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in the hearts of humankind

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Diana looks into Doctor Isabel Maru’s eyes, and she thinks about how, yes, Doctor Poison has done terrible things. Doctor Maru is scarred, and she’s beautiful. She’s killed hundreds, perhaps even thousands, without even seeing their faces. Without even knowing their names.

And yet—

She looks back up at Ares, who wants this of her, who thinks that her birthright is to kill someone for killing.

And Diana thinks of Steve Trevor, who handed her his father’s watch (“It’s still ticking”) and walked away to what he had to have known would be his death.

Of Steve Trevor, who led his men into an enemy camp while she stood by, too bitter and heartsick to lift a hand in aid. Who all ran in, despite—Chief was a trader, not a warrior; and Charlie had nightmares about battles he’d left behind; and Sameer wanted to be an actor, who used his talents in war because he had to do something. And Steve himself, who couldn’t tell her what it was like to live without war, because war had consumed his life.

One memory leads to the next, and:

Etta Candy, deciding they were friends after less than a minute. Fighting for her place in a world constrained by men who didn’t want to let women move freely in any sense. Who had carried her sword, and held it, untrained, against a fleeing foe. Who sat with her, patient, explaining the intricacies of London’s ridiculous standards for women’s clothing. Who fought her battles with words, and who gave help unstinting.

Every single man with haunted eyes, who had gone to war and come back missing a piece of theirselves, whether visibly on their bodies or soul-hidden or both. Every single man who marched by them, seeing them, knowing that they could come back like that—or not come back at all—and who kept marching anyway. Who kept moving because they had made a choice, and they were going to stick to it, no matter what they faced. Who, even knowing what they faced, chose anyway.

Who killed, and told themselves it was only because they had families to protect. Friends to guard, like the shieldsisters of Themyscira. Beautiful spaces—because not every place was like London, and even a city like London could be beloved by those who lived within her walls—they wanted to return to, or to keep from feeling the burn of gunpowder and acid and gas. Because they believed in something, and murmured prayers as they walked, each footstep another word, or knelt beside the patch of dirt they would curl up to sleep in, and looked to the sky and sent their hopes up to their gods, that they would find peace.

The families of Veld, who wanted nothing more than to go home. Whose love and joy had made a haven of normalcy in the midst of war. Cannon-fire had echoed in the distance, that day, but the people of Veld hadn’t heard. They’d just heard their town was free. They had heros in their midst. They forgave her the destruction of the clocktower, because, they said, it was a small price to pay for their homes. They feasted and laughed and danced and they had been welcomed, truly welcomed, in a way Diana had not previously felt in the world beyond Themyscira.

It had snowed, and when she’d looked into the sky it had been like the stars were falling around her, dancing to the wind alongside her and Steve. Charlie had played the piano, and sang, and the world had been warm and bright despite the chill of snowfall. The distant horizons had been silent and still, like the world had wanted to celebrate Veld’s freedom alongside them. Steve had smiled at her with eyes as bright as the morning sky, and held her gently as they swayed to the music that was beautiful not because it was perfect but because it was played with all the musician’s heart and soul.

“Who would I be if I stayed?” she had asked Queen Hippolyta, she had asked her mother. There had been no response, then. Diana wonders if she would have understood, then, the only response sounding in her heart: You would not be a hero.

She had chosen, just like all the people around her. Just like Doctor Maru; even if they were on opposite sides of this field, even if Doctor Maru had listened as Ares whispered in her heart and Diana stood now in the flames with her arms trembling, not from the weight of the tank overhead (because she knew, now, that this was nothing compared to what she could carry if she tried), but from the effort of looking at Ares’ truth and finding it lacking.

Her mother said that men didn’t deserve her. And that might be true.

But it wasn’t the whole truth, just like Doctor Maru’s weapons weren't the whole truth of her, though they were the only part Diana had seen. Just like Charlie’s songs were as close to his heart as his nightmares. Like Chief’s memories of his people dying was overpowered by the need to stand against another wave of death, even if it meant fighting alongside those who had killed his kind. Like Sameer’s decision to choose willingly something forced upon him. Like how Etta was capable of standing up to men twice her size, who never saw her because they didn’t care to look.

Like how Steve Trevor was a man, and had killed, and would kill again, but believed with every speck of his being that he was doing the right thing, and was willing to die for that belief.

Diana breathes in. Breathes out.

She throws the tank away, and the scraps of Ares’ power wrapped around her heart tighten one last time and then relax.

Doctor Maru scrambles to her feet and runs, leaving her mask behind. Diana doesn’t know if she’ll survive the battle to come. She doesn’t know if she wants Doctor Maru to live or die.

But that is not for her to decide, now.

Diana faces Ares, sets her heart against his will, and charges.