(The third time Diana did not find him, he found her.)
Diana was walking home from the market when she heard his voice again for the first time in over thirty years.
She stopped but it took her a moment to turn, a moment to look. She did not believe it at first.
(Steve calling a greeting as she arrived at Maya’s; Steve bashfully getting her attention to ask her a question; Steve shouting her name as he raced across the tarmac.)
She turned and he was there, trotting across the street and coming to a stop right in front of her.
Her heart was in her throat and when she spoke, her voice trembled: “Steve?”
His eyes went so tender she could hardly stand it. “Yeah, it’s me. Promise.”
“You remember?” Diana asked, her voice hoarse. He hadn’t before, not before they had even met.
But Steve nodded.
“Yeah,” he said, and he laughed a little, smiled at her. “I saw you on TV fighting some giant, ugly monster thing and it hit me like a freight train. I was sick for three days. I was lucky — half my unit had food poisoning at the time. They wrote it off as that when they couldn’t explain it, otherwise I might have been discharged.”
Diana couldn’t even process that. She was overwhelmed. He was here. He remembered.
(She had missed him and missed him and missed him.)
Steve was looking at her in concern. He leaned forward, like he was going to touch her, but then stopped herself. It almost made her sob.
“Sorry, I’m going too fast. I didn’t think—” he began.
Diana did not want to think.
She stepped forward and kissed him.
It should have been awkward, part of her wanted it to be, but it wasn’t. Even with the grocery bags in her arms, it wasn’t. She kissed him like she knew him, like it hadn’t been years, and he kissed her back just the same.
“Oh,” Steve said, when they parted. He seemed dazed. “Hi.”
Diana laughed wetly. She could taste salt in her mouth. “Hi.”
“Here,” he said, relieving her of one of her bags. “Let me.”
Diana frowned, thrown off and about to protest — Steve knew she didn’t need help carrying the bags, what was he...? — before he stuck his free hand out, offering it for her to take. She looked at him, surprised, touched, and he blushed slightly, but smiled at her, nervousness playing around the edges of it.
But he was not wrong. As Diana took his hand, she realized she needed to be keep some sort of hold on him. She looked at him tremulously; he smiled at her, big and bright.
Diana took him back to her apartment because she wanted to. Because she did not know what else to do. He talked to her on the way but Diana couldn’t seem to take it in, her heart was pounding so loudly in her ears.
She just wanted to touch him.
(How could this be real? He had never remembered before not like this.)
Her heart still ached for her Steve, for the life they had planned, the life they hadn’t lived.
(And the boy who had died. And the man who had saved the day.)
She did not waste time when they got to her apartment. Steve barely had a moment to look around before the bags were on the floor and she was pressing him back against the wall.
She could tell for a moment Steve did not know how to react but he had always been quick and he said he remembered everything—
(Why hadn’t her Steve remembered everything? Why wasn’t he given more of the good memories?
Why hadn’t they had more time?)
—and judging by the way he kissed her back he really had. His hands covered the same spots of her body they had before, as if she hadn’t missed him (missed her Steve) for so many years.
“Diana,” he said, breathlessly. There was heat in his eyes. But there was concern too.
She ignored the concern.
They made it to her bedroom — she directed them there even as she kissed Steve breathless again and again. She had divested him of his shirt and he was unbuttoning her blouse when they toppled into bed together. It made it harder to get his pants off — it made her frown for a moment when he was wearing boxer briefs instead of just briefs (like her Steve had) — but did not stop them.
She straddled him and kissed him and his hands slid down her back just the way she remembered and didn’t fumble at all with the clasp of her bra and it was like, it was just like...
(It wasn’t. It wasn’t right.)
Diana stopped abruptly and pulled away. She didn’t leave but she sat back up, still straddling his legs but...
(Steve kissing her wrists as he undid her vambraces; Steve kissing her, the rough scratch of his beard, they way they had learned to laugh in bed together.)
“Diana?” Steve asked.
She looked down at him, still sprawled beneath her. His lips were pink from her kisses and his eyes were clear.
He was looking at her with such tender concern that she didn’t know if she could stand it. She couldn’t speak past the lump in her throat. She thought she might cry.
Steve was careful not to dislodge her but he sat up. They were still so close together she could feel the heat of his body. It made her shiver.
“Hey,” Steve said. He reached out slowly, slowly enough that she could have moved away, and tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. “It’s okay.”
Diana had to clasp her hand over her mouth. It was the only way to keep a sob from escaping.
(Steve was there. Steve was right there.
Why didn’t it feel real? She had always missed the ones she had lost before but she didn’t remember it feeling like this, like her heart was still a cracked stone in her chest.)
“It’s okay,” Steve repeated. His hand didn’t leave her face. He moved to wipe away the tears that had leaked from her eyes, then to cup her cheek as he ducked his head to make sure he was looking her in the eye.
“We don’t really know each other,” Steve said with a sweet, slightly sad smile, echoing her own words from a lifetime ago. “I mean, you know me better than anyone ever has, I think. And I think I know you too. But you must have changed since...since the last time we knew each other. And you know me and that means you always see the differences in me as well as what’s the same. I’m never exactly the same.”
His eyes were kind as he said it. It was that, that and the understanding that made her break down.
(Her Steve had only had glimpses of that. It had taken so much effort on his part not to just compare himself negatively.
She loved him so much still. But he couldn’t have understood, not entirely.
It was enough that he had been himself.
Diana didn’t know what to do with this understanding.)
Steve held her while she cried.
(She missed him and missed him and missed him.)
Steve put away her groceries and made her tea.
(She tried to ignore the sound of him opening and closing all her cupboard doors. She had moved to Paris after Steve died and then again to a new apartment several years ago. There was no reason for him to know where things were. It should not have bothered her that he didn’t.)
He put it down on the coffee table, in front of where she was sitting cross legged on her couch, but then he took a step back. He took the chair across from her, with the table between them, instead of sitting beside her.
Diana was disappointed: she felt the distance like an ache.
Diana was relieved: she didn’t know what to say to him.
(There were still a few pieces of Steve’s clothing hanging up in her closet. She had packed most of them up and given them away but a few she carried with her because the idea of parting with them was too much.
She wanted to grab one of his shirts and wrap it around her as they got dressed again.
“I’m on leave for a month,” Steve told her, breaking the silence. “If you need some time. We don’t have to do this now.”
The thought of him leaving made Diana’s throat burn. She ignored the suggestion.
“You’re on active duty still?” she asked instead.
Steve nodded. “Yeah. Navy SEALs.”
Diana swallowed. He would have been in high school on 9/11, she realized. He never could avoid war.
(She remembered his face after the nightmares; remembered him helping to plan how to lure Nazis to their deaths; remembered his desperation to see the war end without any more lives lost.
She wondered if this was some kind of final curse from Ares.)
“And you said you remembered all at once?” Diana asked. A giant, ugly monster, he had said. Doomsday? “That was...three years ago?”
Steve nodded again, and said intently. “I didn’t know how to find you so I...”
To her surprise, he flushed. “I, uh. Started looking into my past lives a bit. I knew it was real but I wanted to verify it, you know? That’s part of the reason I came to Paris.”
To visit his own grave. Diana felt sick. She did not ask if he had already done so.
“How were you so sure it was real?” Diana asked, remembering how frantic her Steve had been when he started to remember.
“I, uh, looked up my — his obituary, first,” Steve said. “From 1985. And then, I might have managed to get my hands on some service records. I couldn’t get all of his but the ones from the First World War are declassified now. It didn’t feel like as much of a stretch that everything I remembered was true when I could verify all that.”
Diana had eventually obtained a copy of Steve’s First World War record. It was in her safe, along with the Vietnam-era service records he had given her himself and the photo Bruce had found for her.
The idea of other people accessing them bothered her.
“I’ve actually been having dreams about my past lives since I was a kid,” Steve admitted sheepishly.
Diana’s stomach dropped. The idea of a child having those memories was abhorrent. Her Steve had struggled so with his alone—
Steve read the expression on Diana’s face and hastened to reassure her. “Not the bad stuff. Not even really anything to do with you. Just glimpses. Just these little bits of what my life had been like at that age in the past.”
He smiled. “My parents thought I was a really creative kid.”
His expression was so warm, so fond, that Diana couldn’t help but smile back. Steve’s parents had always been long gone when she had known him before.
“They’re good people, your parents?” Diana asked. She wanted to keep that expression on his face longer.
“The best,” Steve replied. “My mom was a fighter pilot so she’s almost as badass as you. My dad’s a teacher and just about the kindest man I’ve ever met. When I started telling them these crazy stories of a kid just like me but in the past they decided I had a hell of an imagination. My father is still disappointed I didn’t become a famous writer or something. He used to get all these books out about whatever period I was talking about so we could learn more about it.”
Diana grinned and Steve’s expression brightened at the sight of it. He seemed calm and she was relaxing by inches.
(It used to take him so long to stop shaking and calm down after the nightmares. It took him so long before he wasn’t wound tight as a drum every moment of every day.)
“But you said you were sick when you remembered...the rest?” Diana said. “It used to make you lightheaded and nauseous.”
Steve nodded. “It was like that but...you remember when I—when he almost fainted meeting Etta again? That was maybe six, seven memories downloading at once. If you multiply that by, god, I don’t even know how many lives it’s been. I think it just took a while to adjust. I was pretty out of it for a few days.”
Diana did not know what to focus on — how sick Steve had been, that he did not seem to know how to refer to his own past lives, that he remembered in that amount of detail, down to how many memories her Steve had remembered the first time he saw Etta again but then—
“You don’t know how many lives it has been?” Diana echoed, more faintly than she expected of herself.
After meeting him again and then again, she had wondered if Steve’s first life had been the first time she had known him. She was startled by how hollow she felt to learn that it had not been.
And Steve...Steve was reading her too well. He always had. His eyes went gentle and compassionate.
“Nothing is very...distinct before you,” Steve explained. “They’re like a movie I was only half watching, unless I really try to concentrate on something.”
“But then I met you,” Steve said. He had to pause and Diana saw how important it was to him, too. How deeply he felt about their meeting. “And it’s like everything came into focus. That whole life is sharper because of you. And the next one. And the next one.”
“In a way, it’s still like watching a movie of myself,” Steve said, guessing the concern that was growing in Diana’s heart before she had even named it. “I don’t have nightmares. Unless I try to, I don’t re-experience what I was feeling. It’s just there. It doesn’t hurt me. I’m okay, I promise.”
Diana exhaled. She tried to smile at him, though her own vision was blurred by tears. She saw Steve start to move and then stop himself, looking almost frustrated.
“Can I come sit with you?” he asked.
Diana nodded. He did not move slowly but Diana could tell he was not moving as quickly as he wished to, that he was trying to give her space. That he was willing to give her whatever she needed.
(Diana didn’t know what she wanted.)
He sat beside her and took her hand tentatively. Diana squeezed it and wiped away her tears. Just feeling the warmth of his presence nearby eased an ache inside her.
(Why didn’t the rest of it hurt less too?)
“I didn’t realize how hard this would be for you,” Steve said carefully. “I should have.”
“It shouldn’t be,” Diana said. This was what she wanted.
(She wanted her Steve and the life they had planned. She wanted him to have grown up, even if it meant marrying Ameline or someone else.
She wanted him to have never flown away.
None of these things could be true at once.)
“I don’t know about that,” Steve said. “I know how much you’ve loved me, every time, no matter who I am. I know losing like that has to hurt.”
He took a breath. “And you don’t have to be done grieving any of those past loves yet.”
Diana held on to him more tightly. “If you’re thinking of leaving—”
“No, I won’t. I wouldn’t,” Steve told her. “I’m here as long as you want. And I’ll answer all the questions you have. Just. We don’t have to do this all at once. I don’t want it to hurt you.”
“I’ve never wanted to hurt you,” Steve added, very quietly. “And I think I have.”
“Not you,” Diana said. She could not help but think of her mother, whose heart she had broken by leaving Themyscira. Steve could have no more stood aside (let Sandy and her friend die, let his comrades be discovered and killed, let those bombs be dropped) then she could have.
It would diminish who they were to do so.
Diana did not think they would have loved each other so strongly if they were willing to do that.
But she would not deny that each absence hurt.
(And the last. Oh, the last seemed to hurt the most.)
“It’s when I’m left behind,” Diana said, though she did not think she was explaining it well. “That’s what hurts.”
Steve stayed the night.
He did not leave, not even to go back to his hotel room, remarking that he had slept in worse when he stripped down to his underwear and left his t-shirt on.
Diana couldn’t bear the thought of lending him some of her Steve’s clothing. She thought seeing him in it would undo her completely.
(It wouldn’t fit him. Diana could tell. There were so many reasons the idea of seeing Steve in those old clothes made her ache but she fixated on that.
It wouldn’t fit him.
Her Steve was older. His weight had fluctuated because of the times he couldn’t eat, because of the side effects of his medication. Even if they had shared a size, this Steve was an active duty Navy SEAL. He was bulkier in different places. The fit would not have been the same.
Diana couldn’t stand to think of it.)
He started to offer to sleep in her guest room but stopped when Diana blanched. They slept in her bed, side by side, not touching.
At least, they weren’t touching at first.
Diana woke twice in the night. She had taken sporadic lovers, since her Steve died, but it had been some time since the last. Still, what bothered her was not that it felt unfamiliar having someone in her bed.
It was that it felt too familiar.
The first time she woke, her arm had migrated around Steve’s waist. Her chin was pressed against his shoulder and his head turned towards her. She could feel the puffs of his breath against her hair.
She had slept like that with her Steve. But any movement tended to wake her because she had made herself his guardian against his nightmares.
This Steve was still fast asleep. When Diana slowly pulled away from him, he made a soft, confused noise and reached for her. But he did not wake and he settled quickly even after she was no longer touching him at all.
Diana watched him from the other side of the bed until she fell back asleep.
The second time she woke, her hand was on his chest. It was there only point of contact, just her palm, over his heart, but it felt like the whole world.
She could feel the even thud of his heart beating.
She couldn’t bring herself to move. She lay there for a long time, watching his chest rise and fall. Slowly, she realized what had woken her.
Steve was snoring.
Not particularly loudly. Diana had lived with Etta for a time after the war ended and her snoring had required some adjusting to. Steve’s snoring was milder.
Her Steve hadn’t snored.
(Her Steve had never slept on his back, not for long. Even on good nights, when his sleep seemed relatively undisturbed, he slept on his side, tension in every line of him, most often with his back to the wall.)
But, he had, as well.
Steve had, the first time she had known him. He had on the boat and she hadn’t known what to make of it. He had, for just a moment, at the camp with Napi, before Sameer elbowed him and made him turn over.
He had in the bed they shared in Veld, in the early morning, when he finally slept, with his arm tucked around her, as Diana watched the morning light slowly illuminate his face.
Diana’s eyes burned. She did not want to weep over the memory of him anymore. She wanted to see him clearly.
(It was not that easy.
But she knew the last thing her Steve would want was the memory of him haunting her like a restless spirit. He knew all too well how that could fester inside a person. It would have broken his heart.
There was no version of him that would have wanted that for her.)
Diana could not mark the moment she fell asleep again. It was morning, when she woke. There was pink light coming in through the white curtains of her window as the sun rose. One of Steve’s arms was heavy around her waist and she was using the other as a pillow.
“Sorry,” Steve whispered, realizing she was awake. His voice was deeply amused. “I couldn’t manage to free myself.”
Diana’s fingers we’re laced through his, keeping him firmly in place. He couldn’t have pulled away from that, not without waking her, let alone extracted his arm from under her head.
Diana did not release him. She turned in his arms instead. “It’s all right.”
She took a moment to look at him, to actually see the differences in him. He a decade younger than Steve, as she had last known him, closer to the age he was when she had first known him. But there weren’t so many lines on his face as there had been then, nor the same number of shadows in his eyes.
She traced her fingers over his cheek, memorizing his face, this face. Steve went still and let her.
When she satisfied herself and pulled her hand back, she could see the smile start to spread slowly over his lips, see the quip forming there.
She beat him to it. “Yes, I like what I see. It is the same way you have looked for a hundred years.”
Steve laughed, his expression startled and delighted. He waggled his eyebrows at her, teasing. “Why change a good thing?”
She shoved at his shoulder and he flopped back onto the bed. She followed him and kissed him, slowly, learning him again.
(She could never forget. Would never forget. No matter how different or similar he was. Like a variation on a theme. The core of him always seemed to stay the same.)
He was more relaxed than...than her Steve—
(She was not ready, did not know when she would be ready, to stop thinking of Steve as she had last known him as hers. She still carried him so tightly in her heart, it was still so hard to speak of him to anyone who had not known him, who wouldn’t understand.
When she had known Steve as a boy, it had been such a tragedy, all his enthusiasm and hope and life snuffed out before he had a chance to really begin.
The first time she had known had been a hero, had given himself so that others might live. It had been his purpose not just in that plane, at the end, but in his unshakeable mission to end the war.
And what was true for one had been true for both, had been true for Steve as she had last known him too. But...but he had struggled so much and tried so hard just to live again in the aftermath of the choices he made time and time again. To put others first. To continue fighting. To try to save the day.
She had believed, truly, that they had a future. She had known what it was.
Losing that was still a dull pain in her chest.)
—than her Steve had been. At least at first. Towards the end, when things had gotten easier, maybe, but even then he still sometimes kissed her as if she would disappear if he blinked—
(Diana had become all too familiar with that feeling herself. She wondered if Steve could taste it on her lips now.)
—Steve kissed her now more like he had the first time he had known her, that morning in Veld, when they had had to leave but he had been so...happy. As if something had been restored to him that he had forgotten he had lost.
And when they parted, he looked up at her like he had in both the lifetimes they had been lovers. Like she was the sun, shining through unlooked for in a sky full of clouds.
Diana smiled at him. “You kissed me last night, remember?”
“Yeah, I was dazed then too,” Steve said before his voice went quieter. “You were a bit...beside yourself, last night, when we were doing that.”
“That may happen again,” Diana warned him.
Steve nodded. His eyes were calm and kind. “I know.”
They got up. Steve pulled on his clothes from the day before — he was not surreptitious enough when sniffed the armpit of his t-shirt and made a face. Diana thought of the clothing in the back of her closet but couldn’t, she couldn’t.
She took a moment in the washroom. She thought about calling Maya, who hadn’t needed more than a moment of shaky camera footage to identify her as Wonder Woman. It had been such a relief to tell her, after communicating solely through letters for years to hide that she wasn’t aging. To decide that they should tell Sandy as well.
(Maya hadn’t been the only one. Diana had returned home to find a letter from Former President Carter — who she had only really met the once, at Steve’s funeral. He had rather obliquely thanked her for her efforts without referencing anything in specific.
But it had been rare, despite the footage. None of her colleagues had made the connection.
It was only after Steppenwolf, when she had slowly began being more public, that questions began being asked.)
But she didn’t call. Not yet.
Diana could not decide if she was being selfish, wanting to keep Steve to herself for just a little while, or kind. Maya had loved Steve dearly and his death had hurt her deeply too. She did not know how Maya would react to him, no matter how understanding Steve was.
Steve was no longer in the bedroom when Diana stepped out of the washroom. She felt a tiny fissure of fear before she heard him moving around in her apartment.
(She knew he was real, he was here. She just had to convince herself to believe it.)
Diana took a breath and walked into her living room. Steve turned from where he was hovering near the kitchen door and smiled at her, a little bashfully.
“I was going to start making you breakfast,” he admitted. “But...I thought it might upset you.”
Diana didn’t wince but she wanted to. He wasn’t wrong. But...she was not sure it would have been a bad kind of upset.
“Plus the last time I knew you, your favourite breakfast changed from eggs florentine to blueberry pancakes about two months after I’d spent a whole weekend perfecting my recipe,” Steve continued, his smile hinted at teasing. “So I thought I should check first.”
It surprised a smile out of her. “I am partial to crepes now.”
Steve whistled. “That’s going to take some effort.”
“I am sure you will manage,” Diana said. She had learned, no matter how limited or plentiful the resources, not to doubt Steve’s cooking abilities.
Still, she paused, momentarily taken with that information. Her voice was quieter than she expected it to be when she asked: “Did you really...?”
Steve nodded, his voice softer. “Yeah, I — he — did.”
Diana could not miss the way Steve was referring to...to his most recent past life. She ignored the pang in her heart, and the way her throat felt tight, trying to forge ahead. They were going to have to speak of that more — she was going to have to. But not now. Not yet.
Instead she said: “I can make breakfast.”
Steve’s smile was slightly incredulous. “Really?”
Diana gave him a look. Steve didn’t back down. Diana rolled her eyes.
“I can make eggs,” Diana said. They usually ended up scrambled but she could . “I usually have oatmeal. Or toast.”
“Diana, I’ve spent a large chunk of my adult life in mess halls or eating MREs,” Steve said, looking deeply amused. “I am not picky.”
It was meant to make her smile but it fell flat.
(If they could have just one life together without war...Diana was still not convinced Ares had cursed Steve as his final act.)
“Uh, so,” Steve said, seeing the shift in her mood. Diana had had many years to learn to mask her feelings, to present a poker face to her colleagues and the world at large. She always seemed to abandon that, with him. She did not even mean to, it just happened. “Do you have to work today? If your career kept going the way it seemed to be going last time, I’m guessing you’re pretty important.”
Diana swallowed. They had talked around the edges of making the move to Paris, the offers she had received.
“Yes, I’m the Director of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities at the Louvre,” Diana told him.
Steve grinned at her, brilliant and proud. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”
Diana never doubted he believed in her. It still warmed her heart to hear.
She had already thought about calling out sick today. The thought of letting him out of her sight made her chest tight. But it was also a relief. His reappearance had been so unexpected, that he remembered, that he knew her, was making it all the more intense.
And...if she went in today she could tie up some loose strings, take some last minute vacation...
(Was that a good idea? Would they want the time away from each other?)
“If you want, and just if you want,” Steve said. “I can go get my things from the hotel while you’re at work.”
Diana nodded. It was a bit jerky and her eyes felt wet and hot again but yes. She wanted that.
“How long had you planned to stay in Paris?” Diana asked. She knew he would stay here now; she knew it was unlikely he had planned to.
Steve hesitated but he didn’t lie to her. “I was planning on five days but unless you tell me not to, I’m cancelling the rest of my trip and staying here. I’ve been to Europe before, I just...hadn’t remembered yet the last time I was here.”
Diana nodded. She wanted him to stay. Still she was curious, and dreaded, what his plans had been. “Where did you plan to go?”
“Belgium,” Steve answered, honestly. “Maybe down the coast of France, as well.”
He was, as Diana had half expected, visiting places connected to his past lives. She did not know how to feel about that or if what she was feeling was about Steve returning to those places or the thought of returning to them herself.
But it also occurred to her that there would have been easier places for him to visit and the thought filled her with dread.
“Did you visit any other places you...had been before?” Diana asked.
Steve sighed. “I went to the Vietnam Memorial, stopped by a couple other places in Washington.”
(Diana had only visited the Vietnam Memorial once with her Steve. It was just before they left Washington, during the brief period between when they decided they needed to leave and when they moved New York.
Steve had been not been well. He had insisted on going but he had been unsteady all morning and when they got there it had been like he was in a trance.
He had been there before; Diana didn’t know how often. He moved unerringly to a name, clearly someone he knew, and brushed his fingers over it, then another, then another, then another. All along the wall.
Then, he stopped at Nick’s name.
Everything about him stopped. He didn’t touch it like the others, not at first. He stared at it.
He started to shake.
For a moment, just a moment, he pressed his head there, against the wall, against his best friend’s name, and closed his eyes.
Then he turned and strode — marched — away. Without another word.
Diana would catch up with him leaning over a garbage can, throwing up into it, trembling with tension. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, speak again for the rest of the day.)
Diana swallowed. The thought of him there alone hurt .
“I haven’t been anywhere other than that,” Steve told her. His face was wistful. “The last thing I want to do is hurt Maya or Sandy. And how would I explain it to them anyway?”
Diana took a step forward, into his space. He had so carefully kept from straying into hers. She laced her fingers with him and looked at him. She recognized that loneliness, of not being able to explain, of remembering what others couldn’t even understand.
She felt it too.
(She didn’t have to as long as he was there.)
Diana kissed him again. Softly.
She liked the look in his eyes when they parted, the way he had to blink and clear his throat before he spoke, the way he said her name. “Diana...”
Her phone buzzed, breaking the spell. Steve made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat; Diana cursed.
It was, at least, a colleague from the Louvre, not from the League.
(She would have been exasperated by Barry; she might have killed Bruce. Arthur wouldn’t have called, he would have just appeared on her doorstep.
Clark and Vic were too sensible to call at this early hour.)
But there was a problem with one of their upcoming special exhibits. It would be easier to fix if she went in, no matter how exasperating that was, even though it was what she had been leaning toward.
(No matter how much more tempting it was to stay home when she saw the way Steve looked at her, all admiration and love and impossible fondness.)
Steve was perhaps the only man in the world who would move closer to her, when he saw the annoyed expression on her face. He kissed her, quick and light, not enough to invite more, very obviously restraining himself.
“I’ll keep,” he told her. “Go fix things at work. I’ll get my things. Cancel my hotel reservations.”
It was what they needed to do. It was what Diana thought was best.
She still didn’t want him out of her sight.
“Okay,” she said.
“I could, if you want, come by later? You could give me a tour?” Steve looked a little bashful asking.
Diana shook her head immediately. She was not ready to share him yet. Not with her colleagues, not with the League, not with anyone.
She did not feel guilty about that, not at all.
(Except for Maya and Sandy, still uncalled.
Diana did not know what she would say to them. Sandy was older than Steve was, now, she had children of her own.
She had given her second son the middle name Steven.)
Steve looked a little surprised — maybe even a little hurt. Diana ran her hands over his arms for a moment. Standing this close, she could smell him.
(How could he smell the same as the first time she had met him?)
“Not tonight,” Diana told him. “I just want you with me tonight.”
They had a month before Steve’s leave was over.
Diana took a week off, then tried to go back for two, before taking his last week off. She only managed to go back for one.
(She came home early and unexpectedly on the Thursday of the first week to find her kitchen a disaster, crepes of varying levels of skill stacked up on a plate on the counter.
She had laughed and been thoroughly charmed by his blush. She had kissed him and eaten even the worst of the bunch while he insisted on doing the dishes and cleaning up.
She had decided then to take the extra week of vacation.)
Steve cancelled all his other travel plans. They stayed in Paris.
(They did not go to Père Lachaise, let alone Belgium or Normandy.
Steve did not seem to mind.)
It was...very easy, being with him. Steve had always had a certain charm to him, a useful thing for a spy (resistance fighter, diplomat). But there was a warmth and an openness to him, this time, that Diana had half-forgotten from when she first knew him. Then, her inexperience with his world had made him less reticent, more willing to share of himself than he would have been with anyone else.
Now he just...he trusted her, he knew her. He understood her in a way very few did.
(It was not just her, either. He was not as isolated as her Steve had been, no so single-minded as when she had first known him, when he had obviously cared about his friends very deeply but had also been impatient and seen them less clearly than he sometimes should have, in his burning desire to see the war brought to and end.
In this lifetime, it quickly became clear to Diana that Steve had a network of close friends. He was not one to divide his attention when they were together but when his focus wasn’t always, solely on her and she overheard him speaking to them or his parents or his sister on the phone a few times, enough for it to be easily apparent that he was loyal and kind and loved.)
But he wasn’t wrong in saying she had changed. And he was not exactly the same as...as she had last known him, nor any of the times before.
They were overly familiar with each other and they were still learning each other again and sometimes that rubbed Diana the wrong way.
(She didn’t want it to. It made no sense. Sometimes she felt a fissure of annoyance when Steve didn’t act exactly as she expected him to Père Lachaise when he smiled and chatted with a shopkeeper and came away with a flower for her instead of shying away from a conversation with a stranger, unable to let his guard down so that every unexpected interaction took a toll.
As if he had not smiled at the ice cream man the first time she had known him, and smoothed the interaction before she even understood there were social queues she was missing. As if he hadn’t been just as charming then.
But, then, sometimes he put his arm around her and the warmth, the weight of it felt so close to what she last remembered, what she had longed for and missed, that it was all she could do not to step away because it was too much, too close.)
One night, at the end of second week, after Diana had given Steve that tour of the Louvre and he had made her dinner and they had sat on her balcony and watched the sunset and he had told her a story from his childrenhood that made her laugh so hard her stomach ached, Diana hadn’t been able to sleep.
It had been a good day. A perfect day.
Still, she silently untangled herself from his arms — they had stopped trying to sleep on opposite sides of the bed, they always ended up curled together by morning — and slipped into her closet.
His shirts and sweaters were hung up at the very back, behind the dresses she rarely wore and really should give away. She took what had been his favourite sweater down. The blue that once matched his eyes had started to fade even before his death, it wasn’t even close any longer, and any hint of his scent had long since evaporated.
Diana still put it on. She tiptoed out, then out of her bedroom, only turning a light on when she was in her office with the door closed behind her.
There was a copy of the photo of Steve as she had first known him, leaning against an airplane and smiling, framed on one of the shelves above it. The original was locked in her safe, with the group photo.
But there was a photo of her and...and Steve as she had last known him sitting on her desk. Their arms were around each other and there was a blur at the bottom where Sandy had just run into the frame. Maya had taken it; Steve had been laughing. They looked happy.
(Diana had photos of him all over her apartment, she had one on her desk at work, she had one in her wallet — one tucked beside his once-father’s watch, their wish for more time.)
Diana took the box of his letters out. She sat on the floor and opened it.
Every letter he had written when he hadn’t been able to bring himself to speak; every one he had written her after; every note that she had been able to save, no matter how mundane, the grocery lists and the quick scrawl on newsprint that he had gone to help a friend. The torn scrap from a notebook where he had written I love you that she had been using as a bookmark when he died.
( Can’t think of how I could tell you. You would hate me...
I still think of the weight of his body on my back. How could I not know?
I don’t know why I can’t get it out of head. We stopped Bill from shooting. The kid ran away but in my nightmares...
Maya called. I want to see them so badly but I’m afraid I’ll scare Sandy...
I just couldn’t stand the smell of it anymore...
I can’t tell you how thankful I am that you wake me from the nightmares...
Sometimes Sandy smiles and she looks so much like Nick I don’t know whether I want to laugh or cry...
Remind me to tell you about the time we tried to hide a frog in Tracy’s sock drawer and it backfired...
Don’t forget your lunch!
I’m sorry I can’t be better for you. I’m sorry this is happening again...
Have I thanked you for last night?
I don’t know what to do...
I’ll be at the VVA until eight. Don’t forget to pick up milk...
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.)
She read them until her eyes burned and his stark, distinctive handwriting blurred.
He had left so much behind; they had left so much undone.
There was a knock on the door and Steve said quietly: “Diana?”
Diana wiped her eyes. “Give me a moment.”
There was a pause before Steve said through the door, kindly: “I don’t have to come in, Diana. I can go back to bed. It’s okay.”
Diana knew it was true. If she said so, he would. He would give her the space she asked for and pretend it had not happened until she was ready.
She was never going to be ready.
“Come in,” Diana told him, wiping her cheek again. It did not hide that she had been crying.
Steve waited a moment more — Diana loved him for it — before coming in. He looked at her, looked at the letters, and sat down on the floor across from her.
He looked at the letters again and reached out, unthinking, for a moment. Then he stopped. He looked to her.
“May I?” he asked.
He took the letter closest to him. Diana saw his eyes flick over the first few lines. He smiled a little sadly.
“He didn’t think you would read this one,” Steve said, quietly. “It took him awhile to really believe you wanted to know the worst of it.”
“Did he really want me to?” Diana asked. Steve hadn’t wanted to hide things from her and sometimes he just couldn’t say them outloud. But sometimes she thought, even though the letters were addressed to her, it was more about writing it down and getting it out then telling her.
“It depended on the day,” Steve answered, honestly. “He thought he owed it to you not to hide things. But he also felt like everything about him was already yours to have.”
Diana tried to blink away her tears. It didn’t work.
“That didn’t make it any less hard,” Steve told her. He looked down at the letter again. “He had gone...I think two days without speaking, when he wrote this?”
Diana took a breath. “Yes.”
“The days all blurred together when he went...quiet, that was how he thought of it. I can’t always tell how many there were in a row,” Steve explained. “He would just...get stuck on something and it would go round and round in his head. It would paralyze him, until he couldn’t speak about it. Or anything. Writing it down helped break that cycle for him.”
Steve put the letter down. He was reverent in the way he handled it.
“You know,” he said, looking at her. “You don’t have to hide that you’re still mourning him from me. I understand if you don’t want to share it, but you don’t have to hide it.”
Diana laughed wetly. She wiped her eyes again. She recognized the look on Steve’s face. It was how she used to look, when she was stopping herself from reaching out and touching him because she was not sure he could stand it.
“It seems impolite,” Diana said. “When it’s hard, when something reminds me too closely of him or it feels like I’m forgetting...I don’t want you to think I don’t care for you. That I don’t love you.”
Because she did. They always fell in love fast, maybe too fast. If they were lucky, they got to sort out the details later.
And Steve in this lifetime...it had not been long, but he felt more centred, as if he had settled into himself more, or come to terms with something vital. It felt like the best parts of him had been allowed to grow, instead of being stifled by death or war or experience or all of them.
Steve smiled wryly. “Diana, being jealous of myself feels a little ridiculous.”
Diana chuckled, just a little, and Steve’s smile widened, betraying that making her smile had always been her intent.
“It’s not a bad thing, knowing how important he was to you,” Steve said. “God, he loved you so much. I don’t want you to think I’m trying to replace that. Him. It doesn’t matter that we’re...I don’t know, different versions of each other.”
Diana tilted her head at him. Steve had stopped referring to his past lives as ‘I’ entirely since they had met.
“You only say him now, when you’re speaking of the last time you were...here,” Diana said. “Why?”
“I think you need me to,” Steve said, honestly. “And it started to feel disrespectful. I don’t think I really realized what it meant, claiming the things my past lives’ experiences as my own. It’s just that...”
Steve made a face, as if he wasn’t sure about what he was about to say. He looked at the letters again, brushed his fingers over the nearest one. “There have always been things that come through, you know? I never had to learn French or German and I’m not great at picking up languages this time around — it would have been useful, by the way, if Sami taught me more than a few curse words in Arabic. In middle school I disassembled my grandfather’s souvenir Luger without even thinking about it and nearly gave him a heart attack. After I remembered, I talked someone into letting me take an old biplane up. I just...I knew how to fly it.”
Steve paused. “And all the things he went through, all the ways he learned to cope, I feel like they helped me when it turned out I was part of another endless war, doing things I didn’t always entirely believe in.”
Diana exhaled. She felt like she had been punched in the gut. She felt angry.
“Sometimes, I think Ares cursed us,” Diana told him. “Sometimes I think he cursed you. ”
Steve hesitated. “You could argue that. Some people argue that most modern conflict stems from the First World War. Ares was heavily involved in the peace talks that formed the basis for the Treaty of Versailles. He could have set humanity up to be at war with each other for another hundred years.”
“But you do not believe that?” Diana asked, curious.
“I don’t know,” Steve admitted. “I think — I’ve always thought — that there’s never one person, not even one god, to blame. We’re all to blame. But that means we have to be the solution too.”
Steve paused, then added: “But I don’t think Ares is behind me being a soldier. My mother was Air Force, all my grandparents served in WWII in some capacity, all but one of my great-grandfather’s fought in WWI, I’ve got great-great-grandfathers who fought for the Union. Same for him: his father fought in WWII, his grandfather in WWI. In France, his family was all Resistance, before they were taken. His father was an American soldier, his step-father was French army. The first time you knew me, my father had been a Union veteran.”
“I’m not really sure I know how to not be a soldier. Even him . He had found a different cause but even before he joined the military, he thought of the Peace Corps as an alternate way of serving,” Steve said, breaking Diana’s heart again, even as he continued: “Don’t you feel like you were meant to be a warrior?”
Diana considered that. Yes, she always had, even when her mother tried to keep her from it, but... “I was meant to defeat Ares.”
“Maybe the person you fell in love with had to be a soldier, then. So they would understand,” Steve said and she knew he believed it. “And that’s not...it’s not like I think I’m doomed to love you. Are you kidding me? That you would love me even once makes me feel like I’m the luckiest man on Earth.”
“And...I think he would say the same thing,” Steve said. “He was always going to enlist, once the war started. He couldn’t stand the thought of someone else serving in his place and you...Diana, I don’t think he would have made it much longer if you hadn’t met him when you did.”
Diana did not know how she felt about that. About any of it. But she could tell Steve believed every word he had spoken.
“I need to ask you something,” Diana told him but then stopped. She did not want to; she had to know.
Steve did not hesitate this time. He reached over the pile of letters between them and took her hand. Diana took another breath and forced herself to continue.
“The last time...” I lost you she couldn’t say. “In the—the fire. Did you—? Were you afraid? Did you know—?”
Steve looked horrified. “No. Oh god, Diana...”
Steve stopped and looked around. “Where’s the...?”
He mimed wrapping something around his wrist. Diana was confused and upset. She couldn’t forget how viscerally disturbed Steve had been about the Lasso of Hestia the last time she had known him, about just the idea of being compelled to do something against his will, no matter the intention behind it.
But she opened a chest behind her and pulled it out. Steve did not hesitate to wrap one end of it around his wrist. There was determination in his eyes but also such compassion as it began to glow.
“This way you can’t doubt it,” Steve said. “He thought he was going to make it out, Diana.”
Diana sobbed. Steve took her hands back, holding on tight, even with the Lasso still glowing around his wrist.
“I won’t say there wasn’t any pain because it hurt but he wasn’t scared,” Steve told her. “He was relieved that the girls were safe. He was worried about how it would affect Sandy. He wasn’t panicked. He was thinking ahead. He never doubted he was going to make it. He saw that window and he knew he was going to get out, that it would be okay. He was sure of it, to the very last moment. He didn’t even realize he was losing consciousness.”
“He loved you so much. You were just this bright, warm spot inside of him. He thought he would be okay,” Steve said. “He didn’t think he was leaving you, not for a moment. He died thinking he would make it out.”
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair. Diana didn’t realize she had said it aloud until Steve was moving, until he was wrapping his arms around her.
“I know,” he said.
“It’s not fair,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Diana said because the hardest part of it, the worst part of it, was that she knew this Steve wouldn’t be here, if things had gone differently. She didn’t want that, either. “I just...I wish we’d had more time. We never seem to have enough time.”
“I know. It’s not fair to you,” Steve said. “But, Diana, please understand this. You gave him more time.”
“He didn’t think he would ever be happy again. He didn’t even really remember what it was. He thought his life was already over,” Steve said. “And you...you gave him back years. You gave him back a future.”
“I’m sorry that was taken away from you. I know there was a life with him that you didn’t get,” Steve said. “But you gave him more time. That’s the way he thought of it. He believed he had a future again with you. He never stopped believing that.”
The Lasso of Hestia was still glowing around Steve’s wrist but it he didn’t even seem to notice it. All his attention was on her. Diana had never doubted he was a good man and he still unknowingly proved it to her more and more.
She sniffled as she untangled it from around his arm. Steve’s expression let her know he had forgotten it was there.
Diana ached. It was the best Diana could have hoped for, if she had to lose him , with the way she lost him, but it still broke her heart.
The first time Steve had come back to her, he was so much younger it had been clear to her from the start it was no second chance, that their relationship would be so much different from the very beginning. But that change had given her more of a buffer than she realized between the Steve she had first fallen in love with and the Steve she had last known and loved, who had broken and struggled and worked so hard to heal. Who she had planned a life with.
She had thought, in some small part of herself, that they might still get a second chance at those plans.
It had always been folly; she had known that from the beginning. Steve was the same but he wasn’t. The core of him, the parts that spoke so strongly to her soul, did not waver, but circumstances never produced exactly the same man twice.
It was a blessing and it was a curse. She did not think she would have reacted any better if Steve as she had last known him had been returned to her as he had been, only younger and with all his experiences out of place. With Maya old and Sandy grown.
That would have been cruel to do to him. Diana could never have wanted that.
It was not better this way. It just was .
Diana had carried Steve in her heart for over a hundred years, and then seventy-five, and then more than thirty.
She looked at the man in front of her, who carried all the pieces of them inside him too, offering her love and comfort and new chances, whatever those might be. His eyes were the same. They didn’t leave hers as she touched his face. He had always looked her in the eye when it was important, reached for her no matter if she was upset or angry or happy.
No one else did that. Only Steve.
Steve flew back to California on a Friday. Diana took him to the airport. It surprised both of how hard it was to let go of each other.
(They had lain in bed together until late that morning, until it crept into afternoon, until Steve was in danger of missing his flight.
But his skin was warm and willing under her touch. His mouth was eager against hers.
She did not want him to go; he would have preferred to stay.)
“I’ll call you during my layover,” Steve repeated. His bag was already checked. He needed to go through security.
He wasn’t letting go of her hand.
Diana nodded. She stopped and tugged him closer to kiss him again. Then she wrapped her arms around him and held on tight.
Steve hugged her back, just as tightly. He pressed his face against her hair for a moment and inhaled deeply.
“You have to go,” Diana said, not letting go of him.
“I do,” Steve agreed, kissing her again.
Diana felt ridiculous. She felt young. But that did not stop them from hanging on to each other’s fingertips instead of pulling away.
She could not have said who stepped back first and actually cut the contact. She felt bereft; Steve did not look much better.
He took another step back and Diana knew if he hadn’t they wouldn’t have been able to keep from holding on to each other again. Then he would miss his flight and going AWOL was not actually what she wanted for him.
“I’ll call you when I land in Central City,” Steve promised, again.
“Yes,” Diana said and then, before he could leave. “I love you.”
For him, there was no hesitation. Just a wide smile. “I love you too.”
He kept looking back at her, as he went through security, to the point that one of the guards cleared her throat and rolled her eyes at him. He snapped to attention then but as soon as he was through he turned again and waved before disappearing from sight.
Diana went home. She attempted to catch up on some of the work she had been neglecting.
She did not check the clock compulsively, counting down the minutes until she knew Steve’s flight had taken off. She did not check the departures page of de Gaulle airport and stare blankly at the screen when his flight status changed from boarding to departed.
She did not get much work done. When the email from Bruce first buzzed on her phone it was almost a relief.
Then she read it.
League business. Must be discussed in person. Jet waiting at de Gaulle.
Will have you back in time for work on Monday.
For one purely selfish moment, she was annoyed. She did not stop herself from slumping back in her chair, tilting her head back and groaning.
Even another hour’s notice and she could have had Steve on that plane with her.
(She ignored, for that one moment, that she had not mentioned Steve’s presence to anyone yet. She felt guilty that she had not found the words to explain it to Sandy and Maya, justified it because she thought it would be best to tell them in person.
But she was very deliberately not telling Bruce and the rest of the Justice League.
She wanted Steve to herself for just a little longer.)
The moment ended. Diana rubbed a hand over her eyes. She replied to Bruce, shut her computer and went to pack a bag. She was ready to go and out the door in half an hour.
She texted Steve as she was leaving. He would not receive it until he landed but they would be on the same continent. Even though it was unlikely they could meet, she wanted him to know.
Steve had sent several texts back by the time Diana landed, including a snap of him leaving the airport to meet a friend of his and a string of hearts. His layover was just under eight hours long, if Bruce had provided more details regarding the reason for this meeting and had not sent Alfred to pick her up, Diana would have been extremely tempted to make the side trip and arrive late.
But Alfred was waiting and it was impossible to tell how urgent it was from his bearing; the man was unflappably when he met his mind to it.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Prince,” Alfred said, opening the car door for her. “I hope you’re well.”
“Hello Alfred,” Diana answered. “I am quite well, though I would have preferred more notice for this outing.”
“I will share that opinion with Master Wayne,” Alfred said, which Diana knew meant I told him so.
“Are the others here already?” Diana asked when they were pulling out of the airport.
“We are still waiting on Mr. Allen,” Alfred told her. There was a twinkle in his eye. “I believe he had plans for a date that Master Wayne was not eager to interrupt and, as such, downplayed the importance of the meeting.”
Diana raised an eyebrow at that. It indicted, again, that this was not a world-ending event.
And she knew Bruce...could be somewhat dismissive of Barry’s opinion, when it came to the running of the League, mostly because of his age.
Also because Bruce wasn’t above ignoring all other opinions in favour of what he thought was best, unless he was made to consider other points of view.
Diana had thought he was getting better about that since Clark came back.
It was Clark who greeted her with a smile and a hug when she arrived at Bruce’s lake house. “I hope your plans didn’t get as disrupted as mine for this shindig.”
Clark was dressed for work, his glasses tucked in his shirt pocket. Diana kissed his cheek. “I was catching up on paperwork.”
“I was supposed to cover the weekend shift,” Clark told her.
Diane winced. “More cutbacks?”
“No, no. Not since Wayne Enterprises, ah, decided to acquire a media empire and ignore the slimness of it’s profit margins,” Clark said. He did not look entirely comfortable with the idea — the ethics of the newspaperman bleeding through, although, from all accounts, Wayne Enterprises was being remarkably hands off with plethora of newspapers it had bought up after Bruce silently listened to Lois’ fury over the state of local news one night.
“Jo just went into labour a little early,” Clark continued with a half grin. “I volunteered to cover her desk and then Lois stepped in when Bruce called. I think she’s hoping she can convince him to start a new digital news organization with everyone let go in the latest round of layoffs.”
“Master Wayne has been on the phone with Ms. Lane regarding this subject twice already,” Alfred commented. “I believe he was hoping to poach some talent for Wayne Enterprises itself. Ms. Lane did not wholly approve.”
Clark and Diana grinned at each other. Watching Bruce and Lois interact was always...interesting.
“We’re still waiting for Barry,” Clark told her. “But Vic and Bruce are downstairs.”
“Has Bruce told you what this meeting is about yet?” Diana asked.
“Well, Vic knows,” Clark said. That did not necessarily mean Bruce had told him so much as Clark he had long since decided it was wise to assume Vic already knew everything. “Bruce hasn’t told me so my guess is he was waiting for you.”
They exchanged another look. Bruce could be rather singular in his attention, even when it was because he decided he liked someone. He wasn’t always aware when it strayed into being uncomfortable. They had both gotten a taste of that, though Clark was much more of an expert on Bruce’s tendency towards obsession both good and bad.
Bruce was standing behind a bank of computers, watching as Vic...tore apart a section of the Fox and then soldered it back together. Bruce watched the monitor and then cursed under his breath as Vic finished before hitting a button to speak over the loud system.
“You were right,” Bruce said. “You got it.”
Vic was not close enough to say ‘I told you so’ but his sudden, restrained smirk conveyed all that needed to be said. Bruce looked annoyed and impressed.
Clark cleared his throat.
Bruce deliberately did not turn for a moment, still watching Vic finish up. “It took him five minutes to find and fix a broken relay that I’ve been trying to repair for months.”
“Well, he can talk to the plane,” Clark said. “I would say that gives him the advantage.”
Bruce waited a beat more before turning. Diana could tell it was because he was making a face and wanted to hide it. One of his businessman smiles was in place when he turned.
“Diana,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”
Diana nodded. “You do not make such requests often. Or provide so little information.”
Bruce grimaced. “I was hoping to avoid this altogether but we’ve been handed an ultimatum.”
Clark frowned. “By whom?”
“The government of the United States,” Bruce said. “More specifically, Amanda Waller.”
Diana had not met Amanda Waller. Bruce had spoken of her but rarely. Diana had gotten the impression that he was trying to keep her as far away from the League as possible.
“Is this all off the record?” Clark asked, looking as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.
Bruce smirked. “Lois is already sniffing around the edges of it.”
Clark looked affectionately aggrieved. “You’ve got to stop giving her all the best leads.”
“I didn’t give her anything. I don’t control what files my employees may or may not leak to outside sources,” Bruce said. “If Alfred thinks she’s a better reporter than you...”
“Hey now,” Clark objected.
Bruce nearly smiled. Clark had, Diana noticed, managed to get the tension in his shoulders to loosen, just a little.
“With the advantage being Superman gives you, I would say Bruce is simply levelling the playing field,” Diana said.
“It would be, if she wasn’t the better reporter than me,” Clark said easily. “And being Superman cuts in to my reporting time, sometimes, you know.”
“You can listen through walls for tips,” Bruce said flatly.
Clark looked scandalized. “Bruce! My word, how unethical.”
Clark winked at Diana. She stifled a giggle. Bruce looked like he knew Clark was joking but also half believed him.
Diana cleared her throat. Bruce pulled himself back to the matter at hand, looking aggrieved. He tapped on the intercom: “Alfred, can you get Arthur out of the kitchen? And do we have an ETA on Barry?”
There was muffled cursing in the background that suggested Alfred had been in the midst of the first task. “I believe Mr. Allen may be slightly...delayed.”
The three of them exchanged a more serious look.
“Anything we can assist with?” Bruce asked, intently.
Vic landed beside them before Alfred could answer. “He’s got it under control.”
“Hmph. Takes all the fun out of the afternoon,” Arthur said over the intercom. “I’m coming down.”
Bruce looked like he was biting the inside of his cheek to keep from sighing or swearing. He looked to Vic, wordlessly asking for a status report.
“He foiled stick up at his favourite donut shop, man,” Vic said. “They barely needed his help, let alone ours. The last thing I saw from the security camera was him taking pictures with the owner.”
Bruce looked skyward, as if asking for patience. Diana had to smother her laughter at him.
“All right, when Arthur gets down here, we’ll—” Bruce tried to begin.
“I brought snacks,” Arthur announced as he arrived. He unceremoniously dropped a tray of food in front of them. He was grinning. “Alfred said I had to share.”
“Alfred said— ” Alfred said from behind him, even as there was a red streak between them and half the food disappeared.
Barry came to a stop in one of the chairs, with his feet up on the table. He had already eaten his way through half a bag of chips and the first row of a box of cookies.
Alfred continued, nonplussed. “That Mr. Allen was on his way and likely to be hungry when he joined us.”
Barry grinned, crumbs on his chin. There was a blur and another quarter of the tray was gone: “Thanks Alfred! Mr. Podolinsky tried to give me a box of donuts but the cops said he couldn’t because they were technically still part of a crime scene.”
“Everything went okay?” Bruce asked, clearly holding himself back.
“Oh yeah,” Barry said. “Two civilians mostly took care of it before I got there. It was badass but they didn’t leave much for me to do.”
His hand became a blur as he ate another row of cookies. Clark gave Diana a bemused look and mouthed ‘Oreos?’ at her.
Diana suspected Bruce had gotten Alfred to stock them specifically for Barry.
“Do you want to tell us what this is about?” Arthur asked, reaching over and snagging a cookie before Barry ate them all. “And then Barry can tell us about how two civilians beat him to the punch. Literally.”
“Hey!” Barry protested. “And I probably shouldn’t have said civilians. They were military but not, like, dressed for it and—”
“The United States government has decided the Justice League requires a liaison,” Bruce interrupted, abruptly dragging the meeting back to order. “I’ve been attempting to dissuade them—”
“Wait, hold up, what?”
“Who in the government?”
“—but we have moved beyond that point,” Bruce said. “I felt we needed to set our terms before someone is arbitrarily appointed.”
Barry looked confused and a little nervous. Vic did not look surprised but he looked more annoyed and resigned than Diana would have expected. Arthur looked pissed. It was not unusual for him.
They all looked like they were about to start talking over each other again.
“You should have told us before this,” Diana said firmly before the hubbub could begin, effectively silencing it.
Bruce glanced at her, glanced at all of them, before saying: “Yes.”
There was a beat of silence.
“What, exactly, do they mean by a liaison?” Clark asked, in a very level tone of voice that Diana imagined put interview subjects at ease quickly.
“Someone to report on us to the man,” Barry said. “Right?”
“Pretty sure I have diplomatic immunity,” Arthur said. “So they can go fuc—”
“From the Congressional side of things, there’s worries about oversight and respecting people’s legal rights,” Vic interrupted. Nobody looked at Bruce or mentioned that particular phase of his, which he appeared to be overcoming. “There are some reactionaries, of course, but mostly they’re interested in coordinating evacuation and recovering efforts. The President...”
They all winced. Vic shook his head and didn’t comment before tilting it in the way that Diana knew meant he was combing through information, emails, documents, memorandums, that they were not supposed to be privy to.
“The intelligence community is more interested in control us. The main push is coming from a woman named Amanda Waller. She wants to ‘bring us under control’ under something called A.R.G.U.S.,” Vic said. He whistled. “She seems like a piece of work.”
“Understatement,” Bruce said.
“But you’ve worked with her before,” Clark said, mildly.
Bruce did not flinch but something around his eyes tightened. “Does she want to be the liaison?”
“I think she wants to have an underling do it,” Vic said. “Someone she could control.”
“Sooo, what if we proposed our own person for the position?” Barry suggested. “Like Lois? Or your commissioner?”
“I need Gordon where he is,” Bruce said. “And they would never go for Lois.”
“Lois would end up in jail or in charge,” Clark said. Bruce looked contemplative. Clark back peddled. “I wouldn’t get between Lois and her work but if you want to try...”
Bruce shook his head. “Waller would never agree to someone like Lois.”
“Okay, but what if it was someone who fit into their, like, organizational structure already, but we got to them first?” Barry suggested. He sat forward suddenly, jabbing his finger in excitement. “Oh! Like one of those guys from today! Like, not them specifically, but we’ve all had someone step in and try to help control the scene after who is like, military or police or just badass or something, right?”
“No,” Bruce said.
“Sometimes,” Vic said.
“I’ve gotten in bar fights with people like that before,” Arthur said.
“Okay, but, like today, there were these two guys who were in the shop when the robbery went down,” Barry said.
Diana’s phone buzzed in her pocket.
“And they were there before I was, since I can get there in a blink but I had to hear about it first,” Barry continued.
It was Steve.
“They had mostly handled it,” Barry was saying. “They had gotten the store empty and slowed down the robbers but then I got there and tied them up like that.”
Diana took a step backwards to answer the phone. Both Clark and Bruce gave her concerned looks. It was unlike her.
But this time with Steve was too new, and she carried too many memories from his last lifetime to ignore a call.
“Hey,” Steve said and despite everything, Diana had to keep herself from smiling at the sound of his voice. “I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
Diana frowned: “That does not fill me with confidence.”
“They were just there getting coffee— “
“You know how I met Dave for coffee?”
“—and then these guys tried to rob the place— “
“We ran into a little trouble and had to, uh, intervene.”
“—threw a chair at him, Mr. Podolinsky said, and the other guy—”
“It wasn’t much, really.”
“—and one of them got shot!”
“A ricochet grazed my arm. It’s nothing, I promise. Didn’t even need stitches.”
“I distracted him while his friend bandaged him up. I jetted when the cops got there. Hey, how’s the secret identity thing going to work with a liaison?”
“I just wanted you to hear it from me,” Steve said. “I’m back at the airport now, just waiting to board. And I meet your friend? He’s...sweet?”
“Did you have a point in there?” Arthur asked, sounding amused.
“Just, if we could get someone like that on our side before the man gets to them, maybe they would understand us a little better?” Barry said.
“He is,” Diana replied. She took a breath. “You’re sure you’re all right?”
“Promise,” Steve said. She could hear commotion on his end of the line. “I have to go. I don’t want to miss my flight. I’ll call you when I get home. I love you.”
“You too,” Diana said, aware that, while Clark was not actively trying to listen in, his head had definitely swiveled in her direction when Steve said that.
She could practically hear Steve’s smile as he hung up. She listened to the dial tone for a moment, the details of a plan already formed.
(She would reflect, later, that it would have been kinder to tell him to skip his flight.)
Diana turned back to face the rest of the League.
“Barry is right,” she told them. “I have an idea.”
Things moved very quickly after that. Bruce called a meeting with Waller and put forth their terms while Steve was still in the air, flying back to California.
(Steve would be surprised to find his CO waiting for him when he landed in California. He had barely even made it off the plane before he was handing him back his bag and his dress uniform.
“What the hell have you gotten yourself into Trevor?”
“You’re turning around and getting back on a plane. You’re being reassigned.”
“It’s classified,” his CO scowled. “You tangle with some superheroes?”
“I...Dave and I stopped a robbery and the Flash showed up? Steve said, mind whirling. “I met Wonder Woman in Paris?”
His CO swore. “Well, apparently they liked you. You’re in for it now.”
He hesitated. “I recognize some of the names of the people you’ll be working... with. You keep your guard up. Stay sharp. And get some sleep on the plane.”
Steve saluted. “Yes, sir.”)
When Waller responded, Bruce, Diana, Arthur and Clark went to negotiate, all wearing their various forms of armour. Diana and Arthur were no longer actively hiding their identities. Batman and Superman had been in similar positions before. Barry and Vic were the least known among them. They would keep it that way as long as possible.
Steve was shown in around the third hour of negotiations. He looked impeccable in his dress uniform and his face betrayed nothing. He did not so much as glance at Diana. He faced Waller and stood at attention.
(Diana knew she was the only one who could tell he was tired from travelling non-stop for over a day now. Steve had always been good at hiding it but she had learned all his tells a long time ago.)
Clark looked curious. Arthur, for all he protested, had a better poker face than he liked to admit and he was wearing it now.
Bruce looked hostile.
(Bruce had closed down so abruptly when Diana told them about Steve there was a violence in the sudden absence of his presence. He hadn’t left but he had become a wall.
“Are you sure we can trust him?” Arthur asked, ignoring Bruce. “No offense but just because he’s the same guy doesn’t mean he’s the same guy, you know?”
“Is he the same guy?” Barry asked. “How does that even work? Does he look, like exactly the same?”
“The scars change,” Diana said, answering both questions. “But the core of him remains the same.”
Vic suddenly spread Steve’s current service record out between his hands. It felt viscerally wrong to Diana but she tamped the feeling down. She was already fighting against her desire to keep Steve hidden, to keep him safe, to keep him to herself.
And there he was, displayed for them all to see and judge.
Barry’s idea wasn’t wrong. This would be the best way forward for the League. Diana just wasn’t sure it was the best way forward for her or Steve and he was already on the plane. She couldn’t even warn him.
“I don’t think anything would be enough for Waller but his record should impress her backers,” Vic said, even as he was frowning. He looked at her. “You removed the records from his past life.”
Diana had. Everything she could. “Yes.”
“Why?” Clark asked, sounding genuinely curious.
Because he was hers. Because she couldn’t be sure how or when or if he would come back. Because it hurt him to remember. Because twice now he had been so vulnerable and if someone found out and tried to manipulate him or hurt him with his past…
She would not allow that.
“Makes it easier on him,” Vic said, with a shrug. “Hell, people with common names get in trouble because their records get mixed up with someone else’s. It could have caused trouble for him, particularly since he’s military. No shockingly similar duplicate records for someone to stumble on.”
“She wanted to make it harder for anyone else to find her boyfriend,” Bruce said, banked anger smoldering in his voice.
Bruce abrupt withdrawal had felt like a void in the room; Diana’s felt like a vacuum. They had all been able to continue the discussion without him, allowing him to regroup.
When Diana suddenly became colder, there was a collective intake of breath. Barry took a step back; Arthur a step toward Bruce. The files disappeared from between Vic’s hands. Clark folded his arms across this chest.
Bruce had thought he was being kind, returning that picture to her. And he had been. But it did not mean Diana owed him anything. Certainly not the opportunity to throw more of her losses in her face.
Diana could have killed him for that. She almost had, when he thought it was only one man, one loss she was mourning.
As if even if Steve wasn’t given and taken away from her time and time again, there hadn’t been Etta and Charlie and Sameer and the grey in Maya’s hair and Sandy with children of her own and Barbara Ann’s fall.
As if the boy who bled out in her arms and the man who struggled and struggled mattered any less because she did not lay them at Bruce’s feet to justify her choices.
She met Bruce’s hostile gaze squarely. Her head had not bowed for a moment. “His life is his own, no matter what we are to each other. I was not going to have anyone interfering with that.”)
If anything, Bruce’s hostility seemed to be another selling point for Waller.
“Commander Trevor,” she said. “At ease.”
Steve changed to at-ease posture. She did not invite him to sit, though the rest of them were, and he did not ask to. “Ma’am.”
“I imagine you’re wondering why you’re here,” Waller said. She opened the folder in front of her, paging through the papers inside. She only looked up at Steve intermittently.
“Yes, ma’am. The man who picked me up at the airport said there was an interest in having me transfer to A.R.G.U.S.,” Steve replied.
“Do you know what A.R.G.U.S. is?” Waller asked.
“No, ma’am,” Steve answered.
“Good,” Waller said. She did not look at them but that did not mean Diana could not feel her watching them. “Apparently you made an impression on the Flash.”
Steve blinked. “That was nothing, ma’am.”
“You and a friend stopped four robbers before the fastest man alive could get there,” Waller said, flicking another page over. “Your friend looking for a job too?”
“No, ma’am. He’s retired. Medical discharge,” Steve said quickly and then: “I am still unsure what the details of this transfer entail, ma’am.”
Waller ignored him. “You have a pre-existing relationship with Wonder Woman.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Steve replied.
“Is that going to be a problem?” Waller asked flatly.
Steve didn’t so much as twitch, let alone look in Diana’s direction. “No, ma’am.”
Waller stared at him for a minute, let the moment run long, into uncomfortable. Steve didn’t waver. Waller closed the folder and picked it up.
“This is your contract and will finalize your transfer,” Waller said. She let it fall back to the table.
“Respectfully, I will need time to review it, ma’am,” Steve said.
Waller stood. “You have half an hour.”
She headed for the door and said, just before leaving. “You may sit.”
She left the door open behind her when she exited.
Steve did not waste time. He took the nearest chair, meeting Diana’s eyes for less than an instant, and opened the folder.
Arthur opened his mouth to say something and Diana pinched him.
Steve picked up the pen. He made several revisions, crossed a few things out, and made one or two notes in the margin but he largely left it unchanged. When he was done reading through it, he looked up.
If Diana hadn’t known him so well, she wouldn’t have been able to read his face at all.
“What are they asking you to sign?” Steve asked.
Diana had been waiting for the question. She slid the folder Waller had prepared for her to him.
Clark looked at her, surprised. Bruce huffed. Diana kicked Arthur to keep him quiet.
Steve leafed through it quickly. When he finished, he nodded and slid it back across the table to her.
Waller walked through the door a minute later. She had been gone exactly twenty-eight minutes.
Steve stood at attention when she walked back into the room. He stepped out of the way as she moved down the table. She sat, silently and read off the amendments he had made.
“Explain your reasoning for the shortened contract length,” Waller ordered, without looking up.
“It’s when I would need several re-certifications or a waiver for them, ma’am,” Steve answered. “If I fail to meet those standards, it will be easier for both parties to terminate the agreement.”
“You will not fail to meet the standards, Commander Trevor,” Waller told him, with the tone of a person who believed herself to be a god, but she did not remove the revision. She finished going through his contract but did not pass it back to him to sign.
Instead, she looked at him. “What did you think of the League contract?”
Steve did not hesitate. “It has to be redone, ma’am. Aquaman is the head of a foreign nation and Wonder Woman’s formal citizenship is complicated, but France has recognized her as a dual citizen of their nation. Having them sign as if they are Americans and under only American jurisdiction is likely to spark an international incident and may invalidate the entire agreement.”
“This was drawn up by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Gang of Eight, with approval from the President,” Waller said. Bruce shifted. That meant Waller had not been the one to draft it. “Would you like me to pass along your concerns?”
“If you think it’s best, ma’am. It won’t stand up in court as it is written,” Steve answered. “A suggestion, ma’am?”
“What?” Waller said.
“As liaison, I expect I will report directly to you,” Steve said. “From what I gathered on my contract, you are former Army. If I needed to, nominally, report to anyone else, the Head of the Joint Chiefs is Navy and the ranking member of the Gang of Eight is a former Marine.”
Waller’s eyebrows raised ever so slightly. She tapped the folder in front of her. “This will be retyped for you to sign.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Steve replied.
“Enough with the ma’ams,” Waller told him, getting to her feet again. “It’s Director. Or it will be soon enough.”
She looked at them, her gaze flicked from Diana to Bruce. “You can show yourselves out. I’m sure your liaison will bring along a revised agreement when it’s finalized.”
“With me, Commander Trevor,” Waller said, without looking back at him. “Your briefing starts right now.”
Waller kept Steve in briefings for twelve hours.
Diana tried to ignore Bruce’s glares and Clark’s gentle queries. She declined Barry and Vic’s offer to play video games and Arthur’s offer to get drunk. She tried to catch up on her neglected work.
(This had all been an uncomfortable reminder that there were decisions she was going to have to make about her job soon. She had been putting it off, hoping she could avoid it. But League business called her away from her work more than was sustainable and with her becoming more and more public as Wonder Woman...her colleagues — even tourists! — were beginning to make the connection.
It was only a matter of time before someone seeking to challenge her targeted the Louvre in their attempt.
She could not allow that.)
She made it three hours. Three hours and all she wanted to do was pace. Three hours of Bruce trying to bore a hole in the back of her head with his glare and Clark slipping out to tell Lois he would be awhile longer because he wouldn’t leave while he was still concerned about her.
Three hours and she snapped her laptop shut.
“Say what you wish,” she said to Bruce.
Bruce glowered and did not speak.
“I’ll start,” Clark offered, leaning forward. His eyes were kind. “You said this is the fourth time that you’ve known him?”
“When were the others?” Clark asked.
“The time before this, I met him in 1979. He was a diplomat with the Carter administration,” Diana said, feeling the ache of his loss as if it were still new. “He died in 1985.”
“Before that, I met him, as a boy, in the Second World War,” Diana said, feeling the weight of his body in her arms. “He died the same year I met him.”
“And the first time was in the First World War,” Diana said. She almost smiled, her first love reminded her the most of the one she had now. But losing him, not even having a body to bury, still stung like a thorn in her heart. “When I first came to Man’s World.”
Clark’s eyes shone with compassion.
Bruce snorted. He had acquired a glass of scotch at some point. “Your lost love.”
Bruce took a drink of it. “Doesn’t do a very permanent job of it, does he? I guess when you were worried about bringing someone back from the dead, you were speaking from personal experience.”
Clark shifted, as if he thought he might have to get between them. He had not been there to see her reaction the last time Bruce had tried to throw Steve in her face but Diana knew the others had told him about it.
Diana was better prepared for it now. “Yes, I am, though it was never my choice. Does mocking a veteran with PTSD who died saving two little girls from a house fire and a sixteen-year-old who was killed by the Nazis comfort you?”
Clark inhaled sharply. Bruce looked like he had just swallowed his tongue.
“It hurts him to remember the lives he had before. He never did as a boy,” Diana said, she was looking at Clark now. She did not look at Bruce. “And last time, it cost him to remember me. There is always a cost. I pay it. Steve pays it.”
Diana took a breath. “And Steve is not the only one.”
(They had been sitting on her balcony when he told her. Diana had explained that she had given him full funeral rites, each time he had died, because she hadn’t been able to ask if that was what he wanted before now.
“I appreciate that you don’t want me to end up in Tartarus by mistake,” Steve said. “But, if it’s up to me, I’m always going to choose coming back to you, Diana. You don’t have to keep sending Hades pleas on my behalf.”
Diana exhaled. She had guessed that. It was another thing to hear him say it aloud.
She was still absorbing that when Steve, looking back out over Paris, added lightly. “Besides, I’m not the only one who comes back.”
Diana froze. “What?”
“It’s been Etta and Maya, most often, but the others too,” Steve said. “Not as much as me, I don’t think. They might be coming back in times and places I don’t know about but...I don’t think so.”
“What?” Diana repeated. Her heart beat loudly in her ears.
She had thought...if it wasn’t just Steve...? How was this happening? How could she find them? She needed to find them .
It felt too big, even for Diana, who had defeated the God of War and stood fast before monsters. It was too much.
Steve did not seem upset by it like she was. He seemed mostly bemused. “I was married to both of them, in lives before I met you. Not at once. In separate lives. It’s weird thinking about it now. Hell, I had a thing with Sameer one time, I think in Ancient Rome? It’s hard to tell that far back.”
“Steve,” Diana said and this time he heard the distress in her voice.
He looked at her and took her hand quickly but she could tell he was confused. “Hey, it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not,” Diana choked. “That’s not fair. How many times have you suffered for me? How many times have you died?”
“I don’t...see it that way,” Steve said, a bit falteringly. “I’m not going to lie and say it’s all been roses but...I would choose this. Knowing you is worth it.”
He smiled, crookedly, sadly. “But I’m not the one who has to watch you die.”)
Bruce stood abruptly. He walked several paces away and did not look at her. “Who else?”
“Steve is the only one who has returned since I arrived in man’s world but he remembers having lives before that and people from my past who were part of them,” Diana said.
“Does he remember anyone else?” Bruce asked, something urgent in his voice, something young and scared and desperate. “Anyone that isn’t someone you know.”
Diana swallowed. “No. I have no part in bringing them back but it does seem to be connected to me. Everyone he’s known more than once has been connected to me.”
(“It’s you,” Steve said, certainly, much later, when Diana felt less like her heart might break and they were lying in bed together. “Everyone I remember knowing more than once is connected to you. Hell, I’ve known Barbara Ann in three lives and, I’m sorry, I know she was your friend, but I wouldn’t have chosen to spend time with her in any of them.”
“But maybe it is just luck,” Diana said. She did not know if that was what she was hoping for or not.
Steve hesitated. “Everyone I can think of knew you in some way. If It were me or if there was any justice in the damn world...”
For a moment, he looked grief stricken. “We tend to find each other, you know? Or it seems that way. And I would have found Nick, I think, if...if he’d gotten more than one chance. Me and Maya, we would have found him.”)
Bruce stood with his back to them for a moment more. Diana thought he would speak again, could see the words building in the tension of his shoulders.
He did not. He did not turn. He walked away.
Clark’s hand found Diana’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I know it can’t be easy.”
“It is not,” Diana told him, with a sad smile. Clark had experienced loss, of course, with his father, but he had not had to drink as deeply of it as Diana had. Everyone she had first known in Man’s World was gone now. They had all died and left her behind.
Arthur ambled into the room and sat down beside her, not even pretending that he hadn’t been eavesdropping. “So how many go rounds have I had?”
Clark huffed, unsure whether to be amused or surprised. Diana snorted inelegantly.
“You would have to ask Steve,” she told him. Then, considering. “I think the powers of your own people may mean you are not affected by whoever returns Steve to me. Though we have gods in common, on your mother’s side, so perhaps you are.”
“Relatives huh?” Arthur said, with all the wisdom of a man whose dealings with his own had been...fraught.
“That is the most likely explanation,” Diana agreed. “Whether it was meant as a blessing or a curse, I do not know.”
“A blessing, I think,” said Clark, who may have had fewer losses but who had sacrificed himself.
“Seems like it will be for us, anyway,” Arthur said with a grin. “Your boy caught on to the diplomatic immunity thing pretty quick.”
“He has had more experience than Waller understands,” Diana said.
“Good thing you removed those records,” Arthur said, as he clapped her on the back and got up. “Come on. Stop moping. Let’s go watch Vic kick Barry’s ass.”
“At what?” Clark asked.
Arthur grinned and spread his arms out. “Does it matter?”
He ambled away but clearly expected them to follow.
“Bruce will come around,” Clark said, more quietly. Diana looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Begrudgingly, maybe. But this is what’s best for the League. He won’t sabotage that.”
Diana did not think he would either, not in the end. But it had not been his idea, and he could not control the circumstances, and Bruce struggled with that.
It was unfair. Bruce had no reason to want to keep Steve from this.
Not when the only people who stood to lose from it were Diana and Steve himself.
“We would not let him, if it came to it,” Diana said. “Bruce is not the one with any reason to want to keep Steve from this.”
Clark looked at her with sympathy. He was well aware what it was like to love someone who willing went into dangerous situations. It was always for the right reasons but that did not make the threat of losing them any easier to bear.
And Diana had lost Steve three times already.
“Why did you?” Clark asked, because Diana could have stayed silent. She could have said nothing and they likely would have agreed with Barry in principle but not gone out of their way to find the man who helped stopped a robbery.
They never would have known. She could have kept quiet, kept Steve to herself. She could have waited out the rest of his enlistment period with white knuckles and asked him not to re-up. He wouldn’t have, if she asked.
But he would have found another way to join the fray. He always would. She would not love him so much if he was not so willing to stand up and do what was right, no matter the cost to himself.
“This is the best path forward for the League,” Diana said. “And I knew it was what he would choose, if I had had time to speak to him about it beforehand.”
That was at the heart of it. Diana had always respected Steve’s choices, even when they took him away from her. She would have liked to have discussed this before Waller got her hands on him, or been able to speak to him after it was presented to him, but she trusted him. Steve would make the right choice, even if it was hard.
That did not change.
“Are you coming?” Arthur called. “Stop moping! Barry’s losing!”
“I am not!” Barry replied, outraged. “Hey! That’s cheating! Don’t distract me!”
Clark smiled. “They are a good distraction.”
“They are something,” Diana agreed.
For a few hours, she let Barry and Vic and Arthur distract her. She ignored the anxiety that had settled under her skin and made her want to pace.
Evening fell. Clark went home to Lois, looking guilty when he left. Arthur got in to Bruce’s good booze and tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Alfred to get drunk with him. Barry fell asleep on the couch. She went through Steve’s files with Vic, for a time, trying to rid herself of how wrong it felt, sharing him with anyone, before Vic went home to check in with his father, promising he would be back as soon as the security feed outside Waller’s compound showed Steve leaving.
Bruce had not reappeared.
Diana knew she would not sleep. She paced instead.
Waller was doing this, keeping Steve so long, simply as a show of her power. Steve had been travelling for nearly a day by the time he landed in Gotham. It was absurd to keep him in briefings for so many hours. He could not be at his best.
That was undoubtedly what Waller wanted.
“You know you won’t be able to keep him safe this way,” Bruce said, from behind her.
He was less drunk than Arthur had been though he had clearly been drinking. Arthur had an exuberance that carried him along in people’s good graces when he was drunk.
Bruce did not have that.
“No. He’s more at risk this way,” Diana said. “If my goal had been to keep him safe I would have kept him hidden from you for as long as I could.”
“You were already doing a bang up job of that,” Bruce said.
Diana stiffened. “I will not apologize for wanting a month to reacquaint myself with him.”
“Would that have been all the time you took?” Bruce asked. He sounded...wary still, but honestly curious too. Diana kept seeing glimpses of something quietly yearning, and bewildered in his face, though he tried to hide it.
Diana forced herself to consider the question honestly.
“That was all the time we had,” Diana said. “I would have told the League when it became relevant. Steve’s leave was over. If we had had longer, I would have taken longer.”
Bruce nodded and fell silent for a long moment, looking out over the lake. It was not a comfortable silence, though it might have been once.
“You could have told me it wasn’t just...once,” Bruce said. “That you didn’t...hide from the world for a hundred years over a guy you knew for a week.”
Diana wanted to ask if Bruce thought that would have kept him from using Steve as a cudgel against her, tried to invoke his memory to shame and manipulate her. She bit back that retort because it would only make him retreat again, only convince him in his own mind that he was right, that Steve was some kind of weakness.
“That should not have mattered,” Diana told him. “It was never about one man. It was about the collateral damage we leave in our wake if we are not careful. I have never stood by and allowed a tragedy to occur but I do not want to inspire men to battle. I want them to choose peace and they must choose that themselves.”
“They won’t,” Bruce said, because he could not imagine it.
“Would you have me try to impose it upon them?” Diana asked. “You would be the first to rise against me if I did.”
Bruce didn’t deny it. Diana could see him trying to form another argument, to convince her to be what he wanted her to be, what he was not willing to be himself. It was not an argument she was interested in having. He could not seem to understand that she was not willing to become her brother, even a benevolent version of him to be worshipped.
Steve understood it. That was why she trusted him with the League.
“Besides,” Diana continues. “If I had told you that it was possible for Steve to come back, you would have tried to find him.”
Bruce looked almost wounded but again, he did not — could not — deny it. “I would have found him for you. I wouldn’t have approached him before that.”
“That is not the point,” Diana said. She was not surprised that Bruce didn’t understand. “His life is not mine to play with, Bruce. I would not force some contrived meeting with him.”
Bruce looked stunned. “You could have met him years ago.”
“When? Before he remembered me? Perhaps before he joined the navy, to tell him not to and keep him out of harm's way?” Diana asked. She shook her head. “I will not manipulate him, no matter how noble my intentions. His choices must be his own. I will not rob him of that.”
“And if you never meet at all?” Bruce asked, bewildered and intent, as if he could not believe her and had to prove her wrong. “How long would you wait?”
“He lived a dozen lifetimes while I was on Themyscira, waiting for me, though he could not know it. If we do not meet in one lifetime, we will meet in the next,” Diana told him and meant it, though even the thought made her heart ache.
(She wondered sometimes if she had already missed one of his lives. There was a gap of several years between the first time she had seen Steve die and when she had met him the second time. After that, his reincarnations seemed to follow swiftly after his deaths.
She wondered if in those scant years, Steve had been a child somewhere, in a time when children died often and young, that she had never know.
Steve did not remember it, if it was so, but Diana still wondered.
What age would he have had to reach for the memories to take hold? A newborn did not remember. Would a child of three? Five?)
“I cannot explain how we are drawn together but we seem to be,” Diana said, admitting: “It is not as early as I would like sometimes.”
(She thought of Steve as she had last known him. If she had met him earlier, could she have helped eased some of his pain more quickly, not let it become so entrenched inside him? Or would he have refused help then and never let her reach out to him at all?)
“But it is time he must have,” Diana said. “I will not take his choices away. There is no choice if I am stalking him from the moment he is born.”
Bruce looked like he didn’t believe her. He looked like he couldn’t.
(Diana knew — they all knew now — about the lost young men whose anger and suffering Bruce gave a purpose. They never spoke of it, or the one he had lost, but they knew.
Bruce gave them the room to forge their own paths, when that became what they wanted. He let them go.
But he did not stop keeping tabs on them.)
“That is a lot to leave up to chance,” Bruce, who left nothing up to chance and was tormented by the things outside of his control, said.
Diana knew Bruce couldn’t understand that. But she had seen what exerting such control would mean, knew from tales and examples and all the failings of the gods. She would not make Steve into a plaything instead of a person. It went against everything she believed and was the surest way to lose him for good.
“It does not feel like chance,” Diana said. It had never truly felt like chance. Meeting Steve always felt like it had been destined.
(Diana tried not to believe that meant losing him the ways she had was destined too.)
Bruce looked at her sharply, yet still somehow hesitant. There was something he wanted to ask her but he was not sure he wanted the answer.
Diana did not make him ask it.
“I am not the one bringing Steve back,” Diana told him. “It is not within my abilities. I do not know who is responsible or how it occurs.”
I cannot bring your parents or Jason back for you , she left unsaid.
Bruce’s face did not change. He did not allow himself to hope much so it was quieter when the faint ember of it died inside him.
Maybe that was why she volunteered: “I struggle each time with giving him funeral rites and asking Hades to reward him by granting him entrance to Elysium. Because I do not want to lose him. There is never enough time. But he should not be punished for that.”
Bruce’s jaw clenched and he looked away. Diana wondered who he was thinking of.
She was sorry that he had no one to console him.
“He’ll be good for the League,” Bruce said. It was a question and it wasn’t.
Diana thought of Steve as she had first known him: his determination to do the right thing, his tactical mind, and all the skills he brought to bear as a spy. She thought of the stubborn boy she had know, his cunning and his goodness, his loyalty. She thought of Steve as she had last known him, the brilliance that shone through even during the worst of his suffering, his doggedness, his compassion. His willingness to sacrifice himself for others.
She thought of how all those things overlapped in him, each time she had known him.
She thought of the man she had met a month ago and come to know.
“Yes,” Diana answered, simply.
Steve arrived at League headquarters, formerly Wayne Mansion, just before dawn.
Vic’s watch of the facility meant he and Diana were there to meet him. Bruce had stayed below, in the secure passage that lead back to lake house. He had refused to set foot upstairs on the even off-chance the driver Waller sent caught a glimpse of him; Diana refused to give in to the absurdity of him putting on all his armour for all of five minutes.
Besides, someone had to be responsible for waking Arthur and Barry. And calling Clark.
Steve looked incredibly composed given that he been in marathon meetings with one of the most terrifying people in the US government. His dress uniform was still immaculate. Diana doubted anyone but her would have noticed how tired he looked.
She handed him a travel mug of coffee before she had even greeted him.
Diana saw the way he glanced at Vic out of the corner of his eye. She saw the way he pulled himself back and forced himself to stop analyzing every moment and move. She was all too well acquainted with the way tension no one else noticed released. The way he changed the way he stood and in the corners of his eyes. She had seen it a hundred times, in another lifetime.
“Hi,” Steve said, taking it. He took a too big gulp and winced as he burned his tongue but quickly took another. “Thank you. Sorry to keep you waiting. It’s been an...interesting evening.”
He was leaning towards her, just slightly, as if he wanted to take a step closer and greet her properly but wasn’t sure of what boundaries to maintain right now.
It made Diana want to kiss him.
Instead she snorted at his understatement. It made Steve grin.
“Twelve hours with Waller is no one’s idea of fun,” Vic commented.
“I think I spent about three of them waiting in empty conference rooms,” Steve said, mildly. “And I’m a Captain now, so that took a bit of time, although less than I was expecting.”
Diana intensely dislike the idea of Waller playing those kinds of games with him. Steve, as if sensing her anger, took the step closer he had been hesitating to take. He didn’t touch her but he was in easy, comforting reach.
They were going to have to have a conversation about working together, Diana realized. They hadn’t had to do that before.
This had all happened too fast.
“Let’s not keep you waiting any longer, then,” Vic said.
Diana took Steve’s hand as they made their way down to the tunnel to meet Bruce. With Vic walking in front of them, he chanced leaning in to kiss her cheek.
“I know the rules with Waller,” he said quietly. She could tell by his slight frown that she was assuming Vic could hear him. “Not sure how to proceed here.”
“Think Sameer, Charlie and Napi,” Diana told him.
Steve looked at her, his expression soft and fond for a moment. “I think that’s who they are to you.”
Diana did not know how to respond to that or have the time to do so. Steve let go of her hand as Bruce came into view, standing stock still at the tunnel entrance.
He looked at Steve, then looked at the compact duffel he was carrying over his shoulder. “Anything else?”
Steve didn’t bristle but Diana could tell a part of him wanted to. “No. Short notice.”
“You’ll fit then,” Bruce said. “Diana can drive.”
Then he got on his motorcycle and drove off.
Diana could have rolled her eyes out of her head.
“You get used to him,” Vic said, clapping Steve on the shoulder in a friendly way. He smiled at Diana. “I’ll take a picture of his face when I pass him for you.”
Steve managed to keep a straight face as Vic lifted off the ground and took off flying down the corridor. Barely.
“It’s in his file that he can do that but it’s another thing to see it,” Steve said, shaking his head.
It took them both a moment to realize that they were alone together. Steve huffed, smiling sheepishly, and looking, for the first time, a little overwhelmed.
He might have said something, admitted as much, if Diana had not stepped forward and kissed him. His arms wrapped around her waist instinctively and she felt him relax more fully, shedding, at least for a moment, all the guards he had to put up when meeting with Waller.
“I’m sorry,” Diana said when they parted. They were still standing in each other’s arms, heads bent so close together, she could feel him breathing. “I know this was sudden. I did not mean to spring all this on you.”
Steve hesitated, just for a moment. He did that sometimes, unsure of what to say, not wanting to hurt her and not wanting to lie. They loved each other, fiercely and in an instant, as they had but hadn’t realized the first time they met, but they were still relearning each other.
But those moments of hesitation were getting shorter and shorter.
“It’s not how I would have wanted things to go,” Steve admitted honestly. He made a face. “I almost said no when they said they were bumping me up to Captain — I don’t feel like I earned that yet — but Waller looked like she might derail the whole thing if I did so...”
He looked disappointed, like he had been cheated of something that should have made him proud. Diana hated that.
She touched his face. “I’m sorry. This is not what I would have chosen either.”
Steve smiled, a little wryly. “I got the impression that you found out abruptly too.”
“This was not how I planned to spend my weekend,” Diana agreed.
Steve chuckled. He kissed her this time, bridging even that small gap between them.
“I’m not complaining about the end result,” Steve promised. “I’m glad you thought of me.”
“If this must be, you are who I most trust for the job,” Diana told him.
“I’ll do my best,” Steve promised.
Diana had never doubted that.
She already had the rest of the League half convinced of the same. But they needed to finish that, or at least properly introduce Steve to everyone. Diana knew that. She still hesitated.
“When was the last time you sleep?” she asked him.
“On the plane back from California,” Steve told her.
Diana raised an eyebrow at him, a little surprised. Steve shrugged.
“I wasn’t sure what I was heading into. Seemed like a good idea to be well rested,” Steve said. He smiled. “I learned a long time ago to grab whatever sleep I can whenever I can because when you get to where you’re going there’s not going to be time for much.”
It made Diana frown. She had known that, theoretically. Steve was a Navy SEAL. He hardly had a nine to five job. Just...she remembered him older, hollow-eyed and restless, because he had never been able to escape that, even when he tried to leave it behind.
“Hey, I’m okay,” Steve said, softly, as if reading her mind. “Promise.”
Diana knew that, she did. She had just spent a month with him in her bed. He slept remarkably soundly, though he tended to wake early and could be alert at a moment’s notice.
“If you’re sure,” Diana said.
“I’m not going to say no to more coffee,” Steve said. He grinned at her look. “Hey, it’s good! I’ve had enough canteen coffee in my life for it to qualify as torture. I take the good stuff whenever it’s on offer.”
“There is more at the lake house,” Diana told him, deeply amused. “We should not keep them waiting much longer.”
“I imagine you guys had a long night,” Steve agreed but then, he paused. “Uh. How are we getting there?”
Diana had the great pleasure of introducing Steve to the cannibalized former Batmobile Bruce had modified to shuttle any non-flyers between the manor and the lake house. It was not nearly as impressive as Bruce’s other vehicles. Steve’s eyes still took on a certain, reckless gleam that Diana recognized as soon as he saw it.
“Can I drive?” he asked her, immediately.
“Can you?” Diana asked, curious. Bruce’s modifications were not always entirely intuitive.
Steve needed two comments from Diana and exactly six and a half minutes before he figured it out. Diana did not know whether Bruce would be annoyed, impressed or both.
Walking into the lake house, into the noisy rush of Barry bouncing around the room and Vic acting as if he did not have just as much exuberance hidden inside him, of Arthur grumbling goodnaturedly and Clark looking fondly amused and Bruce glowering in a corner, trying to mask how deeply he cared about them all, Diana felt a strange nervousness. She wanted them to like Steve and for Steve to like them.
She thought the rest of the League was predisposed to like Steve. Barry already liked him; he had impressed Arthur. Vic had been warrier but Diana could tell already warming to him. Clark had liked him from the beginning, if only for her sake.
And Bruce...Bruce did not like anyone on first meeting. But he did not dislike Steve as intently as he disliked some people initially.
Steve was a little more reserved with them than he was with her. He wasn’t wrong when he said they were her friends and comrades, as Charlie and Etta and Napi and Sameer has started as his. She had told him stories of them, of course, but he didn’t know them, not yet. He was professional but he was friendly.
There was room for growth on all sides but the roots of this idea, this wild, unplanned for idea of hers, had taken hold.
This is going to work , Diana thought and smiled, joy eclipsing her misgivings, if only for a moment.
When Steve caught her eye, he smiled back, unable to help himself.
It did work.
For a time.
Steve worked well with the League. Steve and Arthur immediately got along disturbing well. Barry was a little shy at first, because he felt awkward about their first meeting but Steve worked to put him at ease. Clark was friendly and Vic was professional but Steve put the effort in to develop friendships with both of them.
Bruce was...trickier. Steve never overstepped with him but was careful, as well, not to let it show how...ginger he was being with him.
Diana wasn’t sure Bruce didn’t know what Steve was doing but he did not acknowledge it. They were cordial. They respected each other.
Waller wasn’t...always entirely happy that Steve didn’t serve solely her interests. But he didn’t serve solely theirs, either. It was what he argued about with Bruce the most.
It wasn’t about Waller’s goals or about theirs, not specifically. Steve did what he always did: what was right. And he made sure he was keeping an eye on the bigger picture when they might have been prone to tunnel vision.
But Steve was a mortal man, serving alongside superheroes. It was inevitable that someone would notice.
(Diana should have known. She had already foreseen it, had put in her resignation with the Louvre because of it.)
Diana wasn’t there, when he was taken.
(She never seemed to be there, when it happened, when she really needed to be.)
He had been in Central City when it happened. A new speedster had appeared and is seemed like he was out to get the Flash. Steve was nominally there to liaise with local forces but mostly he had been trying to help Barry figure out the identity of the new speedster before he did any more damage.
And then he disappeared.
(Diana didn’t know about it for hours. Barry didn’t say anything when Steve didn’t turn up when he said he would, embarrassed and hurt because he had assumed Steve was doing something more important. It wasn’t until Waller had called Bruce, coldly apoplectic that Steve had missed a phone meeting with her and ready for his head to be presented to her on a platter, that anyone realized he was missing.)
His hotel room showed that Steve had put up a fight but there were no clues . His laptop and phone were missing but neither Bruce nor Vic could track them.
He was just gone.
Barry would hardly look at her, he felt so guilty. Diana tried to be kind but knew the attempts she made to assuage his guilt rang false. She did not blame him but it felt as if her heart had been hollowed out and replaced with ice. There was an ache in the back of her throat that threatened to choke her if she dwelled on it too long.
(She had not been there again. She had lost him, failed him, again. She shouldn’t have brought him in to this, she should have kept him safe.
She wanted more time...They had hardly gotten to start this time. It hadn’t even been a year. How could she have already lost him?)
For a week, they found nothing.
Then David Graves tried to bring the fight to them, lured them to where he was strongest and beset them with their worst fears, their lost loved ones, and sought to release the demons that controlled him on the rest of the world as well.
It was Steve who broke his spell in the end.
Steve who managed to free himself and shot Graves from behind. It was only a glancing blow but enough.
Steve could not be a ghost tormenting Diana and a living man, barely able to stay on his feet but looking straight at her.
Diana saw red. She withheld nothing as surged forward to attach Graves, her only thought to get him as far away from Steve as possible.
The Asuras’ ghosts turned into monsters. They were all of them used to monsters.
When Graves was defeated, Diana left him and his pleading with Clark and Bruce because she could not promise she would not give him the death he so ardently desired.
Steve was alive. Steve needed her more than she needed to avenge his suffering.
He had collapsed to the floor of the cave, by the time Diana got to him. His eyes were closed but even from a distance Diana could see he was breathing.
Vic and Barry were already there. Barry was crouching next to him with Vic standing above them both, as if on guard.
Barry looked up as she approached. He looked beside himself with worry.
“He didn’t recognize me,” Barry said, his voice plaintive. He looked near tears.
Diana did not need the Asuras’ attacks to feel as if she had been frozen.
“He did,” Vic said, quickly. “He did recognize you. It just took him a minute or two.”
Diana could not think of what that might mean. She knelt beside him. His face was so bruised and bloody she hesitated to touch him.
“Steve,” She called, gentle but firm, her fingers alighting gingerly near his temple.
Steve’s eyelids fluttered, then opened a crack. Diana felt almost dizzy when she saw recognition in his gaze. He tried to swallow and pressed his lips together uselessly, as if he wanted to speak but his mouth was too dry.
“It’s all right,” Diana assumes him, hurriedly. “You’re safe. Our foe is vanquished. We’re going to move you soon. You don’t have to speak.”
(She remembered the way he would go silent for days in another lifetime...)
Steve gave her a tiny nod and then winced. He made no sound but he closed his eyes against the pain.
“His wrist is broken,” Clark said from behind her. “And some of his fingers. Try to keep it stable.”
Diana didn’t look at him. “Is he bleeding internally?”
Clark hesitated. “There’s nothing...acute.”
Diana felt sick, and worse still as Clark hastily added. “I can take him. I’ll be faster.”
Diana nodded, numbly. She touched Steve’s face again but this time he didn’t wake. She swallowed and stepped back, letting Clark, very carefully, gather Steve up.
She felt a twinge of relief when Steve roused momentarily, even if it was to gasp in pain, when Clark adjusted his hold so that Steve was secure as possible. Her stomach dropped when she saw the confused look in Steve’s half-closed eyes. As Barry had said, there was a moment, more than a moment, when she was sure Steve did not know who Clark was, before Clark disappeared in a streak of blurred blue and red.
Diana did not arrive at the hospital much behind Clark but it was long enough that they had already taken Steve into surgery when she got there.
Diana sat down in her armour, with her sword and shield, and she waited.
Clark hovered as Superman until Arthur and Barry turned up, out of their armour. Clark came back with Lois. Vic kept sending updates of Steve’s vitals to her phone. Bruce caused a minor stir when he arrived, made it clear that he would pay for anything the government didn’t cover and stood nearby for awhile, looking like he didn’t know what to say.
Diana did not move until the surgeon came out to speak to them.
“He’s going to be fine,” we’re the first words she said.
Diana felt lightheaded with relief for a moment, even as the doctor went on to explain his injuries. As Clark had said, his wrist and three of his fingers were broken. So was a bone in his hand and several of his toes. His orbital bone was fractured as were three of his ribs. The main rush into surgery when he had arrived had been because his lung had collapsed as Superman raced him to the hospital but they had also had to repair several, small internal bleeds in his stomach.
They were all injuries he would recover from but almost all of them could have killed him.
Graves had tortured him half to death to get to them.
Diana wanted to be sick but she did not have time for that. In the face of Wonder Woman, the hospital did not enforce the family-only visiting rules while Steve was in the ICU. He was still unconscious, when they showed her to his bedside. They wanted to keep him unconscious for at least a day more.
He looked terrible. His face and neck were badly bruised, the mottled purple and blue disappearing under the white cut of the white hospital gown. The bulk of bandages pressed up against the thin fabric, until a hospital blanket covered even the hint of them. There was an oxygen tube going into his nose, IVs and monitors taped down to the hand that wasn’t immobilized in a cast, and another tube disappearing beneath the blankets.
Diana could not hate it, any of it, though she knew Steve would.
It meant that he was still alive.
(Diana had never seen him in a hospital before. She had collected his body from the morgue, the last time. His body had been unscathed, then, except for his hands. It had felt so wrong, so false, the way he looked so peaceful.
He did not look peaceful now. None of the machines or tubes or medical equipment surrounding him were peaceful. The livid bruises on his face and the cuts on his lips and his knuckles were not peaceful. Even the sedation seemed forced.
Diana remembered what he had looked like, peaceful, as she prepared his body for burial.
She had hated that more.)
Diana could not take either of his hands. She laid hers on his forearm, beyond the cast. The monitors beeped steadily. He would not wake for at least a day.
Diana leaned closer.
“I’m here, Steve,” she told him. “I’m here.”
Nothing short of the world’s end would have moved her before he woke.
Steve woke in stages over the next 48 hours.
Diana did not leave his side.
(His parents arrived just after they began lifting the sedation. It was a strange meeting made worse because Steve was literally between them but still not there to make the introductions.
Steve’s parents had never been alive for her to meet before.
Diana had no idea what to say to them when they arrived in the doorway of the private room Bruce had arranged, his mother in the lead, her streaked-white blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun and her mouth a severe, flat line.
In this lifetime, Steve got his bright, blue eyes from her.
His father was more rumpled. He blinked at her behind a pair of bifocals, looked at his wife and said: “I told you she would be here.”
His mother sniffed. She hadn’t looked away from Diana.
“Did no one think to bring you a change of clothing, dear?” she asked. “Henry...”
“In a moment, Hellie,” Henry said. He scouted around the other side of the bed so that he could lean over Steve and kiss his forehead. His eyes glistened when he pulled away, and he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his eyes. “Oh kiddo.”
Diana swallowed. “I am sorry, Mr. Trevor. Col. Trevor. We didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“Helen’s been shot down twice. Allie’s been injured god knows how many times,” Henry said, even as he smoothed his son’s hair back. “It’s hardly the first time Steve’s been hurt, either. I’m the only sensible one in the family.”
“You married me. That’s hardly sensible,” Helen said dryly but fondly. “Go find her some clothing. You can use the bathroom in here when he comes back, dear. You can leave the door open so you don’t feel like you’ve left. Henry will stay out in the hallway.”
Henry kissed his wife on the cheek before he slipped out. “Marrying you is still the best choice I ever made.”
“Mine was insisting on the back up chute before that second crash,” Helen said.
She sat next to Diana when her husband was gone and rested her hand on Diana’s arm, just for a moment. Diana understood at once how much she should value the gesture.
“We’re old hands at this, you see,” Helen said. The severeness of her clothing and expression — she had been a career fighter pilot when such things weren’t thought suitable for women — did nothing to hide the same kindness in her eyes that Diana saw in her son’s.
Diana’s eyes stung and her throat felt tight. “Thank you.”
Helen smiled at her. It was a thin smile but it was genuine.)
Steve shifted and his eyelids fluttered periodically for nearly an hour before he managed to open them the first time. Diana leaned forward immediately, she could not help herself. Steve registered the movement and tried to focus on her but he was clearly struggling, one of his eyes still swollen shut.
“Di...?” He whispered, his voice hoarse from being intubated during his surgery.
“I’m here, Steve,” Diana said, her voice thick, so much so that it surprised her. “I’m right here. You’re all right.”
Steve tried to shift but his body clearly wasn’t obeying him well, still heavy with the remnants of the sedation and the painkillers they had him on. He looked to her, trustingly. “Okay?”
Diana knew immediately what he was asking. “We’re all fine. We stopped him. No one else was hurt.”
Steve sighed and stopped trying to move. Diana felt her eyes well with tears. The only one who had truly been wounded was him.
Helen leaned forward, into Steve’s limited line of sight, smiling tremulously. “Gave us a scare there, Steven. You might have your sister beaten with this one.”
Steve stared. Diana was surprised at the momentary blank look in his eyes, the way Steve seemed to be searching for something...but then he blinked and blinked again and his voice sounded too young when he said: “Mom?”
Helen touched his arm and Steve let out a shuddering breath. Henry was wiping his face with his handkerchief again.
“Right here, sweetheart,” Helen told him, calm and in full control. It was reassuring. It made Diana long for her own mother. She completely understood why Steve’s bottom lip wobbled.
“What do you need, sweetheart?” Helen said, trying to keep Steve’s scattered attention.
Diana could tell Steve hadn’t even considered that. He struggled to think, opened and closed his mouth twice before finally managing: “Thirsty?”
By the time they checked if he could have anything and Henry came back with a cup full of ice chips, Steve was asleep again. The doctor told them it was normal. That it would probably happen a few times while the sedation wore off completely, that Steve probably wouldn’t remember the first few times he woke up and that he would need a lot of rest in the coming days and months.
Diana still felt tense as the night wore on and Steve woke intermittently to have nearly exactly the same, brief conversation with them before falling back asleep, interspersed with terrible coughing fits that left them all on edge. At least, after the first time, they had the ice chips ready.
By dawn, Henry had fallen asleep on the chair that folded down into an uncomfortable bed in the corner, his feet sticking off the end. Helen was asleep in the chair on the other side of Steve’s bed, her head tipped back, snoring quietly.
Diana had not slept. The rest of the League kept texting her, asking her what they could do.
But there was nothing to do yet, not until Steve woke up properly. Not until she felt comfortable letting him out of her sight.
She sent a quick reply to Clark, updating him by saying there was no update, and when she looked up, Steve was looking back at her. Really looking back at her.
He tried to smile and winced instead. Diana quickly leaned in as close as she could to him.
“Hey,” he mumbled, hoarse and quiet. “World saved?”
If Diana hadn’t been so close to tears, she might have laughed. “Yes. Everyone is fine but you.”
“Downside of the job,” Steve said. The joke threw her off guard for a moment, even as Steve managed to actually look around. His voice went shaky and relieved all at once. “My mom’s here.”
Diana smiled for him, stroking his hair. He didn’t need to know how close she was to falling to pieces, not when he was practically in pieces himself.
“They got here last night,” Diana told him.
“Not how I wanted you to meet,” Steve managed, his voice dropping to a raspy whisper.
Diana feed him an ice chip carefully before saying: “They’ve been wonderful.”
It made Steve smile, briefly. “Had practice.”
“Your father was telling me that your exploits do not quite match those of your mother and sister,” Diana said, trying to keep that smile there, to ignore the bruises on his face and that she could not hold his hand because of the cast and the monitors.
“Can’t argue,” Steve said. He shifted, huffed a little and confessed: “Dad had cancer awhile back. In remission now but they spent a lot of time in hospitals.”
That long a sentence seemed to exhaust him. He tried to move again and, to Diana’s alarm, grimaced.
“Steve, don’t,” she said, urgently. Her fingers had gone white on the side of his bed. “I’ll get the nurse.”
“S’okay,” Steve croaked. “Just discomfort. Not pain.”
Diana was torn and then Steve looked at her, vulnerable and a little embarrassed and still, so full of love of her. “Drugs are working. I just. M’ throat hurts.”
The doctor had said it would and Steve’s voice sounded painfully hoarse. Diana fed him more ice chips, which seemed to help, but still felt like such a little thing. Too little a thing.
Diana was an Amazon and a goddess and Steve believed, had always believed, that she could save the world.
But she couldn’t do anything to help him except slowly feed him ice chips. She hadn’t been able to stop this at all.
As much as Steve seemed more present, this time, everything still seemed to exhaust him. His eyelids were already starting to droop.
Helen’s snorting stopped abruptly. Diana did not even have time to look up before she was around the bed, sitting close beside Diana so she was in Steve’s limited field of vision. Diana could tell she noticed the difference right away too.
Steve’s smile went soft and boyish in a way that made Diana’s heart ache. “Hi mom.”
“Good morning, sweetheart,” Helen said.
“Uh oh, sweetheart. Must be bad,” Steve said. He was mumbling now, fighting to stay awake.
His mother leaned over him to kiss his forehead and touched his cheek carefully. She stayed close, her voice gentle but firm.
“You need to rest,” she told him. “You’re going to need a lot of rest the next few days. Don’t fight it. Your body needs it. Just rest.”
“Yes ma’am,” Steve murmured, his voice torn between annoyance and impossible fondness.
He could not have resisted either way. He was asleep again within moments.
Helen sat back in the empty chair next to Diana and exhaled, tilting her head back to stare at the ceiling for a long moment. Diana did not move, she did not want to look away from Steve’s face or the steady rise and fall of his chest.
“We’ll make a schedule. Now that he’s been properly awake,” Helen said in a tone that both conveyed that she was plotting out tactics for the long range and that she expected her orders to be obeyed. “We’ll burn out otherwise.”
Diana knew she was right, she knew she would defer to her plans, no matter that Diana was the goddess.
She just did not know how she was going to manage it.
Diana managed for four days before she hit a wall.
She arrived at the hospital to find Steve asleep, looking wane, and his father reading in the chair by his bed, not looking much better. He smiled at Diana but she could see the weariness in his eyes.
“He had a bad night last night,” Henry told her. “Dr. Johnson said he’s fine. He just pushed himself a little too much yesterday.”
Diana felt a hot rush of guilt in the back of her throat. Arthur has visited yesterday, then Barry and Vic, then Lois and Clark. Steve had wanted to see them all but...Diana knew while he didn’t pretend to be well, he also didn’t want them — especially Barry — to feel guilty and had forced himself to stay awake and alert while they were there, well after Diana could see he was growing exhausted.
She regretted not calling Clark and Lois after Barry and Vic left and telling them to come another day.
“Setbacks happen,” Henry said, quietly. “He just has to take it easier today.”
Diana raised an eyebrow because she knew Steve. “That is unlikely.”
“We can always call Helen in,” Henry offered with his kind smile and a very sneaky twinkle in his eye. “He’ll glower at her but she’ll stare him down.”
“I will keep that in mind,” Diana told him.
Henry nodded, hesitated for a moment but said: “I’m going to head out now, if you’re all right. He’s likely to sleep for a few hours now and...it was a long night.”
“Of course,” Diana said, though they usually intentionally overlapped who was staying with Steve for at least a little while. Henry did look very tired.
Diana tried not to let her dismay show. That meant Steve had likely been in a great deal of pain last night.
It was barely two hours before Steve was awake. He was groggy, grumpy and clearly in pain, but he did not reach for the button that he could have pressed to receive another dose of pain medication.
He ignored it.
Diana wasn’t surprised by it. She was disappointed. Steve had literally had emergency surgery five days ago. He had always been stubborn, impatient and dismissive when it came to his own well being, but it made a cold, hard pit form in Diana’s stomach.
This was just going to happen again.
Diana had known that. Of course she had. Steve was going to get well and go back to being their liaison. If he had not been doing that, he would have still been a SEAL, conducting some of the most dangerous missions for the US military, because that was the career had had actively pursued.
Diana just...She hadn’t had time to think about it, had been too worried about Steve right now . She had been able to ignore that this was going to happen again and again and again.
Until she lost him.
And she knew that. That was part of who he was. She didn’t even want to change him but...
She had been trying to ignore his bruises, ignore what they meant, and now they were all she could see.
(Normally, Steve would have picked up on her mood. Normally, Steve was not overtired and unable to shake how everything that didn’t outright hurt ached annoyingly. Normally, he wasn’t worrying about how long it would take for him to recover and about when Waller would appear to debrief him and how tense and sad Diana looked and the things he hadn’t told her yet because the only moments he had had the energy to, his parents had been in the room, and they didn’t know that this was one life of many for him.
And he was supposed to start physical therapy today. When he felt like shit.
But he was going to do it. He told the nurse as much when she came in to ask if he was ready to go.)
When the nurse came in to ask Steve if he was ready to go to physical therapy and Steve made himself sit up and say yes, Diana could not believe it. She stared at him — glared at him — as the nurse left to get him a wheelchair.
Steve bristled. “What?”
“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Diana asked. She did not mean to let her anger and frustration over the whole situation seep into her voice but it was there.
“If I don’t do it I’ll be another day behind,” Steve replied. “People do physical therapy for a reason not because it’s fun.”
Diana tried to stay calm. She tried not to look at the bruises that still stained his face, even as they went an ugly green and yellow around the edges. “Your father said you had a bad night last night. A day isn’t going to hurt.”
Steve made a face at the words your father said but ignored them, instead repeating, as if it should be obvious: “Except it’ll put me a day behind.”
“You do not have a deadline,” Diana retorted. “Why do you need to rush?”
“This isn’t rushing,” Steve said, sharply. “I’ve been injured before. I know how this goes. And, yeah, I had a bad night. I’m going to have bad nights, okay? Fucking everything hurts and I can’t get comfortable and the fucking drugs make me fucking constipated and nauseous and I just want to fucking cough without feeling like I’m going to die.”
Steve flushed dully — he had just barked at the love of his life, his soulmate about being constipated . But all Diana had heard was feeling like I’m going to die.
“You’re going to make yourself worse,” Diana said. “You’re going to hurt yourself because you’re being a stubborn man. You don’t need to. The world won’t end.”
The world can wait, she had meant.
Steve stared at her, slack jawed for a moment. “Is that what you think?”
“No,” Steve said, shortly. “I’m going to PT.”
“Steve!” Diana said. “You’re not listening to me.”
“No, you’re not listening to me! I can’t believe that’s what you think!” Steve said, hurt and anger and frustration written all over his face. “I am going to PT because that’s how you get better . You slack off and you get behind and you get worse .”
“And I know it’s going to suck and it’s probably going to hurt and I’ll probably come back and want to take an extra dose of painkillers and pass out,” Steve said. “And I might feel worse tomorrow but the next day I’ll feel better. This isn’t ego.”
Diana almost went to him because she didn’t agree and she didn’t think she understood completely but at the last he had sounded so defeated and a little out of breath...
The nurse pushed open the door. “All ready to go?”
“Yes,” Steve said. She helped unhook him from the remaining monitor and capped his IV. Steve held himself stiffly and kept his good hand on his bed for balance and he levered himself into the wheelchair but he managed by himself.
“He’ll be back in about forty-five minutes,” the nurse said, helpfully, looking between them.
For a moment, Steve looked like he was going to say something to her, the expression on his face half hopeful, half hurt. He even opened his mouth but then closed it again.
Diana stood silently in his hospital room for a moment. She wiped her face.
(She was going to lose him again.
It wasn’t about physical therapy. It wasn’t about him being stubborn or a soldier. She loved him that way. She didn’t want to change him.
And even if she could, it would not make a difference. In the end, she would still lose him.
She would lose him again. To something like this or an accident or just old age. She would lose him saving the day, or saving his friends, or saving two little girls, or in his sleep after a lifetime together.
She was still going to lose him.)
Diana stepped out of the room. She just. She needed a moment. It made her feel guilty, even though Steve wasn’t there—
(Steve had wanted her to go to physical therapy with him. That was what he was going to ask. Diana knew that. He didn’t have to say it for her to know.)
—stepping through the doors of the hospital.
The cool Fall air was a relief, even with the clatter of people walking in and out and the shrill sound of ambulances. Diana closed her eyes, just for a moment.
(She had known the cost going in. What was the matter with her?)
When she opened them, she saw Napi standing on the other side of the sidewalk.
Steve was already back in his hospital bed when Diana returned to his room.
(She had asked Napi to come back with her. He had smiled and said: “Not today. He’ll be too tired today. Steve’s never found it easy, being injured.”
Diana knew that as well as anyone.)
He was facing away from where she usually sat and at first she thought he was asleep. But then she sighed and he shifted at the sound, turning over to look at her in the doorway. He grimaced, hand clumsily going to his ribs.
Diana was at his bed in an instant.
“It’s okay,” Steve said, immediately reassuring. “Just turned too fast.”
“Okay,” Diana said.
She sat down in the chair next to his bed. They stared at each other, unsure of what to say. They hadn’t really fought before in this lifetime.
(“I saw you once, last time,” Napi told her. “At the Vietnam Memorial.”
Diana swallowed. She did not think she would ever forget that, the way Steve shook, the way he seemed to shatter under her hands despite his best efforts.
“We would have welcomed you, if you can gotten in touch,” Diana said. “Perhaps not then but later.”
Napi shook his head. “I would have made things worse from him, I think. Etta and Sameer only had the memories of themselves to stir in him but you and I are gods. He was too fragile for the memory of more past lives to be sparked in him.”
“He remembers everything, this time,” Diana said, quietly.)
“How did it go?” Diana ventured finally.
“It sucked,” Steve said, frankly. “Mostly more breathing exercises to make sure my lung heals well. Some extremely light stretching. Showing me how to walk so that I don’t hurt my toes more or fuck up how I walk in the future.”
He shifted against the pillows more, wincing again. Diana couldn’t stand it.
“Steve,” she said. “Stop.”
Steve leaned back against the pillows, grimacing again. He looked so frustrated. “I can’t. Literally nothing is comfortable but if I stay in one position too long I get sore.”
(“Getting him to admit he was injured was like pulling teeth,” Napi told her. “He nearly died once because he didn’t want to bother us with it. I would not take it lightly that he’s admitting a weakness to you.”)
“Then let me help you,” Diana said.
He looked wary but she stayed firm. After a moment, he nodded. They managed to get the bed rearranged so he was slightly less uncomfortable.
When they were done, he tilted his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes for a moment, taking slow breaths that would have made him cough painfully only days ago. Despite all her worries and his frustrations, Steve was actually healing well and quickly.
(“I know what you’re scared of,” Napi said. “It is a natural thing to fear. But what are you willing to let that fear cost you?”)
“Thought you’d gone,” Steve said, his voice hesitant, after they had sat in silence for long moments.
“Just to get some air,” Diana said.
Steve nodded and went quiet again.
(“He’s still just a man, Diana,” Napi said. “This time and all the others. He may be better blessed in this lifetime but he’s still going to hurt and make mistakes and be unsure.”
“Not of me,” Diana said.
Napi was quiet for a moment. “Steve will always believe in you. I don’t think he knows how not to, though sometimes he would like to. He is your most ardent disciple.”
Diana frowned. “That is not what we are to each other.”
“No, but if you chose it, that is what it would be,” Napi said. “All men have doubts. He cannot doubt you; he must doubt himself. Steve orbits you like you are the sun. But even just as himself, he is one of many planets. How could he not wonder if sometimes you look at him and wish for one of the ones you lost? Or that one day you might become sick of losing?”
Napi smiled sadly: “That is the cost of remembering for him.”)
“I am sorry that I did not go to physical therapy with you,” Diana told him. Steve looked more surprised than she expected.
“It’s fine,” Steve said. “I managed.”
“No, it’s not,” Diana said. “You wanted me there.”
Steve hesitated. “I did. I’ve...recovered from serious injuries before, not quite like this but...”
He shrugged. “It’s easier with help. But...I need you to trust me to know my own limits.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Diana said. “But I worry.”
To her surprise, Steve looked more quietly upset than she had seen him in this lifetime.
“I know,” he sighed. “I wouldn’t have blamed you, if you’d gone, you know.”
(“One day I will lose him again,” Diana said. “It might be to something like this or it might be to something I can’t foresee. I never expected...”
Her voice still choked, when she thought of how she had last lost him, how unfair it was to have him snatched away from the life they had been building together, the hole his absence had left behind.
“I will lose him again,” she repeated.
“Yes,” Napi said.)
“I can’t imagine what it’s like, being the one left behind,” Steve said. He was looking down at his own hands, on the hospital blankets.
(“He is a mortal,” Napi said. “You will always lose him.”
He paused. “Would it be easier not to know him?”
Diana stopped. “What?”
“He is put in your path but twice now it has been your choice to know him,” Napi said. “You could have walked away after those first meetings. I cannot say how that would have turned out for him—”
Diana shivered at the thought.
“—but it may have spared you pain,” Napi said. He looked at her. “Or would it?”
Diana’s mouth felt dry.
“You are already entangled with this one, of course, but when he goes—” Diana flinched; Napi continued. “You could track him, as your friend would, from birth. You could avoid him entirely. His life could be a mystery. His death could be nothing but a notification on your phone.”
Diana felt sick. The possibility of having Steve in the world with her and choosing not to know him felt wrong in every atom of her being.
She did not know if it would hurt any less. She would have to kill so much of her own soul for it to even be a possibility that she was not sure it would even matter.)
“I know it hurts,” Steve said, his voice faltering. “I don’t know what I would do if it was me instead.”
Diana put her hand over his. Barry had signed his cast, big and bold. Lois has coloured the letters in, after.
“Could you have walked past me that day and said nothing?” She asked.
Steve’s face showed just how appalled he was by that idea, as clearly as if he had had the Lasso of Hestia wrapped around his wrist. “No. Never.”
“And I would not have forgiven you for it,” Diana told him.
Steve took a breath and looked at her. His eyes were tired but bright. Diana knew this was not the first time he had dwelt on this.
“I love you so much,” Steve told her. “I hate that that ends up hurting you.”
Taking his hand was not enough She perched on the edge of his bed so he could feel the closeness of her body and she could feel his.
“The only way to avoid that hurt is to not know you at all,” Diana told him. She touched his cheek, very gently. The bruises were unavoidable. “I will always choose to have you in my life, Steve. It is always worth it. No matter how short the time.”
Steve blinked rapidly against the moisture building in his eyes. He turned his face into her palmed and kissed it, ignoring the way it made his bruises twinge when her fingers touched them.
(“Does it ever get easier?” Diana asked.
Napi looked at her, and almost smiled. Diana never forgot how much older he was than her but he rarely made her feel that difference.
“My losses are not the same as yours,” Napi reminded her. “I hope, for your sake, your experience remains different.”
“I did not find it any easier, the last time he was in the world, and suffering, and I knew of it but did not know him,” Napi added, becoming more like the man he normally appeared to be. “For whatever that is worth.”
It was not a comfort to hear. Diana steeled herself but did not hesitate to ask the question she dreaded most: “Would Steve be happier if I stayed away?”)
“I do worry about about losing you,” Diana told him. “But what I worry most right now is you pushing yourself too hard too fast. Do not forgot that I have seen you sacrifice your health for a cause before.”
“I wasn’t wrong about PT today,” Steve objected, more calmly.
“You weren’t,” Diana agreed. “But I spoke to your doctor on the way in. You insisted on reducing your pain medication last night against her advice.”
Steve had the decency to blush a little. “I thought it would be fine.”
“You had emergency surgery five days ago,” Diana reminded him. “You’re not getting to get better if you’re in so much discomfort you can’t sleep.”
“I know, I did take a full dose after PT,” Steve said. He was clearly frustrated but there was no heat in his voice, just misery. “I hate being on painkillers okay? They make me feel...disconnected and, honestly, a little sick.”
Diana wasn’t surprised the side effects bothered Steve. They had in his last lifetime too.
“We’ll talk to the doctor about what we can do instead,” Diana told him. She bit her lip. “I don’t like the idea of you being in pain, Steve. I can’t stand it.”
“I thought I had a better handle on it than I did,” Steve confessed. “My dad would tell you we’re all terrible patients.”
Diana snorted. “I have already experienced that with you.”
Steve face softened. “I thought I didn’t remind you much of him.”
Diana frowned. That was not a conversation they had ever had.
In this lifetime, they had folded their lives together relatively easily and Steve had been more willing to be open with her from the beginning. He was more solid within himself than he had been since Diana first knew him and had spent more time assuaging her worries than dwelling on his own.
That had, perhaps, left more room for them to grow. Not in her but in himself.
“I see you as yourself, Steve,” Diana told him. “There is a core of you that does not change. That you are too often willing to sacrifice your well-being for the greater good is an element of that, as is your rush to return to the fight. That was very apparent in your last lifetime, but it was in your others as well.”
“What you reminds me most of him is your kindness,” Diana said. Steve looked confused; he had obviously not expected that. Diana had to look down for a moment. It was the only way she could continue. “We never had enough time, in your other lifetimes, for me to catch more than glimpses of it. But, even when he was most unwell, he struggled so hard to keep from being unkind to others, even if it meant keeping himself apart from the people he loved. And when he started getting better, that kindness, it just blossomed in him.”
“And with you, you make it seem like it’s just second nature,” Diana said, looking up at Steve again. His mouth was open, she couldn’t believe he looked this surprised. “Did you not know this about yourself?”
“It’s not...something I put a lot of thought into,” Steve said, falteringly.
Diana rubbed her thumb over his cheek, away from the bruises. “You do it without expectation of anything in return. That is rarer than you would think in Man’s World.”
“I’m not selfless, Diana,” Steve said, his voice quiet.
“No, you’re not,” Diana agreed. “But you are kind. Stubborn. And many other things. And I love you very much.”
(“You cannot know whether he would be better or worse off without you,” Napi said, gently. “But, Diana, I think you know as well as I do what his choice would be.”)
Waller arrived at the hospital six days after Superman flew Steve through its doors.
(Diana was surprised until Vic and Barry confessed to...delaying her through Vic’s various means. When Steve found out he gave them a very serious talking to about how they should not underestimate the Director.)
Diana and both of Steve’s parents were there when she arrived. They had just had a meeting with his doctor. Provided there were not additional complications, they were planning to release him within the next forty-eight hours.
Diana worried that Waller would prove to be a complication.
She was, at least, at her most polite with Steve’s parents.
“Col. Trevor. Mr. Trevor,” she said, in a flat, bland voice, after entering the room without knocking or announcing herself. “Captain Trevor. Your debriefing can no longer be delayed.”
She glanced at Steve’s parents, as if she were deferring to them. Diana knew she was not. “May we have the room? This shouldn’t take too long.”
Helen, who had bristled immediately when Waller entered the room, looked at Steve, her jaw clenched and her chin tilted up. Henry looked between them in faint confusion.
“Sure,” Steve said, without glancing at his parents before he agreed. Then he looked at his mother in a very deliberate way. “Mom? Dad, why don’t you guys go get some dinner?”
Helen rose up from her chair with her back ramrod straight, gathering up her purse and coat with great dignity. She stopped to kiss Steve’s cheek and tell him: “We’ll be back in an hour or so.”
She gave Waller a nod that in no way suggested deference. “Ma’am.”
They hadn’t made it through the door way before Waller looked at Diana and asked: “Aren’t you hungry Ms. Prince?”
She had been holding Steve’s hand before Waller had arrived. He squeezed it now, just enough that she would feel it. Diana swallowed down the response she wanted to give.
“You could bring me back something?” Steve said, keeping his voice light.
Diana smiled at him, completely artificial. “Of course.”
Helen had paused in the doorway, maneuvering so Henry was in the hall behind her. She waited for Diana to join them.
As soon as they had all stepped outside, Waller shut the door firmly behind them.
“Who on earth—” Henry began.
Helen took his arm firmly, her own tight, fake smile plastered on her face. “We can talk about it in the food court, dearest.”
Henry looked at his wife and nodded. “Ah, yes. I am hungry.”
Diana realized Helen had noticed Waller’s...body guards lounging conspicuously in the waiting room as well. The waited until they were out of the ward, well out of earshot, before they spoke again.
“I ‘forgot’ my phone in the room,” Henry said, quietly. He grimaced slightly. “Couldn’t get the damned thing on record, though.”
“She’ll check,” Helen said, tone completely sure. “I don’t know her but I know the type. She’ll check the room.”
Diana had already pulled out her cell phone. “Then it may be to our advantage that you could not get it to record before we left.”
Waller in with Steve. Henry’s phone in room. Can you access? Diana texted to Vic.
She did not have to wait more than a minute before there was a reply. Audio only. Route thru ur phone & record?
- Careful she doesn’t catch you. Diana warned.
Vic replied with a ;p . Which made Diana think he was with Barry or perhaps that Barry was just rubbing off on him too much.
Diana’s phone screen changed, as if she were on an active call. She held it to her ear.
“—ready debriefed,” Waller was saying. “That was not appreciated.”
“I haven’t spoken to the League as a whole yet,” Steve said, mildly. His voice was always calm when he spoke to Waller, as it had been when he conceded to Haig. Diana understood why now; she liked it’s necessity no more than she had then. “Aquaman’s questions were limited.”
“Did you record them?” Waller asked.
“No,” Steve said.
“Why not?” Waller asked.
“It did not occur to me at the time,” Steve said. Then volunteered. “I was still on heavy pain killers at that point, Director. The debriefing was limited because I kept falling asleep. My mother was also present, if you would like to follow up with her.”
Waller paused. “Your mother stayed for a discussion of how you were tortured by a madman?”
“She insisted, as I was on dilaudid at the time,” Steve said.
“She didn’t put up much of a fuss today,” Waller commented, dryly and dismissive in a way that annoyed Diana.
“I’m off the hard stuff now, Director,” Steve said. “And she understands the Chain of Command.”
Waller was silent for a moment. Then: “Why Curry?”
“Why was Curry the one to debrief you?”
“My understanding is that Batman refuses to come to the hospital,” Steve said. “It seemed inappropriate for Wonder Woman to do it. I don’t know how Aquaman was decided on outside of those factors.”
(Bruce had refused to come to the hospital either was Bruce Wayne or Batman after that first night. Clark — or rather Lois — had visited on the pretense that she knew Steve, having actually interviewed him on background once when writing a piece about his sister.
It had seemed very coincidental, when they realized it. Diana believed less and less in coincidences when it came to her loved ones, though Steve could not remember Lois from any previous lives.
Arthur made the most sense, for a limited debriefing before Steve could speak to all of them. Both he and Steve had been initially flummoxed by the idea but Arthur had comported himself well.)
“You assured me that you could maintain your professionalism despite your relationship with Ms. Prince,” Waller commented.
“That’s why she did not debrief me for the League,” Steve said.
“What did you discuss with Mr. Curry?” Waller asked.
“From what I can remember, we discussed whether or not Graves or the...demon things posed any continued risk. From what I observed, I believe they’re neutralized but emphasized my recollections were compromised by the circumstances,” Steve said. “We discussed some of what was done to me. Aquaman was somewhat reluctant to go into much detail because of my mother’s presence. I have discussed it more fully with Wonder Woman.”
“On a personal level, she was worried,” Steve replied.
“Should she be?”
“I don’t think so,” Steve replied. “But it would be negligent not to order a psych evaluation before I return to active duty.”
Diana knew from experience that Steve could fool those. She doubted he had lost the ability from one lifetime to the next. Though Waller could not know that, Diana imagined she somehow knew Steve would have no trouble passing a psych eval.
“Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we,” Waller said. “You were in Central City when you were taken.”
Diana had found an alcove to settle in. Steve’s parents had actually gone to get food. It was a show of trust in their faith that she would protect their son that touched Diana.
Most of what Waller questioned Steve about were things Diana already knew, things Steve would repeat to the rest of the League, though he downplayed Grave torturing him in front of Barry and Vic, in another week’s time, when they would meet at the manor.
(Barry had enough guilt without hearing how Graves had beaten Steve, how he had broken his fingers and his wrist, how the Asuras had beset him.)
But there always seemed to be things that Waller knew that they did not. And as one hour dragged into two, Diana could tell Steve was flagging.
She checked her watch. The dose of painkillers administered through Steve’s remaining IV would have been released. They were no longer as strong but if Steve didn’t eat they made him particularly nauseous and fatigued.
And Waller’s presence meant he hadn’t gotten dinner before the dose hit.
“We have been interrogating Graves since he was taken into custody,” Waller was saying. “He said you did not break. He was surprised.”
That surprised Diana. They had not spoken of that.
Steve waited a beat. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“Coming from him, no,” Waller said. “He mostly viewed you as an annoyance and maybe as a way to make Wonder Woman more human by experiencing loss.”
Steve actually snorted in front of Waller. It made Diana worry all the more. She was going to have to intervene soon and Steve would not thank her for it.
“I figured he was crazy. I didn’t realize he was delusional,” Steve said, then more softly than Diana thought he meant: “She doesn’t need any lessons in loss.”
“Oh?” Waller said, as casually as Diana thought she knew how.
“She’s been here a hundred years,” Steve said. They both knew that Waller was already aware of that. “She’s seen more change than any of us and everyone she first met has died of old age at this point.”
He said it so dismissively, as if it were entirely obvious. Diana wondered how much Waller bought it. She had learned very quickly not to underestimate Steve.
“Graves did not seem to be aware of that,” Waller said, finally. “He was not surprised you withstood the physical torture. Your resistance to the Asuras and to his threats surprised him. I suppose he thought a soldier wasn’t up to the task.”
“Sailors have hidden depths,” Steve said, his tone bone dry.
“I doubt he was aware there is a difference,” Waller said, her voice monotone and bland, as if what she was saying had no consequence. “Him threatening your family didn’t give you pause?”
“Of course it gave me pause,” Steve replied. “Director, you’ve met my mother now and I know you would have investigated my family when I signed up.”
“I did,” Waller said. “Your father is the weak point.”
“My mother would rip the head off anyone who came near my father,” Steve said.
Waller didn’t say anything to indicate she agreed but she didn’t disagree either. Instead, she said: “Most men don’t take well to people threatening their little sisters.”
“Allie enlisted at 18 and was one of the first women to qualify as a Ranger,” Steve said. “I’m more scared of her.”
“Sounds like I should recruit her,” Waller said.
“It would be a waste of your time. She’s career,” Steve said.
“I suppose I should count myself blessed that my liaison doesn’t break under torture,” Waller said, her voice sounding anything but pleased.
“Everyone has a breaking point,” Steve said, voice mild. “Graves just didn’t find mine.”
“Which is?” Waller asked, her voice still calm and deceptively bland.
Diana was already moving. She wouldn’t reach his room face enough to throw Waller against the wall or stop him from giving her more leverage against him while he was injured and drugged and vulnerable but she could keep stop the damage there.
“Don’t know,” Steve said. “I had SERE training. Never found any after that.”
There was a pause. Diana rounded the corner into the ward. She could see Henry in the waiting room, Helen pacing in front of it.
“According to Grav—” Waller began.
“Need that bedpan behind you,” Steve said, cutting her off. “Now.”
“Gonna be sick.”
There were scuffling sounds, then retching, and then one nurse was pushing through the door before Diana could, followed quickly by another. Waller’s bodyguards jumped up and Helen was up like a shot, blocking the door by crowding it to see what was happening, like any mother would.
“Out!” the nurse commanded. “Everyone out!”
The other nurse looked ready to start bodily removing people. Waller exited with a great deal of dignity before it came to that. She was barely through the door before she came face to face with Helen, who looked murderous. Diana suspected she did not look much better.
“Oh dear,” Henry said, sounding flustered and worried as he somehow managed to accidentally drift between them. “I hope this doesn’t delay his release date. Do you think vomiting is something the doctor would make him stay an extra day for?”
Waller did not roll her eyes at Henry, Diana had never seen her give that much away, but she did look at him with enough derision and dismissal that it set Diana’s teeth on edge. She did not bother with the pleasantries or saying goodbye, she simply turned on her heel and left.
Helen’s jaw only unclenched when Waller was gone. She took a long, slow breath.
“It was probably for the best for you to step in and diffuse that, dearest,” Helen said, quietly.
“Seemed unwise to let you coldcock Steven’s boss or, really, the director of anything,” Henry said. “No matter how much she deserved it.”
Helen snorted. Under any other circumstances, Diana would have smiled. Half of Steve’s talent as a spy lay in his ability to make people believe he was completely guileless. Diana knew it came from lifetimes of practice but in this lifetime, it also seemed to have been inherited from his father.
The nurses, and the doctor that arrived moments after Waller left, finally let them back in with a stern warning that Steve needed to rest. They weren’t to keep him awake.
The room lights were dimmed and Steve was leaning back in the hospital bed with his eyes closed. Diana noticed immediately that he had a saline drip again, after having been judged okay to go off it just that morning.
“Oh Stevie,” Henry sighed, not hesitating for even a moment before moving forward to kiss Steve’s forehead.
“Hi dad,” Steve murmured. He cracked an eye open and then shut it again. He looked faintly embarrassed. “My toothbrush around?”
“I’ll get it,” Helen said.
Diana sat beside Steve, carefully taking his hand. She could hear his parents rummaging around for his toothbrush in the bathroom.
Steve didn’t open his eyes. His fingers curled around Diana’s hand for a moment but he gently pulled away. Before Diana could object, he had turned her hand over so her palm was facing up. He started tapping a random pattern against it.
Except...he repeated the pattern exactly. Once. Then twice. Diana frowned, opened her mouth to ask a question.
He added a distinct question mark after the third repetition.
Diana froze. She waited for him to repeat the pattern. Of course.
It was Morse code.
Steve repeated it. This time, Diana understood.
Diana frowned. She wanted to have a better answer to give him.
Steve frowned, then sighed. His parents came bustling back into the room just as he finished tapping out another message.
We have to talk.
Steve’s release from the hospital was, thankfully, not delayed. The consequences of almost throwing up on Waller appeared, so far, to be receiving written notification of when he was expected to return to light duties. It was within his doctor’s recommended time frame.
(“Don’t over analyze it,” Steve told her. “I never try to ‘win’ with Waller. Taking her down requires a bigger fish than me. I keep up. I run interference for the League. And I try to make sure she can’t throw me under the bus for anything.”
“I don’t like it,” Diana said.
“Yeah, me either,” Steve said.)
It was a relief to bring him home.
(Steve’s first concern on walking through the door of his apartment was to flop down on his bed and groan, long and loud.
“Hospital beds are terrible,” he had declared. He looked up at Diana and smiled, his hand drifting against her side, as if the doctor hadn’t taken one look at them and gone over the ongoing ban on adult activities twice.
As if his parents weren’t in the other room.
It was not a large apartment.
“You’re not unpacked yet, Stevie?” his father said from the other room. He sounded appalled. “You’ve been here nearly a year!”
Diana was surprised, somehow, that it had been that long already. Steve had moved in to this apartment just after officially becoming their liaison.
“Oh for—It’s just books dad!” Steve called back.
Henry, the former English teacher, made an outraged noise. “Steven!”
Diana was also deeply amused that Steve’s father seemed to call him Stevie or Steven exclusively.
Steve’s parents would stay another week before going back to California. The remaining boxes that had been shoved in corners and the backs of closets were unpacked by the time they left.)
Steve continued to recover well and relatively quickly.
He was still a terrible patient.
(“I hate being a burden,” he muttered, one afternoon after his physical therapist had refused to let him push himself as hard or as fast as he wanted to.
Diana pinched him.
“Ow,” Steve muttered, though Diana had been intentionally gentle about it.
“You’re not being a burden,” Diana told him.
Steve shrugged and did not look at her. But this was too important for Diana to let go of or ignore. She put her hand on his chin and turned his face so that he would meet her gaze.
“You are not a burden,” Diana repeated and held firm when he tried to pull away. “I have seen that kind of thinking swallow you whole before, Steve. I will do everything I can to keep it from happening again.”
“It’s not quite the same, I think,” Steve said quietly but he was listening and he did not look away from her.
“No,” Diana agreed. “But there are echoes. And, above all, I do not want to see you suffer needlessly.”
“Okay,” Steve said, his breathing hitching just a little. “Okay.”)
As soon as Steve’s parents had gone home, Diana asked Bruce and Vic to come over.
(Bruce had not been happy when Diana told him Steve suspected Waller of bugging his hospital room, that he was worried about her bugging his apartment. He had gone into a minor frenzy of sweeping the manor grounds for them.
He and Vic had found twenty. Five they were meant to discover. Fifteen they were not.
Waller had gotten as close as the potted plants lining the driveway. She hadn’t gotten any closer than that.
They found at least two bugs in each room of Steve’s apartment.
They look recent. Vic wrote on the whiteboard Steve had handed him when he had walked through the door — he had rolled his eyes at the time. Want me to take care of them?
Can you make it look accidental? Steve asked. He looked like he had resigned himself to moving.
Vic grinned. Silver strands shot out of his arm and into the router sitting benignly near Steve’s TV. There was a fizzing noise. Then it exploded.
“Shit,” Steve said, out loud.
It was likely the last thing Waller heard.
Diana was already writing on the board: What did you just do?
“Messed with the frequency,” Vic said. He was already rebuilding the router. It took him less than five minutes. “They’ll have to come fix the internet in your building, though. Sorry.”
Steve did not look convinced. “She wouldn’t rely on my wifi for her bugs.”
“Oh, no, that’s just the excuse you can use. Complain about it where she can overhear,” Vic said. “The bugs I reprogrammed to transmit nothing but a high pitched buzz. Only three of them have trackers in them. They’ll ‘glitch’ to show a loop of strange locations every three hours before showing up as back where they are now no matter what you do with them.”
“I’ll take them,” Bruce said. “For analysis.”
“Bruce made something that acts like a white noise machine on anything she plants in the future,” Vic said. “It plugs into an outlet. Simple. But he hasn’t deployed them around the manor yet.”
“Tell her that you have mice,” Bruce said.
“Mice?” Diana echoed.
“That’s how Wayne Electronics will be marketing them,” Bruce said. He paused. “Or maybe Wayne Foods.”
“Do they actually work?” Steve asked. Bruce looked offended. “I meant, what do they do to the mice?”
“Give them mouse tinnitus for as long as they’re in range,” Bruce said. He looked at Vic. “It could theoretically bother the bats if I installed them in the Bat Cave. I’d prefer not to test it.”
“And it could be useful to leave the bugs outside the manor,” Steve said, looking at Bruce.
Diana followed his train of thought. “In the future, there may be something you want Waller to overhear.”
Bruce did not deny it. Steve sighed, looking serious.
“Be careful playing that game, Bruce,” he warned, though he did not tell him not to. “She won’t fall for it more than once.”
“It’s best to take precautions but leave our options open,” Bruce said. He pulled his phone out and tapped something into it swiftly. Both Steve and Diana’s phones buzzed.
“Schematics,” he said.
Diana did not roll her eyes at the blatant change of subject but it was a close thing. Steve was already pulling his phone out to look. “For what?”
Bruce smiled, very slightly. “He needs better protection than what they’re giving him.”
They sat together on the couch after Bruce and Vic left. Steve looked weary. It was not the tiredness that had dogged him at the end of the day since he had been injured, which had only recently started to lift from his shoulders.
This was another kind of weariness. As if what he had been waiting to tell her was weighing him down.
It spoke of all the years, all the lives, behind him. It was a kind of weariness that she rarely saw in him in this lifetime.
“There’s a reason Graves didn’t break me,” Steve said. “I confused him. I think he might have succeeded otherwise.”
“I don’t understand,” Diana said, taking his hand. “What do you mean?”
Steve sighed. “He relied too much on the Asuras to get information on me. And they could see everything but I don’t think they were expecting me to have past lives so close to the surface. They didn’t really...distinguish between them well.”
He shivered involuntarily and Diana squeezed his hand. He shook his head as if to clear it.
“Steve?” Diana asked, worried.
“Sorry. I’m okay,” Steve said, reassuringly, as he squeezed her hand back. He admitted: “I was a bit...mixed up, when you first rescued me.”
“Barry thought you didn’t recognize him at first,” Diana told him.
Steve looked surprised. “I don’t remember that.”
He let go of her hand to scrub a hand through his hair and pinch the bridge of his nose before it fell back into his lap, their fingers brushing together but not quite entwining. “My first...mission — that was the way I was thinking of it — was to get out. Secondary was to get to you. I can’t say I was paying attention to much beyond that. I remember shooting at Graves and seeing you attack him but things got a little fuzzy after that.”
“You were in and out of consciousness by the time I was finished with Graves. You only regained it for a moment when I got to you,” Diana told him.
It was not surprising. What Graves had done to him...
Something of her fear and revulsion must have shown on Diana’s face. Steve reached up and brushed his fingers over her cheek. His eyes were soft and full of love and concern as he looked at her.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Steve said. “I’m okay.”
“I know,” Diana said. She caught his hand and kissed the tips of his fingers. It had been close; it would be close again.
(One day she would lose him but for now for he was sitting close enough that she could feel the warmth of his body as she brushed her fingers over thrum of his heartbeat at the pulsepoint in his wrist.)
She kept hold of his hand as she took a breath and drew them back to the topic they had avoided for perhaps too long. “What do you mean by mixed up?”
“The Asuras found my worst fears and my lost loved ones,” Steve huffed. “But my life has been pretty good, this time around, you know? So they zeroed in on the ones that weren’t.”
Diana had half-suspected as much already. It still made her ache. “Oh Steve.”
“It’s okay,” Steve said with a sad, half smile. “It..I won’t say it didn’t suck but it worked to our advantage, in the end.”
“Who did they show you?” Diana asked.
“Nick was the main ghost,” Steve said, looking down at their joined hands. “But people I served with seemed to be their main choice for torment. Didn’t matter which life they were from.”
Diana had not killed Graves; a part of her had wanted to. She wanted to more after hearing that. She knew the shades the Asuras has created for her, what they had taunted and promised. She had known Steve long and well enough to guess some of what they had told him, especially if they hadn’t distinguished between this life and his last.
“You’ve met my parents, my sister is worse. Threatening them wasn’t going to work because...we would all make the same choices about what we would sacrifice to keep others safe,” Steve continued. He took a breath and looking bleak. “The person Graves tried to threaten me with was Tracy.”
A part of Diana burned with rage that Graves had threatened Steve’s family.
Another part of her was oddly relieved.
“Tracy died six years ago,” Diana said.
(Diana had not kept in touch with Tracy Trevor the same way she had with Maya. They had not been close in the same way.
Still, Steve had loved her and, after her husband had died and she had had to get a job as a receptionist, had sent her money every month to help keep them afloat. Diana had continued that, after Steve was gone, until she got remarried and Tracy thanked her but said it wasn’t necessary anymore.
She had been seventy-six when she died. The doctors said it has been a stroke, in her sleep. That she hadn’t suffered.
Diana hadn’t spoken to Tracy for a decade by then but she went to her funeral if only to see that Steve’s niece and nephew were still well and whole.)
“I know,” Steve said. “After all the memories hit, I looked up her obituary.”
He looked at her sadly, as if he knew he was going to cause her grief and wished he didn’t have to. “ I knew it but...but he didn’t. When he died, she was alive and they were trying to fix things. That’s what he knew. And when the Asuras tried for my weak points that’s what they found. That’s what they fixated on.”
Diana knew why immediately, though it hurt to admit. “You haven’t had any family to target in your other lives when I knew you. Not until now.”
Steve hesitantly nodded. “Not in the ones since I met you. Those are the ones I remember best, like they’re a part of me . I don’t think they realized they were separate lives. They ignored the ones before that that are fuzzier.”
“And you could?” Diana asked, because she remembered what Barry had said and the way Steve had hesitated when he first woke up.
“I...knew what wasn’t my life,” Steve said. “I knew when something was wrong but after awhile, I was so focussed on making sure I knew what was past that what wasn’t got a little blurry.”
Diana’s heart plummeted to the pit of her stomach. She hadn’t even known to worry about that. Graves had had Steve for days. She framed his face with her hands and looked into his eyes, as if they hadn’t been clear and present for weeks already. “Steve.”
“It’s okay,” Steve said, he put his hand over one of hers. “It cleared up pretty fast once they were destroyed. It just...took me a minute to get a hold of what was real.”
He paused. “I don’t think all the rest of it helped either.”
Diana swallowed. The rest of it being torture and emergency surgery and anesthetic and pain. “I’m sorry that we did not get to you sooner.”
“I knew you were coming,” Steve said with a belief so unshakable and strong it made Diana feel like she could only be worthy of it. “They couldn’t make me doubt that. You’re constant. I would always know you.”
“They made me believe you were dead,” Diana confessed, her heart still aching with it.
“Bruce told me,” Steve said. “I’ve left you before, when I haven’t wanted to. I’m sorry they could use it against you.”
“Your ‘ghost’ said it was too late,” Diana said. Her eyes stung. Steve looked like his heart was breaking. “That I was too late to save you again, like I always am. But that I could still be with you.”
Steve inhaled sharply. For a moment, he looked angrier than Diana thought she had seen him in this lifetime.
“I would never want that for you,” Steve said fiercely. “Never. The world needs you.”
“I need you,” Diana told him.
“You don’t. You never have,” Steve said, a proud, awed smiled flitting over his face for a moment. “But I am still and will always be yours.”
Diana kissed him. He tasted the same. He felt the same. Diana thought he felt more like home to her than anywhere else in the universe would anymore.
“I love you,” Diana told him, their faces still so close that she breathed it over his lips. All she could see was the blue of his eyes.
“I love you too, Diana,” Steve replied.
They stayed like that, their heads bent close, for longer than could possibly be comfortable for Steve and his still healing ribs. He still looked vaguely disappointed when she pulled back because she knew he would never mention his discomfort.
“There’s another complication though,” Steve said. “Waller.”
Diana frowned. “What about her?”
“Graves was taken alive. I don’t doubt she’s questioning him for every piece of information she can get on the League,” Steve told her. “I don’t know exactly what she could do with the information that this isn’t my first time around the block but she’ll use it against me or you or the League if it furthers her agenda.”
“You think she knows?” Diana asked.
“I don’t know. Graves might not have told her he tried to break me by threatening my sister Tracy not my sister Allison,” Steve said. “Even then, I have a cousin name Tracy but...”
“Waller will investigate if she realizes the discrepancy,” Diana said.
Steve nodded. “I know you removed a lot of the files from my last life but I know there are still hard copies here and there. I found his obituary and his grave.”
Waller coming anywhere near the memory of Steve was abhorrent but Diana hadn’t managed to ability to erase him from the historical record entirely.
And she thought, as much as she sometimes wished she could hoard his memory all to herself, she did not want him to disappear like that.
She had his military record and all the pictures she could find but his name was on documents and memorandums at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and there was a box of his achievements somewhere in their archive. He was on meeting minutes for the VVA and his niece and nephew kept framed photographs of him on their mantels. Sandy had given her son the middle name Steven.
She was not the only person who kept his memory. He had been there, he had lived. That mattered.
(There were still people who tended to the grave of a boy-soldier in France. There was a photo of a WWI pilot standing in a Belgian town that no longer existed.
Steve had lived and lived and lived again. Diana’s was never the only life he touched.)
She would not allow Waller to ruin that.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to keep it a secret forever. It’s only a matter of time before she figures it out,” Steve said. “And Waller would use me against you in a heartbeat if she ever felt she needed to.”
Diana’s blood burned. “That would be unwise of her.”
“You have to remember she’s playing a very different game than you,” Steve said, evenly.
“I do not care for her games,” Diana said. “I have never been interested in them.”
“I know,” Steve said, grinning crookedly, his love for her written so plainly on his face no one would have guessed he was such a successful spy. “The key is removing it as leverage she can use against us. She wouldn’t have a problem writing any of us off as collateral damage.”
“That is her mistake,” Diana said. It was not just about Steve. Waller was a threat against all of them that had to be managed carefully. Steve was succeeding so far but if Waller ran roughshod over his methods... “Steve?”
Steve did not look away from her as he waited for her to continue. “I will destroy her if she tries to take you from me.”
She knew from the look on Steve’s face that he didn’t doubt it, not for a moment.
The Fox touched down near an abandoned settlement near the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. There had been strange activity reported there recently at an abandoned mine. Then an army convoy that had gone to investigate had vanished. When Bruce dug into the recent purchasing records, he found a Lexcorp shell corporation as the current owner.
“Why don’t our baddies ever set up somewhere warm?” Arthur groused. “Is a lair in a volcano on a tropical island too much to ask for?”
“The first time I met you, you took off your coat and dove into the North Atlantic Ocean,” Bruce reminded him gruffly.
“My people don’t feel the cold the way you do,” Arthur smirked. “That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy more temperate waters.”
Batman scowled. He had been on edge for days and Arthur looked like he was going to poke him again. Diana deliberately sheaved her sword loudly enough for them to both hear.
“Are we ready?” she asked.
Before Bruce could answer, Steve and Vic emerged from the cockpit. Steve was in his Navy Working Uniform. The black bulletproof — and everything-else proof, as Barry described it — vest that Bruce had made him clashing terribly with the khaki of his shirt.
Arthur snorted; Bruce glared at him. Diana gave them both a look.
Steve shrugged it off.
“This isn’t a mission that requires camouflage for me,” Steve said. “We’re all set. The nearest community isn’t exactly close but Mounties have been dispatched to warn them to stay inside and lock their doors until you give the all clear. A Brigade Group from the Canadian Army is on standby.”
He paused. “They are not particularly happy that they’re not the ones going in.”
“You going to go make nice?” Arthur asked.
“I am going to make nice with the Canadians, yes,” Steve confirmed. “Try not to do anything I will have to spend the next week explaining to the press.”
“No promises,” Arthur said, walking backwards as he hopped off the plane. “Wouldn’t want you to get bored!”
Steve shook his head. Bruce clapped him on the shoulder companionably but then waggled a finger in his face. “It works better if you wear the helmet.”
“I am not wearing a mask and cowl,” Steve responded. “The vest is enough. Save the superhero gear for the superheros.”
“I’ve almost got the body armour done,” Bruce told him, ignoring what he said completely. “It should be thin enough to wear under the uniform.”
“Great, I appreciate it,” Steve said, sincerely. He paused. “Can you make it in something other than black?”
Diana had to smother a laugh. Bruce didn’t answer. He was already on his way to the Batmobile.
“Superman and Flash are in position,” Vic said, which meant their coms were live and it was Superhero names from there on.
There was a minor roar behind them before the Batmobile streaked out.
“Batman en route to position,” Vic quirked a smile and said very dryly. “I like the black.”
He waved at them before booming away himself.
Steve huffed. His eyes crinkled as he looked at Diana and smiled. “Fashion advice from a bunch of people who wear the loudest outfits on the planet.”
“You like my armour,” Diana replied, simply.
“I do,” Steve agreed. “But I know for a fact no one has been able to design an outfit that would keep you from standing out.”
“As long as you keep wear your Dress Whites in front of the press,” Diana teased and she leaned in to kiss him quickly when he groaned.
(Steve did not particularly enjoy that element of the job. Waller enjoyed it a little too much. It kept them from looking too closely at her.
No one outside those they considered family had made the connection between Steve and his past lives yet. But at some point, someone would recognize him and remember and say something. If they let it break the right way, if they said the right things, Steve was sure they could defuse it from becoming another weapon in Waller’s extensive chest.)
“Be safe,” Diana told him, quietly. He would not be directly in the fray this time.
That rarely meant he kept himself out of trouble.
“Promise,” Steve said, seriously.
She braced herself as he went back to the cockpit. The plane rose, lifting her up, over where she could see her comrades charging into action. She stood at the edge until the plane hovered there, waiting.
“You’re all clear,” Steve said and, despite the wind rushing by her, she could hear the grin in his voice over the coms. “Go save the world, Angel.”
(Steve would die for the League. Or in a car accident. Or of a disease. Or in his sleep when he was an old man.
He would die and she would lose him.
And he would come back to Diana. For a day, or a month, for a handful or years, for decades. It did not matter.
Diana would find him and Steve would spend the rest of his life with her, from the moment he met her, in every lifetime he was given, until the end of time.)