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Family Reunion

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Chapter 18

Themyscira; September 22nd, 06:47 EST

Diana woke to the warmth of the rising sun’s rays splaying across her bed, the tropical breeze that invaded her room reminding her that she was still on her island home. She rolled over with a soft groan, definitely feeling better than she had the day before, but still sore.

It was the ache in her chest from missing her family and her children that hurt her the most. She was growing desperate to see them and to hold her children in her arms. She just wanted to return home with Bruce, hoping that being in Wayne Manor with his family would stimulate some memories for him.

Opening her eyes, she spotted the one who had stolen her heart from almost the very beginning. He was asleep in a chair in her bedroom, his head tilted back and resting against the wall. With his large, muscular frame, he looked uncomfortable in the small chair; his long legs stretched out before him.

Her lips quirked with immense affection as she watched him sleep. His black hair was mussed from his cowl…cowl hair she believed that he’d called it once. She’d teased him about it relentlessly after that, ruffling his hair when he’d remove his cowl and earning a growl that was always accompanied with the tiniest of smirks and usually a toe-curling kiss.

A soft sigh escaped her parted lips as she watched over him, wondering what if anything that he remembered about himself or their life together. She’d hoped that being out of the Underworld and away from its detrimental effects would help his memories to begin to surface. She had a feeling that was just wishful thinking. Nothing ever seemed that easy when it came to them.

Why did everything have to be so very complicated and complex for them?

She wasn’t about to wallow in self-pity or in an endless string of questions about why things like this always happened. She was going to treat this newest obstacle just like she treated everything else in her life—like a pivotal battle to be won. And she would fight for him…for them…with everything that she had within her. It was all she knew how to do.

Thoughts of her children and the family anxiously waiting for their return forced her to get out of bed. As much as she’d love to spend time here alone with Bruce in hopes of reclaiming the memories that he’d lost, she knew they needed to return home. There was no doubt that trouble awaited them in Gotham as well.

She had no idea how long it had been since she’d left home in order to bring Bruce back, but it felt like an eternity since she’d last been in Gotham. She could only imagine the chaos that the Joker and Batman’s other rogues had been causing with Batman gone, but she was confident that the boys were more than capable of handling them.

She shifted to the edge of her bed with a grimace, trying not to make a sound as she made her way towards Bruce. Grabbing a blanket from the foot of the bed, she carefully draped it over him, hoping not to wake him. He looked exhausted, dark shadows beneath his eyes making her worry about all that he’d been through during his time in the Underworld before she’d been able to get to him.

Her heart clenched with dread as she thought about him fighting for his life down in the Underworld, not fully understanding what was going on or why…not remembering who he was or where he’d come from. She felt guilt claw its way up her throat the more she thought about it, stealing the breath from her lungs.

She reached out, adjusting the blanket around his shoulders while wishing she could make it all better for him. She gasped as a hand suddenly clamped down on her wrist with a vice-like grip, Bruce’s eyes snapping open. He gazed upon her with a steely glare that seemed to burn straight through her to her soul. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her despite the alarming look in his eyes.

“It’s all right, Bruce,” she gently told him, relaxing her stance. “You’re on Themyscira now. Do you remember?”

He looked around at his surroundings as he tried to process everything he was seeing. A bewildered look flitted across his face as he quickly released his hold on her wrist. He sat up in his chair, the blanket she’d just covered him with falling into his lap as his gaze settled on her once more.

“What are you doing out of bed?” he demanded to know in that voice that expected a good answer, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “You aren’t well enough to be up yet.”

She smiled softly at him, appreciative of his concern. “I heal quickly.”

She felt as if her skin was on fire as Bruce’s gaze slowly roamed over every inch of her, taking in the white, thin chiton she was wearing. The wounds on her arms, neck, and leg had improved somewhat compared to what they had been in the Underworld, but she still bore the evidence of the battle she had fought.

Without thinking, Bruce leaned forward, running the tips of his fingers over the fading wounds that still marked her skin. It sent tingles straight through Diana, but she did not move, allowing him to touch her at will. “Amazing,” he murmured in stunned disbelief. “What else should I know about you?”

Diana chuckled softly as she moved to sit on the edge of her bed. “There’s quite a lot actually,” she confessed as she brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of it.”

Bruce sat forward in his chair, stretching out the kinks in his neck from sleeping in the chair. “It’s that shocking, huh?”

She tilted her head slightly in confirmation as she searched for the right explanation. “You could say that,” she hesitantly admitted. “I just don’t want to overwhelm you.”

“Diana,” he began, pursing his lips as his elbows came to rest on his knees. “I just survived traversing the Underworld, fighting creatures I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before, met Hades, and found out I’m in a relationship with his daughter. I’m fairly sure anything you have to tell me would pale in comparison to what I’ve already been through.”

Her red lips quirked with amusement, her blue eyes sparkling with delight. Just being with him like this was a soothing salve to her wounded heart. He might not remember much, but her Bruce was still there. His movements and mannerisms, the deep baritone of his voice, his dominating presence in her room—it all combined to make him so very real to her again. It gave her a very real hope that she’d been on the verge of losing not that long ago.

She wanted to reach out and touch him…to feel him, but she knew that it was far too soon. “Well, I guess you’re right about that,” she replied with a chuckle. “Why don’t you start with telling me how you feel and what things you do remember?”

Bruce drew a deep breath, his eyebrows furrowing as he tried to focus on what it actually was that he was feeling and what he could remember. “I feel…lost,” he hesitantly confessed, finding it more than difficult to open up about his feelings. For some reason, though, he found he wanted to try for her. “It’s like I’m a part of this world and yet I’m not. Everyone seems to know me, but I don’t know them.

“I seem to know that I’m supposed to be dressed like this…that I’m Batman and Bruce, but beyond that I have no idea where I came from or why I became Batman. When we were chasing Ra’s last night, I somehow knew what I needed to do. I knew where certain devices were in this belt. I—”

“Wait,” Diana interrupted him, her forehead creasing. “You were chasing Ra’s? What did I miss last night?”

“Ra’s al Ghul escaped the dungeon and led us on a chase most of the night,” he responded with a frown that was all too familiar to the Amazon princess

“Oh no,” Diana uttered with a groan. “Did you find him?”

“No, he managed to escape the island in a boat,” he informed her. “We didn’t discover a boat was missing until later.”

“I’m going after him,” she stated as she stood to her feet, walking over to where her uniform laid.

“No, you’re not,” he insisted. “Shayera already searched for him. He’s long gone, princess.”

She cursed in Ancient Greek as she folded her arms against her chest, fury etched in her face. “You should have woken me. I could have helped you search for him.”

“And what then?” Bruce demanded, a scowl taking over his features as he stood to his feet. “Carry you on my back while we searched for him? You couldn’t sit up in bed let alone walk last night.”

Bruce watched as her sapphire eyes darkened to a frightening shade with the anger churning within her. It was alluring to behold as was the fact that she was dressed in a thin white chiton that fell to mid-thigh. It was very distracting to say the least. He forced himself to keep his focus on her face instead of her enticing figure.

“I could’ve done something to help,” she stubbornly countered.

“Not likely,” he shot back.

“So, now what do we do about him?” she asked as she began to pace. “We have to find him. He must pay for his crimes as well as all the anguish he’s caused.”

“We’ll find him,” he reassured her. “He won’t run free for forever. Besides, he wanted to take me back to Damian and Talia. I’m sure he’ll be wherever they are.”

“Well, Damian lives in Gotham with…he lives in Gotham,” she corrected herself before revealing too much. “Talia’s been missing since the battle in Gotham that sent you, Ra’s, and Hades to the Underworld.”

Batman’s muscular arms crossed against his emblemed chest. “Damian lives with who, Diana?”

She huffed in aggravation. Even without his memories he was still stubborn to the core and annoyingly perceptive about everything, never missing a solitary thing no matter how small it may seem. “With you,” she revealed.

A single eyebrow arched in suspicion as he studied her. “And?”

“And me,” she admitted, averting her eyes. “We live in Gotham. It’s the city where you were born and raised.”

The corner of his lips ticked up slightly. “We live together?”

“Yes,” she replied, a faint blush suffusing her cheeks as she ducked her head before making her way to her uniform. “We need to get back there. There was trouble brewing in Gotham just before I left to find you. We need to return soon.”

“So, let me get this straight,” he began. “You and I are obviously heroes of some kind and we live together with my son Damian that I had with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia.”

“Yes, that’s part of it,” she agreed, taking her uniform with her to the other room to change.

Bruce couldn’t but notice the way that she was trying not to limp as she walked out of the room. He couldn’t help but also be amused by the fact that they were a couple that lived together and yet she went into the other room to change.

“Have I not seen you naked before?” Bruce asked with an innocent lilt to his voice, Diana’s head suddenly peaking around the corner. Her eyes were wide in shock. “I mean you did say that we live together, right?”

Diana openly stared at him in disbelief. “Yes, but you don’t remember any of our life together…do you?”

“No, but I’m willing to bet it would help jog my memory,” he flirted with a smirk on his lips.

“Hera, Bruce,” she snapped. “I’m beginning to think you’re faking the whole amnesia thing. You sound just like yourself to me.”

“I swear I have no memory of my life,” he reassured her, drinking her in as she reentered her bed chambers dressed in her uniform. “I only have…feelings…I guess would be the best way to describe it. You’re more familiar to me than anyone else that I’ve met so far. Hippolyta, Artemis, and Shayera seem familiar, but I can’t place them, and I don’t know how I know them. Hermes—I have no clue about him.”

“You’ve never met Hermes before,” she assured him as she put her breastplate and tiara on before fastening her lasso to her hip.

“He’s your cousin, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” she confirmed as she leaned over to pull her boots on. “Artemis and Shayera are close friends. Artemis lives us…at least I think she still lives with us. Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons and my mother.”

“So, you’re a princess,” he stated, determined to drag the information out of her no matter what it took. He hated secrets. “What else do I need to know?”

Diana’s hands came to rest on her hips as she chewed on her bottom lip, trying to determine just how much she should tell him. “You live in Wayne Manor.”

We live in Wayne Manor,” he corrected her.

“Yes! We live in Wayne Manor,” she conceded with growing exasperation. “It’s the home you grew up in. You have three adopted sons—Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake as well as a butler who is more like your surrogate father than an actual employee. His name is Alfred Pennyworth.”

“And Damian is my biological son?”

“Correct,” she confirmed.

Bruce’s penetrating gaze narrowed dangerously, hoping to intimidate her into giving him the information he wanted no matter how overwhelming it might be. He needed all the information if he was going to be able to put his life back together.

“And what else?”

Diana huffed under her breath. He always knew when she was holding back and now was no different. “You and I have two children together—Nicholas and Kaia.”

“Are we married?”

“Yes, we are married,” she softly said, hoping that she hadn’t just scared him off.

Bruce felt a flutter in the pit of his stomach with the confirmation to his suspicions. How in the world had he managed to capture the heart of this woman? The logic of it escaped him at that moment, making him wonder what had drawn her to him in the first place.

“We have six children?” he asked as he rubbed his forehead, Diana nodding her head in confirmation.

“And Dick is married to my sister Donna,” she revealed. “She’s pregnant with twins.”

“So, I’m not only a father, but I’m going to be a grandfather?” he questioned her, eyebrows raised in surprise. “How old am I?”

Diana’s eyes fell closed, her worry spiking. She feared he was going to run for the door at any moment now especially with what she was about to reveal to him. “Yes, I’m afraid so,” she confirmed. “You’re thirty-seven years old…and you’re immortal like me. It was gift to you from my mother.”

“I’m immortal,” he stated. It was more a statement than a question as he tried to process this new information. “Are there any other children I need to know about?”

“Hera, I hope not,” she grumbled with a scowl that hinted at the jealousy brewing beneath the surface. “I can’t handle finding out you have a child with someone else.”

A smirk formed on his face. “Did I have a bad reputation for bedding women before I met you?”

“You could say that,” she bit out. “Come on; let’s go. I can answer all the questions you want me to on the flight home. Right now, we need to find Shayera and Artemis so we can leave.”

Bruce’s arm shot out as Diana tried to walk past him, his fingers possessively wrapping around her arm just above her elbow. “Diana, I can tell that you’re really worried about me being overwhelmed by all of this…and I have to admit that it is, but I want to know…I need to know the truth of my life no matter how incredible or strange it might seem. I want to know everything and you’re the only one I trust to reveal it to me. So, please…don’t hold anything back to protect me.”

Diana’s chin fell as she slowly drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Bruce,” she softly said as she finally raised her head to meet his piercing gaze. “I’m really not trying to keep anything from you. I am scared that you’ll realize just how daunting our life together can be and that you’ll chose to leave, but I know that I need to give you a fair chance to make that decision for yourself So, whatever you decide when all is said and done, I’ll accept it.”

Diana waited with bated breath for his response, afraid to move or breathe for fear he would walk out that door and not look back. “Diana, there’s a very good reason that I chose to make that life with you even though it does seem intimidating,” he replied. “And I’m more than willing to rediscover what that reason is.”

Tears shimmered in her blue eyes as she stared at him, her heart suddenly in her throat. “Thank you for trying,” she murmured. “It’s all I ask of you.”

He smiled softly at her, noticing that he had yet to release his hold on her arm. For some reason, he found that he didn’t want to let go of her as his thumb lightly caressed her skin. “Let’s go home so I can meet all of these people.”

The princess returned his smile with one of her own, banishing her tears. “Let’s go then, Mister Wayne.”

“After you, Missus Wayne,” he responded, stepping aside to let her pass.

XXX

Walking through the palace with Bruce by her side, Diana decided that her heart felt lighter than it had in weeks. She’d gotten her husband safely out of the Underworld and she was going home to see her children. While things with her father had resulted in another tenuous truce, she had been granted a new gift from Hera.

By finally accepting in her heart that Hades was her father, she had been granted a new ability, one that would make her even more formidable against the foes that they found themselves battling on an almost daily basis. She found herself almost anxious to test out her new ability.

Even though things had turned out so well, she still found herself feeling unsettled when it came to her father. The things that he had said to her about being cast in a role…always being perceived as the villain because he was the god of the Underworld had caused her to question everything that she had ever thought or known about him. It left her with much to think about.

Casting a sidelong glance, Bruce could tell that there was still a heavy load that weighed on Diana especially with the way that she bit at her bottom lip. He was quickly learning what her different mannerisms meant. He wished that she would talk to him about it even though he was uncertain if he could even help her. He hoped that in time she would feel more comfortable about opening up to him.

He would be lying to himself if he said that the things that she had told him in her bed chambers hadn’t rattled him a little bit. It was a little unnerving to know that he had a large family awaiting his return, children at home that were dependent upon him as well as a whole city.

The notion that Diana was his wife was still something he was trying desperately to wrap his mind around. While he wasn’t necessarily disappointed by the revelation, he had to admit that he was intimidated by the prospect. How in the world could he physically keep up with an Amazon demi-goddess? Was really capable of giving her that much pleasure and passion?

He obviously could if they had two children together…and she did come all the way to the Underworld, risking her life in order to bring him home.

Home…it wasn’t even something that he remembered and yet he had a ready-made family so to speak. Instead of the sheer panic that he had expected to feel, he felt a startling sense of peace as if this was the way it was supposed to be.

“How long have we been married?”

Diana didn’t get the chance to answer as Antheia seemed to appear out of nowhere, a dagger clutched in her hand as she lunged at Bruce. He managed to get a hand up only for the blade to pierce his uniform. He cried out she pulled the dagger free, attempting to stab him again.

“Antheia!” Diana cried as she grabbed hold of her, wrenching her arm and forcing her to drop her weapon. “What in the name of Hera are you doing?”

“Taking your mate from you!” Antheia yelled at her, her body wracked in sobs. “I lost what meant the most to me because you chose him and his world over your own sisters. Because of your shellfish desires, I lost Calliope!”

Diana looked over her shoulder at Bruce, needing to make sure he was okay. He seemed to read the fear in her eyes. “It’s not bad,” he reassured her. “It’s not that deep.”

He leaned against the wall, holding his hand against his side where the blade had entered. He could feel warm blood oozing from the wound, but he was prepared to step in if she tried to attack Diana. Even though Diana had reassured him she was fine, he wasn’t completely convinced that she’d fully recovered yet.

Diana turned her attention back to the woman who had attacked her husband, determined to help her. “I’m sorry Calliope died trying to protect Themyscira and my mother, but she would not want you to try to avenge her death this way,” she tried to reason with her. “Calliope was my friend too and I know she wouldn’t want this. She would want you to find happiness again.”

Antheia dropped to her knees, her arms wrapping around her abdomen as she sobbed. “I miss her…so much,” she uttered between hiccoughing gasps.

Diana crouched down in front of her, holding her hand up to a couple of guards that were racing down the corridor towards them. “I know you do,” she replied, tears brimming in her own eyes. “I miss her too. My heart breaks for all the sisters we lost that horrible day, but now it’s time to rebuild and to make Themyscira great again.”

“I…I can’t…” Antheia stammered, staring at Diana with eyes wild with grief. “I don’t want to…not without Calliope.”

In less than a heartbeat, Antheia grabbed her dagger off the floor, slitting her throat. “No!” Diana screamed, yanking the dagger out of her hand and tossing it across the floor.

She immediately leaned over her friend, pressing both hands over the fatal wound that was gushing blood. Antheia stared up at her with an expression filled with inexplicable joy as if watching a scene that only she could see. “Calliope…” she whispered as she weakly lifted a hand up in the air as if to touch her.

Diana hung her head as tears fell from her eyes, gently holding Antheia’s hand. “No…no…no,” she cried. “When will this finally end? Hera, when?”

Memories of Phaedra taking her own life in Wayne Manor just a month ago paraded through her mind. She still carried a deep aching sense of anguish over her friend’s death, her accusing words still ringing in her ears and in her heart. It had shaken her faith as well as her confidence. Now, she found herself right back in that same sea-tossed boat of doubt.

The feel of hands gently yet firmly grasping her shoulders forced her up onto her feet. She suddenly found herself being enveloped in strong, familiar arms that she’d missed for so long. She willingly buried herself in Bruce’s embrace as she cried, her entire body shaking with her unremitting grief.

Wayne Manor; September 22nd, 12:42 EST

“All right, everyone,” Dick said, making sure he had everyone’s attention at the table. “Bruce and Diana will be home this evening.”

“Mommy and daddy are coming home?” Nicholas asked, his face lighting up with excitement.

“They sure are, Nick,” Donna confirmed, rubbing his back.

“Me made mommy and daddy a picture,” Kaia announced, bouncing excitedly in her booster seat.

“Me too,” Nick added. “I even put Ace and Peanut in my picture.”

“Me too,” Kaia said with a frown.

“Mine’s better cause I’m older,” Nick told her. “You can’t color good yet.”

“No!” Kaia declared, scowling at her brother. “Me better.”

“All right you two,” Dick interjected. “Now, as soon as we’re done with lunch, we need to finish putting Nick and Kaia’s bedrooms back together again before Bruce and Diana get home.”

“We’ve got plenty of time,” Jason said as he grabbed another sandwich.

“Not really,” Tim disagreed. “It’s already afternoon. Artemis said they’d hopefully be home in time for supper.”

“And I am going all out for dinner tonight,” Alfred interjected, the expression of pure elation on his face erasing the lines of worry that had appeared the moment Bruce had disappeared with Hades.

“Yah, but if we all help out, we’ll be done in no time flat,” Jason argued.

“Donna got new curtains and bedspreads, rugs and decorations that will need to be hung on the walls,” Dick revealed.

“Oh, and glow in the dark stars for the ceilings,” Donna added.

“Way to burn up Bruce’s credit card while he’s gone,” Tim teased her, earning a smack to the back of his head.

“Bruce and Diana will appreciate what we did for their children while they were gone,” Donna insisted.

“But what about the new carpet Alfred had to order?” Jason pointed out with a smirk.

“That was laid this morning,” Dick sheepishly revealed, knowing that he was the reason they had to order new carpet in the first place.

“After that, we need to head downstairs and see if we can try to find Firefly,” Tim reminded them. “There’s no telling what Joker’s putting him through right now.”

“Not at the dinner table, Master Timothy,” Alfred chided him, pointing at Nicholas and Kaia.

“Sorry, Alfred,” Tim apologized, looking to find two little sets of ears paying full attention. “Anyway, we have a lot of work to do.”

“Oracle has been reviewing all the security recordings from his abduction,” Dick told them. “I’m hoping she can get a good view of a license plate or something that will give us more to go on.”

“Have you thought about bringing Zee in?” Donna suggested. “Maybe she could do a little magic and find something at the crime scene that could help.”

“You know that’s not a bad idea,” Tim agreed.

“Already contacted her,” Dick revealed. “She’ll be there tonight to meet me at the crime scene.”

“We get to see Aunt Zee?” Nick asked.

“Not this time, Nick,” Dick told him. “I’ll tell her to stop by to see you guys sometime soon.”

Kaia cheered as she reached for the sandwich on Tim’s plate, giggling as Tim playfully swatted her hand away. He retrieved a sandwich from the platter in the middle of the table for her instead. “I’m worried how things are going to be once they return tonight,” Tim cryptically said, knowing everyone was thinking the same thing.

“We’ll deal with it,” Dick adamantly stated. “No matter what we’re a family and we will work through it. They’ll need all the support they can get.”

“Yah, but we’re going to need his expertise if we’re going to stop the clown,” Jason pointed out.

The doorbell rang at that moment, Alfred immediately going to answer it. “I wonder who that could be?” Donna asked.

“More stuff you ordered for the kids’ rooms?” Jason teased her.

“No,” Donna adamantly stated. “Everything is already upstairs waiting to be put together. I even got Nicholas a big boy bed.”

“I got a new bed?”

“Sure thing,” Donna confirmed. “It was time for a bigger bed. We just need the guys to put it together for you.”

“Master Timothy, you have a guest in the study,” Alfred announced as he reentered the kitchen.

“I wonder who that could be,” Tim murmured as he stood to his feet.

“It’s Miss Stephanie here to see you,” Alfred informed him.

“Stephanie?” Tim questioned him.

“Whoa,” Jason uttered. “That’s not going to be good.”

“Who’s Stephanie?” Damian asked, looking around the table for an answer.

Tim quickened his pace as his brothers began an in-depth explanation about his relationship with Stephanie. His stomach twisted into knots as he headed towards the study. He’d been hoping to avoid this, but now he had no choice. He stopped in the doorway, his gaze falling on the blond-haired girl who had first captured his attention and his heart.

“Stephanie,” Tim greeted her, his hands slipping into his jeans’ pockets. “What brings you here?”

Stephanie turned around, setting down the framed picture of the entire Wayne family. A tentative smile graced her face as she regarded him with those sky-blue eyes of hers. “Hi, Tim,” she replied. “I’m sorry to drop by like this but when I didn’t hear back from you, I was worried that something was wrong.”

“I’m really sorry, Steph,” he apologized as he took a couple more steps into the study. “It’s been crazy busy around here. I know that’s not a very good excuse, but I’m afraid it’s the truth.”

“It’s okay,” she reassured him. “I remember how crazy things could get around here.”

An awkward silence settled between them, one that was fraught with an uncomfortable tension. It’d never been this way with her before. Why was it now? “It’s really good to see you,” he ventured, trying to ease the apprehension that had wrapped around them like invisible tendrils. “How have you been?”

“Good…busy,” she responded, pulling her long, blond hair over her shoulder. She always did that when she was grappling with something. “A couple of college courses have been giving me fits, but I’m getting by.”

“That’s good,” Tim said with a nod, pausing to draw a deep breath before delving into what he knew he needed to say. “Look, Steph—”

“Tim, I—” she started at the same time.

Tim chuckled softly, feeling ridiculous for being so anxious about seeing her. “Go ahead…please.”

“Tim, I wanted to see because I’ve really missed you,” she began. “I was hoping that maybe you and I could try again? I still love you and I’d like it if you would give us another chance.”

Tim felt his stomach drop into his shoes with her confession, his mind spinning about as fast as his heart was beating at that moment. “Steph, I’m with someone else now,” he admitted. “I’m dating Cassie Sandsmark.”

“Oh…I see,” she softly said, clearly fighting back tears. “I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you,” he murmured, wanting to comfort her, but unsure if he should try to.

“I’m sorry for just stopping by,” she told him as she began to walk towards him. “I promise I won’t bother you anymore.”

“Steph, wait,” he said, grabbing her hand as she tried to walk past him. “You don’t have to leave right away.”

She tilted her head to the side, using her free hand to brush away a tear. “I think it’s for the best.”

Tim swiftly pulled her into his arms, holding her close. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured into her hair. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” she reassured him. “Just know that I’ll always love you, Tim…no matter what the future holds.”

“I’ll always love you too, Stephanie,” he admitted, rubbing her back. “I still want us to be friends, though. Is that something that you can still do?”

“Of course,” she assured him as she pulled back to look into his handsome face. A wan smile touched her lips, her eyes still bright with unshed tears. “I’ll always be here for you if you need me.”

“Same here,” he promised her, leaning in and kissing her on the forehead. “Stay out of trouble.”

Stephanie chuckled softly as she pulled out of his embrace. “Don’t I always?”

Tim snorted in obvious disagreement. “If memory serves me right…”

“Okay, that’s enough of that, Timothy Drake,” she teased him, smacking him affectionately on the shoulder.

Tim laughed as he grabbed her hand again. “You know you can still call me if you need anything, right?”

“Always, Tim,” she replied, squeezing his hand before releasing it. “Stay safe out there.”

“Always,” he promised her.

Tim watched as she walked out of the study, his heart heavy and yet he felt an inexplicable peace that he hadn’t expected. While he knew that he’d always love Stephanie, his heart now belonged to Cassie. He felt the need to hear her voice, to tell her about what had happened with Stephanie. He didn’t want anything to possibly ruin what he’d been able to build with her so far.

Pulling out his cell phone, he hit the button to call Cassie, her voice filling his ear. “Hey, Cass,” he replied with a smile. “Do you have plans this weekend?”