, Steve didn’t return to the supplies. Instead, he stormed back into the cockpit as he plopped in the navigator’s seat.

 

“I know a man whose uncle used to be a matador. He also ran with the bulls in the streets of Spain over fifty times. One call, one call and I can have Ferdinand’s ass matador’d straight back to--”

“Steve,” Etta growled, losing every bit of patience she had. “I am so close to giving you a valium and dropping you off in Scotland when we fly over. Without a parachute.”

 

The whiskers of his upper lip twitched in frustration, but he refrained from saying anything more.

 

Etta, however, wasn’t done, “I know realistically we can’t relax, but you certainly need to take down the intensity a notch or two. It’s pissing everyone off.”

“Less intense?” Steve glared at her pointedly, “Less intense? We almost got our asses shot up back there.”

 

“Dammit, Steven Rockwell Trevor! I know! I was there, we all were, and the last thing we need is a Master Chief taking his anger out on everyone but  the people who deserve it.”

 

He was silent, but Etta could tell he was resisting the urge to punch the side paneling of the plane.

 

She sighed, “I know, Steve. I know, trust me. We both fear for our loved ones. We aren’t used to being the fall back for people like Diana. All we can do is our best.”

“But our best isn’t ever good enough. I have to be better in order to be of ANY help to--”

“Steeeve,” Etta drawled out in a warning tone. “Enough. Remember what I said and calm down. We have help. That’s what Ferdinand is here for. Seriously take some Valium. You’re stressing me out.”

 

Right as Etta was thinking how thankful she was she didn’t have to deal with testosterone in her love life, Ferdinand appeared in the doorway to the cockpit, “Etta, you can go get some sleep. Steve and I got this.”

 

“You don’t know how to fly, Ferd,” Etta said delicately.

 

“I can navigate,” he shrugged his massive hairy shoulders. “What? I just have to make sure that center dot doesn't go near any other dots, right?”

 

Etta gave a sideways glance at Steve, who sighed, “Go, Etta, it’ll be fine.”

 

Still wary about letting a Kythotaur with zero flying experience sit in the cockpit, Etta resigned to her fate and slipped back into the main hull. Steve switched over to the pilot’s seat, while Ferdinand wedged himself beside him.

 

“I know its tempting but try not to touch any buttons,” Steve said casually, keeping his eyes out through the windshield.

 

“I’ll try to contain myself, Steve,” Ferdinand sighed, not wanting to continue the sniping. “What exactly happened to Diana anyway? Like she just....forgot who and where she was?”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve sighed. “I think she knows who she is...sort of. She’s just disassociating I think. She didn’t recognize me. At least not at first. Then she thought I wasn’t real. She didn’t think any of us were real.”

 

“So you thought a mythical creature would snap her out of it,” Ferdinand thought aloud, bringing to light the lack of logic in that move.

 

“Well, maybe it’ll take something mythic to snap her out of it, instead of something ordinary.”

 

Ferdinand scoffed, “So is that why you’ve been hormonal? Because you think you aren’t important enough to her for her to snap out of it at one look at your face.”

 

Steve ground his teeth at the implication. No he wasn’t arrogant enough to think that one look at his own face should make anything better for Diana. Still, her thinking he wasn’t real wounded him. And he wasn’t a big enough man to admit that he would be even more hurt if Ferdinand of all people were to be the one to bring her back to them. But Etta and Barbara’s theory made perfect sense.

 

“My grandmother lost all her memory at the end of her life. Do you know what it’s like, talking to someone who you’ve known your whole life and then suddenly they don’t remember you. They don’t recognize you, or even remember even having a grandson?”

 

Ferdinand didn’t answer, he just let Steve do the talking, “That’s what it was like on that island. One moment she was fine. Then next….. She couldn’t even say my name. Just imagine for one moment that you know someone you’ve thought you were so close with and one day they forget who you are. So, yes, Ferdinand. THAT’S why I’m so ‘hormonal’, if you think I should be cavalier about it.”

 

“Cavalier? No. We’re all devastated, but hand wringing about this before we truly try isn’t going to make it better.”

 

Steve’s grip tightened on the controls, “We all deal with stress differently.”

 

“Yeah, well I know you well enough to know that you generally deal with stress very well. So I’m still just as confused and pissed with you as I was five minutes ago. But hey, I have big hands, and I give great back massages to relax you.”

 

A voice rang out behind them from the hull, as Etta groggily mumbled, “Give Steve the horse tranquilizers, and I’ll take the massage, Ferd.”

 

In London, oblivious to her friends making the risky move to go see her, Diana was struggling on her own, locked in an isolated place with only the odd random man who would talk to her suspiciously like they knew her. Isolation, she was reminded of it, but the isolation of Themyscira was preferable to this. Or at least her memory of it.

 

Thankfully, she had an odd creature to occupy her time.

 

“What do you think of maaaan?” the creature hissed, it’s fangs bared, eyes narrowed. Diana stared at the winding serpent that has been her only company inside her own mind. She flinched as the word ‘man’ caused a strange pressure to pierce her head.

 

She couldn’t respond. She couldn’t associate man with anything.

 

The snake--this serpent--reeled back gently, it’s soothing voice curling around her like coils. “Your home was barred from them for a reason. What strange reason, event or thought caused that.”

 

“I don’t know. Pick a reason,” Diana said almost dismissively.

 

The serpent disappeared from her view and reappeared by her ear.

 

“But you see them as friendssss”

 

“I do”

 

“But do you trust them?”

 

“I--” she paused. “They are as trustworthy as anyone else on average.”

 

“Interesting answer. But not really an answer?”

Her vision melted to an image of the backs of the male members of the Justice League. They all were facing away from her, onward to a dreary gray and stormy sky. The bright green snake wove around their frozen bodies, no one paying attention to it.

 

“Theeesse men. Embued by powers of gods. They may be from the world of man, but they are not the men that your Amazonian talessss warned you about.”

 

The scene shifted, the surroundings blurry and unclear, but in front of her, on her bed, was the man who washed upon her shores years ago, naked, leaning over her with an unreadable expression.

 

“What about the likes him? The likes of ordinary men. Men who use their own status, and advantage to subdue others.”

 

The whispering in her ear contradicted the image she was seeing. This man, although high ranking in the military, rarely exuded authority in his personality. Those blue eyes were soft and gentle, his expression, though unreadable was the usual image of calm kindness. It made her heart thrum, as if she could sense his presence right in front of her.

 

“You were taught they were primitive--”

 

Diana reached up to touch the man’s face.

 

“Driven by wants, driven by competition. Like bulls in a ring. Dangerous, are they not?”

 

She cupped the survivor’s unshaven cheek, running her thumb along his soft lower lip, the mirage vivid enough for her want to kiss them, to feel them in this cold, sterile place.

 

“Dangerous, righteous, courageous, impulsive, resourceful, loyal, arrogant,” Diana whispered. “They are everything humans are.”

 

She turned back to her forearm, where the holes of her bite still remained. “Some are undeserving of any regard, yes, but that is not a man. That is not even human.”

 

Diana turned back to the survivor’s face, whose passive expression hadn’t faltered. “Hera knows I’ve made more mistakes than this man. Things that will always be on the back of my mind when I look at him. When I look at man, I do not see what they are. I see what they can be. Before I can even begin to aid them to their potential I must first make amends to everything, everyone that have suffered because of me.”

 

The survivor’s lips widened in a smile, a smile that kept going and going as his eyes turned yellow and his skin turned a sickly green. Quickly, as the mirage washed away, in the man’s place was her snake friend.

 

“So that’s what this is about, kiddo? Remorse? Can gods feel such a thing?”

 

“I am no god.”

 

The snake’s coils undulated at little, as if it were shrugging, “Doesn’t matter what you are. Sometimes it’s what others believe you to be.”

 

“But that’s hardly helpful in finding me.”

 

“Then ignore what others believe you to be and learn to be who you are, even if…”

 

The snake coiled ‘round and ‘round her forearm, shrinking as it burrowed into her injury.

 

“...even if it puts you on shaky ground with your friends and loved ones.”

 

The hissing faded and echoed in the back of her head as her room returned to physical reality. The snake was gone. The survivor was just an illusion. Her Justice League friends were just an illusion. Perhaps this Kythotaur, this familiar bull face was an illusion too.

 

Then he spoke, his warm wet breath all too real, as was the scrunch of his fur around his snout as the bull-headed figure’s mouth pulled into a grimace that resembled a smile.

 

“Hello, Diana,” his gruff voice rumbled.

 

It took her a moment to see clearly and to understand that finally, finally, she could see Ferdinand. Ferdinand was a friend. And an old old friend whose history was linked mystically to her own. Relief flooded her chest and her brain didn’t feel as foggy or uncertain.

 

She embraced the Kythotaur (not an easy feat as Ferdinand was a large beast) and smiled for the first time in a long while.

 

Diana shouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear Etta, Steve, and Steve’s squad were all waiting for her, trying to help in any way they could. And while weeks ago, she wouldn’t have given a second thought to Barbara’s absence, now she was concerned.

 

They told her the short story. Barbara helped Etta and Steve escape by giving herself up to Godwatch. The unvoiced dread, however, resonated with her. Diana had a deep feeling in her gut that Barbara was in trouble.

 

Thankfully in Diana’s mind they could kill two birds with one stone if they paid a visit to Cale. They would have information on how to find Themyscira and Barbara there. With little discussion, or time to have a reunion, Diana led Steve, Etta and Ferdinand to the Cale’s main office back in Washington D.C.

 

There, Diana was formally introduced to a woman---or the virtual memory of one--called Doctor Cyber. Being a virtual computer, it was no surprise she took special delight in teasing Diana and her friends, mocking them and criticizing them for destroying everything they touched, ironically. The more Cyber continued her impassioned rant, the more she was losing it, showing her true anger at being reduced to a virtual entity.

 

Before Diana could begin to explain herself to Cyber, Etta had enough and Ferdinand smashed the computer that held her in the office.

 

“Enough of that nonsense---” Etta broke off, noticing her old boss, Sasha attached to a machine. No doubt used to replicate her into cybertronic entities that Etta had to deal with before.

 

“Change of plans,” Diana said as they left Cale’s building. “I’ll go find Cale and Barbara, the rest of you go take Sasha to the hospital. See what information she can give us if she comes around.”

“Agreed,” Etta pointed to Steve. “Take him with you.”

 

“Hey, hold on--”

 

Etta silenced him with an abrupt hiss and Steve knew better than to argue.

 

To his relief, as Etta and the others took Sasha to the hospital, Diana flashed him a soft smile. Whatever he wanted to say, wasn’t going to be said, as a large van barreled down the roadway towards them.

 

The sliding doors opened and a barrage of bullets flooded the streetways.

“It’s Maru!” Steve yelled, trying to move out of the way. Diana quickly placed herself between him and the turret gun in the van, using her lightning reflexes to deflect the bullets. “Stay behind me, Steve!”

 

She charged after the van, ramming into it with a solid crunch, folding the aluminum exterior like tin foil. Diana, amazed at Poison’s boldness, scoffed at the injured passengers, “That was pointless…”

 

No one saw the shot coming. It was only heard. It pierced right through Diana’s back under her left breast. She didn’t feel the pain, but could only register what had happened with a faint, “Oh…”

 

Steve saw her lurch forward and then drop. He cried her name out, racing towards her, not at all caring that there was a sniper around. He knelt down beside her and grabbed her hand. He could hear her groan and feel the blood pour onto the pavement.

 

He heard another shot ring out and immediately he threw his body on Diana’s, in hopes to shield her from more bullets.

 

Shots littered the ground around them, but none hit him directly. They were giving him warning shots. If he didn’t move they would have to get him out of the way.

 

The gunshots suddenly stopped, but Steve refused to move from his spot. He only looked up when he noticed a figure walking towards him down the street. Steve was about to yell at them to move, that it wasn’t safe, but he noticed that the figure was wearing body armor and holding a gun.

 

The figure strode closer, pulling the mask off their heads. Maru paused only slightly as she stared down at the blond man shielding Wonder Woman. Unable to resist a smirk, she smashed the butt of her gun into Steve’s face. He loosened his hold on Diana and, using her foot, Maru took that opportunity to flip him onto his back.

 

She kicked him in the head once more and pinning him to the ground with her boot to his face. She called briefly into her radio, “No more shooting until I say.”

 

Colonel Maru pressed her boot harder on Steve’s face, obstructing his view and any way to find anything to defend himself.

 

“We always run into each other, don’t we, Master Chief?”

 

Steve could only gurgle an answer, blood from his nose pouring into his mouth.

 

“I have respect for you Master Chief. Or had. You put up a good fight, but this---” she gestured towards Wonder Woman. “This is just pathetic. Not to mention stupid.”

 

He shifted but she only put more pressure and aimed her gun towards his face. With a bang, Maru missed his head intentionally and the bullet lodged in his shoulder as he cried out.

 

She really likes shooting me, Steve would later remember thinking as Maru aimed her gun, prepared to make one more shot.

 

He managed to use his damaged arm to grab her ankle, and use the other to finally reach deep into his back pocket and rip out a hooked knife, quickly slashing through the back of Maru’s knee, cutting through the tendons and ligaments, her weight collapsing under it.

 

Soon, Steve was upon her, scrambling to get as many slices into her as he could, but only managed to damage her legs and stomach as she expertly maneuvered out of his grip. He may have been bigger and stronger, but Marina Maru had the wiry winding strength of a python, and more speed to wriggle out of his hold. She fired the gun next to his ear, the bullet hitting the sidewalk, but the blast was enough to disorient Steve, causing a terrible ringing in his already tinnitus addled ears.

 

Managing to weekly stand her ground, Maru took the opportunity give Steve a crushing right hook, that hit squarely on his affected left ear. Not wasting a moment, but also having some sense of honor, Maru discarded her pistol and withdrew a long Bowie knife from her utility belt, brandishing it.

 

“Fair fight, Master Chief?” she drawled, flinching as she realized blood was oozing freely from the damage done to her abdomen.

 

Covering his bleeding ear, Steve staggered to his feet, his own trusty knife tight in his hand.

 

“Yours has an interesting curve,” Maru teased. “But mine is bigger. Care to test which is more effective?”

 

Nose wrinkling in disgust, Steve merely raised his dagger slightly to show that he was prepared.

 

“Lady, you don’t want to know what this particular tool was used for.”

 

He waited for Maru to make the first move. As swiftly as she could manage on two cut up legs she charged after the Master Chief.

 

Both were trained in combat, both knew how to use tools to their advantage. For Maru, this was a chance to solidify herself as a superior mercenary and leader. For Steve, as much as he would later regret it, it was about revenge.

 

As Maru lunged he grabbed her arm, ready to disarm her, but she swiftly used her body to pull him to the ground. She was about to strike with her blade but Steve caught her wrist and flipped her over. Maru, was an expert at exploiting weaknesses, and gave a swift punch to the bullet wound in Steve’s shoulder and the two tumbled once more. Steve managed to hack into her side and managed to slice off her thumb. The lobe of Steve’s damaged ear was bitten off in the scuffle, and Colonel Maru finally struck home, sinking her blade deep into his belly.

 

Unable to use any of his limbs to knock Maru back, Steve crushed his head into hers, Maru stumbling backward. He caught her by the collar and dragged her further away from Wonder Woman.

 

He pinned her against her damaged van, hand at her throat, knife underneath her ribcage, poised to either gut or carve.

 

“You wouldn’t kill me. You don’t dare have the balls to do so…” Maru gasped through blood.

 

“Believe it or not, war has rules, Colonel,” Steve retorted. “And you’ve consistently broken them at the expense of innocent lives.”

 

He took a swipe with his blade, cutting her side, flinching against her cries of pain. “I am not Wonder Woman. I regrettably am not as merciful as she in these scenarios.”

 

He sank his knife deep underneath Colonel Maru’s ribcage, pushing the blade up towards her heart. Just hook and pull and her beating heart would be in his hands if he wanted to.

It was a  trick he learned the hard way while getting involved with Bedouin forces in toppling a Vandal Savage sponsored warlord who launched a campaign against their homelands. Just the memory of such mortification and brutality caused him to stop just short of pulling Maru’s heart clean from her body.

 

Warm, sticky fluid poured all over his hand and front. Colonel Maru struggled against his hold and the blade, fear flickering in her black eyes.

 

“Take the shot! Take the shot!” Maru screeched into her radio and two shots rang out….

Chapter Text

Getting shot wasn’t something Wonder Woman was used to. Getting shot at , certainly, but rarely had anyone succeeded in striking her with a bullet. And boy did it hurt. No wonder Io’s normally hardened combat disposition crumbled entirely during the bullets and bracelets trial after having a bullet pierce her side.

In the fog of her pain, Diana could hear a commotion along the street. She rolled on her side, hand over the wound under her breast and caught a glimpse of blood on the pavement. Blood that wasn’t hers.

She followed the trail to the van, where she could see two bleeding figures engaged. Steve’s large frame was obstructing her view of whomever he was pinning to the van.

Then she heard Maru’s panicked cry.

She raced towards Steve, hearing gunshots.

She managed to tackle both Steve and Maru to the ground, the two bullets piercing the damaged van. Maru groaned, becoming unconscious. Diana was about to turn to pull her along with Steve, but more bullets shot at her prevented her from being able to do anything further.

Biting her lip, and dragging Maru out of gun fire, Diana took Steve and fled from the encroaching mercenaries. Hopefully the distraction of their fallen commander would give her and Steve enough time to escape.

Diana found a place for them to hide in the back alley of an old colonial pub. As gently as she could, she placed him on the ground, propping him up against the brick of the pub. He was clearly struggling to stay conscious, the pain growing more evident now that Steve’s adrenaline was draining and all he could think about was the pain from...everywhere.

He glanced down at the knife still in his gut. He touched the handle, growling as he found it firmly stuck.

“Uhhgh, that’s not good,” he managed, as his grip tightened on the handle.

“No, don’t pull it out,” Diana warned. “You could bleed to death. Here.”

She tore his shirt where the knife was embedded and removed her cloak and began to tend to his injury.

“Wow, we are really fucking up today, aren’t we,” Steve managed a wry, exhausted laugh, as Diana placed the cloak over his seeping wound. “Excuse my language.”

“If it helps you to stay with me, then you say whatever you want.”

She tied her cloak tightly around his abdomen to quell the blood flow enough to take the weapon out without him bleeding to death or going into shock.

In the distance, they heard sirens. A shot of coldness ran through them, knowing those sirens were connected to Maru’s attack.

“Is she--” Diana asked, leaving it up to Steve to answer the question as to whether Marina Maru was still alive or not.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to know,” he replied too quickly, as if he really didn’t want to dwell on the idea that he may have killed the mercenary. Deserved or no, he just didn’t want to think about it. He could come up with every excuse in the book to justify killing another person in combat, but what did that leave him? A shallow excuse that his heart wouldn’t and didn’t believe.

Diana did her best to hurriedly stop Steve’s bleeding enough to get him some proper help. The bullet was still in his shoulder, and had to be removed soon.

“Let’s get you to a safe house,” she said as she braced her arm behind his back, prepared to pick him up.

He stopped her with a growling, “No, no, no, you’re not Diana. I’m coming with you.”

She stood and glared down at him, “You are certainly not. You have a gash in your stomach and a bullet still in you. Even a fool would know to get rest.”

“Look we can spend a half hour arguing about this, wanting to help each other almost to a detriment, or we can skip it and let me go with you in a half a minute.”

She wasn’t amused. She had been lenient on him before with his injuries, knowing he was tough and had gotten out of pretty hairy scrapes before. But she was less lenient now that she could clearly see the entire front of his green military uniform covered in wet dark crimson. She was sure if she gave him a chance to look at his bloody self, he may see her way.

“I’m feeling better already,” Steve assured.

“And if we run into trouble?”

He grinned, “That’s what I got you for.”

As much as that was true, Diana did not want to budge. But both had a streak of stubbornness, Diana moreso than Steve, but that didn't mean he couldn't be just as bullheaded.

“Noble men kill themselves,” Diana said softly, to no one in particular, before bending down and pulling on Steve’s collar so that he was no longer leaning against the brick, which didn’t hide the blood that was smeared a bit. She hoped someone from the staff wouldn’t come back here for a smoke break.

She held his gaze and made her intent clear, “I will take you with me. But as soon as I see there is too much for you to handle in this state, I will pull you back out, kicking and screaming if I have to.”

“Gotcha,” his grin only seemed to further Diana’s now sour mood.

“It’s not something to be happy about, Steve. I am serious. I will not have you suffer to placate your ego.”

That hurt a bit and Steve’s lips tightened at the scolding, but the issue was dropped. He used the wall to help himself up to prove that he can stand and walk. The pain was still there but he tried not to flinch too much. He didn’t dare to tell her that if he were to die, he’d rather do it on the battlefield at her side than on a hospital bed or alone in a safe house.

Diana took a quick peek out into the main street to see if everything was clear. She turned, held Steve by the collar and the cloak tied tightly around his stomach.

“Ready?” she asked.

“For--?”

She lifted him as she began to fly. Destination: Veronica Cale.

 

Here she was. The barren island that was the setting of the greatest lie told to her. Well now the island looked sufficiently populated. A young woman, an older woman, a helicopter pilot, two dogs, and...Cheetah.

Diana frowned, barely containing her rage. Barbara Ann, how could you?

“Easy, easy,” Steve said low in his throat, feeling her grip tighten with her anger. The grunt in the back of his throat pulled her out of it and she gingerly set Steve down.

“Cale!” Diana’s voice nearly roared in the wind. “Your destructive path stops here. There is NOTHING here.”

“My issue, again, isn’t with you, Princess. Not this time,” Veronica Cale gestured to the younger woman, blond and ….faceless. “It’s with those that did this.”

Fury dissipating into pity Diana pled with her, “Please Cale, there is nothing here but lies. Whoever or whatever did this or told you how to cure it are liars.”

It’s what they do, she thought to herself.

Thunder cracked, her arm throbbed, and the tree seemed to groan. Diana flinched as pain seared her arm, blood oozing down her bracers and dripping on to the ground. Cale said something, but Diana couldn’t hear it. She just saw Barbara--Cheetah turn to Cale with a questioning look.

“Open it how?” Cheetah growled.

Diana tried to stop her, “No, Barbara Ann, please. I don’t want to lose to you to darkness.”

Wrong. Thing. To. Say.

Her feline face previously set in mild confusion changed into blind primal fury. She roared. Her words bleeding into growls, but Diana found the message clear.

“You already lost me.”

Ice settled even more into her gut, crippling her to the point that she could fend off Cheetah as she pounced at her. Diana found her back scraped against the black bark of the dark tree, Cheetah’s clawed hand pinning her injured arm to the tree, thumb digging deeper and deeper into the wound on her arm.

Her blood opened the gate.

As if some cosmic axe descended upon the looming tree, it split revealing the way to Themyscira. But Diana knew better.

Before anyone had time to react, the faceless girl ran towards the glowing gate, chased closely by Cale’s demon dogs. In a flash they dove in.

“Izzy!!” Cale raced after the girl and Diana followed quickly behind her hoping to stop her before she…

She felt an unsettling tug at her navel as the door to the spiritual realm pulled her and Veronica Cale inside. Inside, they found the truth.

Chapter Text

 

She awoke, a bit disoriented. But as the beautiful morning sun shone through the bay windows of her new bedroom, she relaxed back into her bed, her bed, letting the warmth grace her.

It had been an exhausting few weeks. She felt like she hadn’t slept during any of it. The truth was revealed to her in very much a way that was akin to a hammer to the skull. Ares, as it turns, was imprisoned in the gate between Themyscira and the rest of the world. Ares seemed to be perfectly content to be free from a freedom of madness.

“I rather be bound by love, than roam a day longer sick and angry.”

But to be free with love. Can it really be impossible?

She had Themyscira closed to her. Cale’s daughter cured but unable to return. Themyscira was safe and Ares’ sons--those who began this foolishness in the first place--were bound, unable to hurt man, god, or Amazon again. Cheetah went missing, Cale still vindictive and bitter to not help the damage she had done.

The only solace she had for a while were her mother’s last words to her.

“I am proud of you.”

And then her gods. Those who she gave her heart and soul and devotion to. She knew of the cynicism some have towards gods but the thought of doubting or condemning a god’s will wasn’t something she claimed to understand, until now.

Because whether it’s Zeus, God, Buddha, Odin, Ra, Shiva, or whoever, people who give their love and lives to these gods do it under the contract that they will be protected and guided in exchange. And often these poor people who have given belief are taken advantage of.

And that soured her gut. But unlike those who abandoned their belief in response, she sought to confront her gods. She wouldn’t accept their will, nor will she turn her back on a faith she’s held since birth, but she WILL get their answer.

And they gave it to her. An old crone explaining gently that no matter the lies or truth, she was who she was. An adventurous girl who grew into a woman who loves and is loved. A woman who inspires greatness. A woman who is a wonder.

The lasso wasn’t her. It wasn’t what gave her truth. The truth was with her all throughout. It didn’t hit her fully until she found in the waters of that ancient place, that the old crone was the wise Athena.

Athena professed her love of her. She professed all the god’s love for her. And then suddenly, the pain of being betrayed felt more like a dawning and she returned with newer spirits.

Eaten up by lies, madness, betrayal, and fury, sleep was the last on her mind. But now...now she had love. Sleepy lazy love that felt warm like the sun currently whitening her sheets. Love that graced her like a god-like blessing. She sat up in bed, tossing her hair back. She glanced at her side where the evidence of another person was there, despite her bedside being empty.

Diana breathed in deeply, noting an earthy smell along with the strong aroma of hot coffee brewing. She knew those combination of smells. She dragged herself out of bed and walked out into the main area of her new house.

Coffee was hot, and a tea kettle was warming, with a box of green tea resting beside it. She turned to look out over the ocean and found the man who shared her bed that night. Steve, in his shirt and jeans from the evening before, was leaning against the railing of the ocean view walkway of her home.

She slid open the glass door to wish him a good morning.

“Morning,” Diana rang.

 

Steve’s gaze from the ocean turn to her and his eyes widened, “‘Morning, Diana. Umm, er, you know you are naked right?”

“It’s not like you haven’t seen me naked, Steve.”

“Yes, but--” Steve glanced around. The house was remote, hidden among trees. The nearest neighbor was probably a mile away.

“What? What?” she giggled. “Who is going to see me?”

“Google Earth.”

“I couldn’t locate my clothes, and I rather not lounge around in my armor.”

Steve touched her shoulder, innocently, as if he wasn’t even looking at a naked goddess, “Sorry, I forgot to tell you your clothes are in the boxes in your closet. We--uh, the guys didn’t think it’d be right to rifle through your clothes to put them away.”

She caressed his now shaven cheek, something she had a habit of doing all last night. Though Diana didn’t exactly mind the beard, she liked the change. It made him look younger, less weighed down by the burdens that had aged him a bit beyond his years.

Like when we first met.

He was so much younger then, and much older now. It saddened Diana to think about the shining innocent smile he had, and how it transformed into the softer smile now, held back by weariness. He had matured in many ways, good ways, but Diana would be lying if she said she didn’t miss the eager optimistic boy from years ago. The one who landed on her shores. Then again, the Diana who left Themyscira with him wasn’t the same Diana she was now.

“You have a tendency to ruin my meal plans you know.”

“I do?” Diana said with a quirked eyebrow.

“I was going to make you breakfast in bed. Pancakes, eggs, sausage, or an omelet. I wasn’t sure.”

“We can have your dinner for breakfast. You made it.”

“Sure but wouldn’t you rather have something fresher?”

“I’m walking outside of my house in the nude, Steve, there isn’t anything about this whole thing that isn’t ‘fresh’.”

They spent the rest of the day in bed. So much for Steve’s concern over her lack of clothing. And he had a suspicion it was planned that way anyway. He would be the last to complain now. He did make the offer to take a quick hike outside to see the property and point out its borders. But that plan was forgone as he was consumed by his Angel until dark and then some.

 

Diana had returned to Man’s World with a new beginning in her mind. She would still linger on thoughts about her past, but for the moment being, it was not high on her list of her concerns. She and Steve began to get serious with their relationship and when rumors were reaching other members of the Justice League no one seemed at all surprised, but most seemed invested, even if they tried to hide it.

Diana remained quiet about it with League company. It wasn’t their business, and she respected Steve’s privacy. Same to her. Reporters always hounded her on her love life, and with recent rumors it only exacerbated the issues.

“If I was dating someone, I would not at all violate their privacy by divulging their information,” was her only answer.


Where Steve and Diana were resuming their relationship quickly, Etta had been trying in vain to search for her own love, Barbara Ann. Diana suspected she was doing her own investigation, keeping it from her. When Diana thought to confront her friend about it, Steve pulled her back,

“Let it go, Diana. If she feels she must do this on her own, then let her at least try.”

That didn’t settle well with Diana. How can ignoring the problem ever hope to help her friend?

“But for Barbara’s sake as well,” Diana couldn’t help but think she could’ve done more to help her friend. But with everything going on at once, there was no time to consider what might’ve happened to her. “I can’t help but think we made a mistake…”

To that, Steve scoffed, “I don’t think so.”

“How can you say that? After all she had done-”

“Precisely,” he ground out, chopping the carrots a little harder this time. “All she had done, to hurt you. And so many others. Let her own up to that.”

She folded her arms in dismay. She found that when Steve was rigidly unforgiving, he quickly became not as attractive.

“And as friends, there should’ve been someone there to prevent her from harming herself or anyone else. It’s our responsibility as her friends.”

The knife he had in his hand scraped against the grain of his cutting board, before letting his hand limply drop to his side as he faced her. He struggled to call Barbara Ann a friend, no matter how much she helped Diana uncover the truth, “Look, I wasn’t about to go get my throat cut before I found out what happened to you. When you got back, we left, there wasn’t much we could do.”

You assured me she was okay. That’s why I left!”

There was a heavy pause as Steve’s eyes flitted around unable to look directly into her own. He glanced down and murmured, “I see…”

“Steve-”

“Cheetah is - was - a grown woman. If she wanted to be found, she wouldn’t have wandered off. You really think you would be able to find her so easily if she was running away?” was his explanation.

“You had just gotten out of the mental institution,” Steve continued counting off everything Diana had to endure on his fingers, “just gotten shot, was sucked into the creepy tree of death or whatever, was spat back out missing few people and told me you confirmed you could never see your home again. I figured - that after all that - you would need some rest.”

“My wellbeing doesn’t matter,” Diana hissed pointing towards her chest. “Thanks to our negligence, Veronica Cale’s life was in danger. She was nearly mauled to death.”

Steve tightened his lips and this time crossed his arms tightly over his chest, knowing the severity of what his upcoming words implied, “I wish I could say I’d find that terrible, but I find that I believe that perhaps it’s deserved.”

Diana’s nose wrinkled slightly at that, “Cale’s actions are severe, but she was doing it to help her daughter. What would you do if it was Allison or Ian, or Sandy? ”

The line in his jaw went rigid, but he kept his eyes on focus, staring grimly back into hers this time, looking for a moment, that he wanted to continue to challenge, to stick up for himself. Instead, he wanted to cool off. His temper----honestly he was afraid what that look like.

Steve held up his hands and backed down, “Listen, I have to go, I’m sorry.”

Diana held her tongue as she watched him leave, feeling slightly calm as he still turned back and waved a severe, “Talk to you later.” before leaving her home.

 

That was the first of their fights that left them with broken hearts. But as with most couples, they mended and moved on, still hopeful for their future together.

Then the UN happened. Steve was ever supportive of her as she began to work closer and closer with the United Nations. Still it was becoming clearer and clearer that she was being used as nothing more than a diplomatic tool, unable to do much without reporting to them.

Going into warzones, saving refugees, with the international politics binding her the only relief she found was that she would go on missions with Steve at her side. He at first was very helpful in helping her deal with the trauma of seeing the horrors she was seeing. Eventually he felt like he was losing control as allies were also taking advantage of the refugees. Helpless citizens being bullied in what should be their salvation.

Suddenly he wasn’t there to listen to her vent and weep, to talk her woes. He became colder to most, focusing all his attention to the mission at hand. He busied himself to keep himself from succumbing to depression again.

When they could find time to get some rest, they managed to fall asleep in their cots, holding each other as warning shots and tank fire rang out in the background.

The heaviest of the conflict had died down enough for Diana to be persuaded she could return home for a check up. Steve remained behind. She couldn’t recall if they ever said goodbye.to each other before she left.

Even on the homefront, Diana couldn’t get rest. At Etta’s brother’s wedding an attack was launched by a researcher with the government. Steve returned home just in time to see the tail end of the conflict, discovering a whole group of his former peers using Diana to make themselves powerful.

He wasn’t much help. Etta Candy and Diana did much of what made everything meet a peaceful end. Only it wasn’t long before Diana was called away again. Something to do with Batman and Steve’s own ancestral home, Ireland. He watched her glide away across the waters of Virginia Beach.

 

“Harnessing her power to help our troops,” Etta said aloud softly as Diana disappeared in the horizon. “The things we do…”

Steve let Etta’s niece down so the child could play with her dolls. This wasn’t a conversation for young ears. He crossed his arms over his chest, lips set in a grim line. “When I think about it that way, I find myself not hating them so much. If we had a thousand Wonder Women, imagine the world and what it could achieve.”

Etta shook her head at his optimism. “We have a thousand Wonder Womans. In Superman, Captain Atom, Firestorm, Flash, you name it. But reality is that we cannot control them. You and I don’t want to, but you cannot deny that there is a risk.”

“We’ve had these conversations before…”

“I know, Steve,” Etta sighed. “I just don’t want to you stuck in the middle. You were the fall guy last time, and since you are more closely connected now more than ever, you are an easy target.”

Steve stared at his friend, getting a chill in the normally warm feeling he had when thinking of the future.

 

It was always precarious. As their future became as it was. While Diana was worried about incidents involving a new government investigation into a group of murders Batman was suspected of, Steve was busy with his friends trying to investigate a series of artifact thefts. It took them to remote areas across the globe where they met hunger and plague, Steve getting the cold sweats and shakes for three days straight until they were able to find a village doctor. Chief nearly died on the boat they stowed away in from a high fever and left his skin pallid. He, thankfully, made a swift recovery on his own.

When the couple would finally meet again, it would be at Diana’s home. Steve had just returned from his flight, looking surprisingly sturdier than usual, even after dropping so much weight from lack of food during the middle of his mission. He had gained the strength and toughness back when he and Sameer climbed the Ural Mountains to follow leads about a target.

But he was tired, and his weary, rather rugged looking face expressed that openly. He dropped his duffle bag on the couch, ready to pass out and sleep for the rest of the week, when he heard a commotion on the deck.

He entered the living area, just as she turned on the lights. There, Steve and Diana stood, staring at each other for a moment, almost in shock of what to do.

“Steve,” her gasp came more of a whisper. She then smiled, “Welcome back soldier.”

He flushed at that, never thinking he’d ever hear that cliche line aimed at him.

“Steve, I am beyond glad to see you. I felt I had been gone forever, being trapped on Earth 0 for ten years in their time, with only Bruce to keep me company. He and I are rather homesick-”

She didn’t know if Steve was listening as he purposefully strode towards her and cupped her face, feeling too tired to even hear the entire tale.

“Tell me later, Di.”

The subtle movement of her jaw gave an indication that she indeed wanted to tell him anyway.

“Right now, my focus is on you, Diana. Forgive me for my behavior in the warzone in Syria. I was--preoccupied mentally,” he gave a grim smile, tucking a wave of her black hair behind her ear. He leaned over and kissed her cheek, warm and sweet. She turned her head so her lips could capture his.

They had more caution this time, something they both welcomed. It felt like they were learning each other again, the hesitation seeping away. Yet, in the end, Diana only felt sad. Thinking of Steve and the path he chose made her sad.

“You shouldn’t have to do this,” she whispered in the night, not aware that he was still awake.

“Do what?” he asked aloud.

Diana rolled over on her side and didn’t answer. She just traced small patterns on his back, watching his breathing until it evened out.

He then sighed under her touch, not in pleasure but of annoyance at his phone vibrating in his discarded pants pocket. Steve shifted out from her embrace and sat on the edge of his bed, fumbling to find his phone.

When he finally managed to find it, he swiped the answer button and held it up to his ear. In the meanwhile, Diana gracefully swept to her drawers for a nightgown. She pretended to have a mildly difficult time trying to locate one as she tried to piece together why someone would call Steve at 2.am.

After his usual formalities, Steve grew silent as whomever was on the other side began to talk. Diana glanced briefly over her shoulder, watching in dismay as Steve had his head in his hand, while the other was still holding the phone.

“I understand,” he said in dismay, voice tight. “Yeah, I’ll take a look. Right away.”

When he hung up, Diana had “finally” found the nightgown she was looking for and lost all desire to keep her eavesdropping secret, “What was that about?”

“Umm,” Steve’s brow furrowed in that way when his mind was going a mile a minute thinking of everything at once, restless. “There was a -- uh -- incident during one of our operations, and I’m going to have to check it out.”

Diana froze as she crawled back into bed. Back? He just returned home. There was no way he would be called away so soon. And the fact that Steve just...accepted the role was alarming. He was dutiful to his job, yes, but he’s always maintained reason.

“Maybe I can escort you there tomorrow-”

“No, I gotta catch a red eye right now,” he murmured as he slipped on his pants. “And this is...military business for now until I know exactly what’s going on. So, no, you can’t come with me until I have somewhat of a an idea of what we’re dealing with.”

Diana snapped her mouth shut, her next question already answered for her.

He buckled up and grabbed his duffle bag off the floor, hesitating only a little as he caught a glimpse of her leg dangling over the edge of the bed underneath her silk beige nightgown. It must’ve been how tired he was, or the fact he was still feeling the afterglow of their previous lovemaking, but he lacked resistance, as he placed a kiss to her knee, her thigh and then to her belly before he wrapped his arms around her waist, burrowing his face into her abdomen, not wanting to leave.

“I have to go,” his words vibrated against her skin, but he held on tighter, the unseen force of his natural urge tugging his conscious in the other direction.

“You don’t want to,” she said, matter-of-factly. She stroked his hair, torn between keeping him with her, or letting him go off to do his duty. If she was a slightly more selfish person, she would pull him up, roll him over, and made sure he didn’t leave the bed into well past dawn. But, to her chagrin, she wasn’t. Instead she gave a light tug of his hair and he lifted his head to gaze into her eyes.

Neither remembered what was said afterwards. What needed to be done was so implicit, nothing needed to be said. He lifted his bag, they kissed each other goodbye once more, and separated into the night.

 

Bwanda,

 

Steve stared at the body bags on the dusty ground, the faces of the deceased finally hidden away.

It had been a truly awful sight. A village, with 20 dead civilians layed out in the streets. Every last one of them was shot by a US soldier.

When that news unfolded all life drained from Steve’s body. Said soldier was still around, probably awaiting processing of some sort, but Steve wasn’t thinking much about him. These innocent civilians were dead...for what?

“Master Chief,” a Ugandan wearing a military uniform approached him, his own corral of troops not far behind him. He must’ve just arrived. “Captain Nwade. Military Special Forces charged with coordinating with US military intelligence.”

Steve shook his hand briefly, before turning his forlorn gaze to the corpses being carried away on a truck, a few of the surviving villagers weeping, not knowing if they’ll have a chance to bury their family members. “What the hell happened here, Captain?”

Captain Nwade didn’t say anything for a long while. If Steve wasn’t so caught up in the tragedy of it all, he’d be demanding answers out of the man’s silence. In truth Captain Nwade was probably just as aghast at the state of things as Steve was. Of all the possible outcomes that could occur in the many operations against Cadullo’s remaining allies, this was not one that was expected.

“It’s...a lot of things, Master Chief,” the Captain’s tone meant that this whole thing was just one colossal disaster. “To put it in the most indelicate way possible, US and African Alliance intelligence reported to special forces that this was where a Cadullo faction was going to target next. Along the way, something must’ve have been miscommunicated as the special forces agent was told that this was where that faction was hiding. The soldier didn’t verify with intelligence before acting, as per protocol, but his superior confirmed that he was told that the village was where the faction was.”

Steve was almost aghast at how such a gigantic catastrophe of an operation could exist. His disgust must've shown on his face as the Captain nodded with that sentiment, "Which should we deal with first. The officer or the villagers."

He snapped out of his trance, thinking painfully of what the villagers had to witness. Not the least the pain their loved ones must've felt. 

"Captain Nwade, can you talk to the villagers while I deal with...with the soldier. I don't know which would be easier for you."

"Neither really, " he shrugged, before motioning for his soldiers to leave their truck to assist the village. "But the guy's one of yours, so..."

It's my mess to clean  up.

Said perpetrator was in his sights, detained and surrounded by fellow SEALs in fatigues. The man was sitting on a munitions crate, looking decidedly shaken. Steve wasn't used to seeing the look of fear directed at him, but the young soldier began shaking even more.

"Master Chief these were the coordinates, I swear," he began to babble and Steve no longer held back the urge to strike the officer on the side of his helmet.

It was apparent the SEALs expected a more violent punishment, and indeed Steve wanted so much of wail on the soldier for his negligence.

"I am so furious I can spit," Steve growled through clenched teeth. "You didn't VERIFY with your superiors!"

"Yes, Master Chief-" the soldier squeaked, choking on his rapid breaths.

"These are innocent lives cut short because of OUR negligence! Because YOU didn't follow protocol!"

"Yes, Master Chief-"

He wished he was done with this kid. But no amount of punishment would bring back those lives lost. And it wouldn't make anyone feel better. He would recommend a dishonorable discharge, but given the circumstances, multiple parties of his military at fault, it was likely that the tiny village wouldn't see justice for their loved ones.

For not the first time, he became aware this his job was starting to bother him.