Guilt reigns supreme as everyone gets aclimated to how the world will be.
Chapter 31: Coming to Terms
Almost an entire month since the fall of the One Earth Regime had passed. Continuing to prepare for the inevitable rise in criminal activity, the two Bruces were working collaboratively on getting the Batcave rebuilt enough for active use again. With no Regime to keep Bruce Wayne's assets frozen any longer, he took the opportunity to quickly begin building back up his resources. Even though the world was still seemingly in a state of shock and joy at being freed from subjugation, both men knew and accepted that crime would inevitably return. It was one of the reasons that all of the heroes Batman had pulled over from the alternate universe had stayed behind even if he didn't want them to. He knew and accepted though that this world had much to do before it would maintain any form of stability. Therefore time was certainly not on Batman's side. As one of the only heroes left for the world once the others eventually returned to their own universe, he needed to fortify his efforts quickly. Which was why his duplicate was there helping with the cave, and why he'd allowed some of the others to remain behind as well. "Are all the communication lines hooked back up yet?" Bruce asked breaking the silence between the two of them. "I'm almost ready to fire up the primary generators."
"They're ready for a test run." Batman responded without looking up. "In another couple of minutes I should be finished with the main computer grid as well."
Bruce plugged in the last of the cabling to the generators and began firing them up in a specific sequence. This way if there happening to be any back-feed interference, the damage would be limited to a certain extent. When the last generator was online, he went over to the communication relays and verified that everything was working as expected. Soon monitors began to power on, and the screens started to reveal different news feeds once again. Satisfied that the task had been completed, he looked over in the direction of Batman to see that he was powering on the new super computer that Bruce had pulled out of Wayne Enterprises to serve as the replacement for the original. While there was still some functionality with the old unit, he thought it best to start completely over in the event that Cyborg had managed to do something to it while it sat unused. He still planned to wipe the unit completely just in case as well. He knew that he'd have to be even more paranoid than normal at this delicate stage of the world's order.
As much as he hated it, the world now needed the Batman just as much as Gotham had five years ago, perhaps even more so. His hope was that when the next form of government was built, he could eventually return back to protecting his city without having to take a primary role with the world except in extreme instances. Even though he'd never admit it to anyone ever, the last five years had taken their toll on him both physically as well as emotionally. Now that he'd a moment to actually step back and take a breath, he felt older than he'd ever felt before. He was absolutely exhausted from the constant battle he'd been in with Superman and the rest of the One Earth Regime. Years ago he'd occasionally thought that Gotham was extremely draining for him, but now it seemed like it would be a welcomed vacation.
Batman saw the look on his counterpart's face. He was exhausted, and that was why Batman had chosen to help with setting up the cave. It was also why he'd taken the initiative without asking where Bruce wanted anything to be situated. Now he was working on the forensics area, configuring various pieces of equipment and testing out their functionality. If a device was found to be fully functional, he moved on to calibrating it before going on to the next piece of equipment. While he worked and observed how his counterpart was managing, his mind went to all of the times where he himself had felt completely drained. It'd been quite some time that he recalled feeling anywhere close to the story that Bruce's body language was telling him. Not even the coffee he'd been pumping into his system seemed to be giving Bruce a lift. "Any important news showing on the monitors?" Batman asked in an attempt to get Bruce to focus on something that could be done from a stationary position.
"Just coverage analysis about the President's press conference." Bruce replied as he stopped and reviewed all of the monitors for any needed action on his part. "That means your Diana and Clark should be heading back anytime now with some more supplies."
"And that means you already knew what the President was going to say." Batman surmised as he kept working away. "Add a new mass spectrometer to the list of necessary equipment."
"I had a good idea that he was going to step down officially." Bruce commented, still watching the news feed. "He was actually a decent politician if you can believe that. Managed to pull off some positive things for the country until the Metropolis incident. It was unfortunate that his term was pretty much wiped out after just a year in office."
"Perhaps he'll get another chance when the governments are restructured to replace what Superman was doing." Batman commented before they both made out the sound of someone entering in from the old Batwing tunnel.
Soon both Diana and Clark appeared carrying some large pieces of equipment and materials. "You missed out on your award ceremony Bruce." Superman said as he touched down. "The President seemed disappointed when you were a no show."
"He shouldn't be surprised." Bruce replied as he left the monitors to join the other three. "I've never been one for acclamation or recognition."
"I'm not sure you have much of a choice." Wonder Woman stated. "He even went as far as referencing you to the moniker that a number of news sources have already been labeling you."
Bruce grumbled before facing the Man of Steel fully. "How the hell did you put up with this crap?" He incredulously asked.
"Most people would feel honored to be called the True Hero of Earth." Superman responded with a full fledged smirk. "It can't be that bad."
Bruce stormed back to another area of the cave where he could be productive while Diana and Superman shared mischievous looks.
"Well at the very least, some of your hard work ended up paying off." Superman continued to share. "As the last act of his Presidential run, he honored your wishes of offering a pardon for Diana. He even brought up all of the proof that your research provided to help gain the crowd's acceptance."
Bruce paused what he was doing at that moment, all of his remaining energy instantly sapped from him. "That doesn't matter anymore." He despondently responded.
Clark was about to respond until he felt the hand of his Batman on his shoulder, and turned in the direction that Batman was pointing toward with his other. The bottom scroll on one of the screens rolled over with the words "Themyscira's queen leaves world to return to her people" panning across. Even though it had been expected, something about seeing her leaving becoming official had to have brought a sharp heart breaking pain to the man. Batman could only think back to the events that led to that revelation as he searched his mind for any sort of resolution.
Wonder Woman landed in front of Barry and Arrow on the streets of Metropolis with Superman firmly in her grasp. Hal, Batman, and Arthur landed closely behind her and Kal did the same, but a little further back. To keep Superman at bay, Wonder Woman had taken the Kryptonite ring from Batman before heading to the Fortress of Solitude, and was wearing it during the trip back. "Where are Bruce and Diana?" She asked as she looked around to see almost no one on the streets.
"We ran out of Luthor's ground forces to drive the vans." Arrow answered. "They should be back any time now with another van, so your timing is perfect. It looks like you've got the last of the prisoners right there."
The sound of a vehicle coming around the corner caught everyone's attention to see Batman and Diana pulling to a stop in front of them. As the two climbed out of the vehicle, everything seemed to be normal until Diana noticed that Wonder Woman holding Superman prisoner. Instantly her face heated and her blood boiled upon the sight, but as everyone took notice of her change in demeanor, they didn't know exactly what it was pointed toward until she launched into flight. "You son of a bitch!" She yelled as she slammed a fist onto the side of Superman's face, knocking him from Wonder Woman's grasp. Immediately Diana was on top of him, releasing a flurry of pummeling lefts and rights upon him. "What…..did you….do…..to me?" She seethed as she continued until green shackles latched onto her wrists and yanked her upward. She struggled against her bonds until the duplicate Superman helped to keep her restrained.
"He's beaten." Kal said in an effort to calm her.
"He manipulated my mind." She fired back. "He betrayed my trust and our friendship."
"And he'll be punished for it." Wonder Woman said as she reestablished her hold on Superman before he could try to slink away.
"You don't understand!" Diana yelled as Hal allowed her to settle back down onto the ground. "None of you can possibly…"
"I do." Bruce said as he stepped in front of Diana, causing her to relent in her attempts at breaking free. "I know what he's done, and I know how it feels because you weren't the only one that was affected by it. Clark's right, Superman's beaten. Nothing you can do to him will fix what's already been done."
Diana finally conceded and they all took Superman to a secure facility that had been built years ago with the capabilities of holding many members of the Justice League prisoner if the need ever were to arise. They all found that it had one cell which utilized red sun radiation to keep Superman from using his powers, and down some more corridors there were cells designed for the others. They all watched as Wonder Woman tossed Superman inside before his specialized cell doors were locked behind him. He stood to his feet as soon as Wonder Woman gave the Kryptonite ring back to Bruce and placed it back into the lead lined compartment on his belt. "You made a mistake in letting me live Bruce." He taunted. "You may have beaten me this time, but you can't hold me here forever. One day I'll get free and when I do, I'll be sure to make Diana my own personal puppet again. Then I'll make sure you're nothing but a greasy stain."
Diana held a look of fury upon hearing the taunting and marched up to face Superman directly through the clear prison cell wall. Her fists were clenched tightly at her sides as Superman stood there with an arrogant sneer plastered on his face. It was then that Diana smiled at him. "That day will never come." She stated with confidence. "I've already cut the strings you've used to make me your puppet. You have no control over me anymore, and you'll never get close enough to have that control again. You may live longer than humans, but I'm immortal. If that day you speak of ever comes, I promise you that I'll be there and I WILL stop you."
Everyone was stunned, but eventually continued on down the corridor to place Diana and Barry into their own respective cells. Bruce stayed behind with Diana as the others gave them some space before the door was shut on her cell. "You won't be here long Princess." He said.
"Don't worry about me Bruce." Diana replied. "I deserve to be here for what I've been a part of."
"No you don't." Batman argued. "I'm going to find out how Superman kept his control over you and when I do, I'll reveal the evidence to the world so that they all know that it wasn't your doing at all but his."
In less than a week, Batman had acquired the access and facility he needed to perform his tests toprove Diana's innocence. Even though Diana had remained adamant that she didn't want him to, he could tell immediately that it was her guilt speaking for her more than anything. He'd had various pieces of testing equipment as well as a medical bed delivered. Diana remained in the room that housed each piece of machinery with Bruce, Batman, and Wonder Woman for days as Bruce worked feverishly on discovering what had been used on her. She remained compliant within her new quarters even though she wanted to be transferred back to her holding cell and accept whatever punishment was to come. However as she accepted that she was going to remain there, her focus began to transition to the man that was working so diligently, so hard for her. She eventually started to worry due to the lack of sleep that Bruce was getting, but figured by the lack of concern from Batman and Wonder Woman, that the way he was acting was nothing out of the ordinary.
As Bruce continued to work, Diana found that she actually was beginning to hope to one day be able to recall something, even if it was just some random time they'd spent working together in the Justice League. She felt that she would soon need to have some fond memories like that to fall back on. Even though her guilt would only increase, it'd certainly have to be better than having to constantly fight the urge to put a stop to Batman, and free Superman from his imprison…ment… Hearing the voice breaking through again, she pinched her eyes shut at that moment, trying to squash that line of thought from her mind.
Bruce had noticed the facial changes occurring with Diana and walked over to her, cupping her cheek gently with his hand. "We're almost ready Princess." He offered softly for comfort. "Then you'll have control over your life again."
Her life, she thought as she managed to give a reassuring smile, but it somehow still felt hollow. Her life would never be the same no matter how much she wanted it to be. She thought for a moment about the words that Wonder Woman had shared with her before they took part in the final battle. She'd said that Bruce would need her to fight for him, but how could she? He deserved something better than the person she'd allowed herself to become. She may not have been in control, but in a sense it was still her. She couldn't fight it, and should've known all along that what she was being a part of was wrong. She'd even initially bought into Superman's plan before the nanites had been injected into her. That much she'd managed to glean from Batman while he was running tests on her. He'd tried to comfort her by letting her know that only he and J'onn had disagreed with Superman from the beginning, but it didn't help. She was guilty and she knew she was. Her train of thought was broken however when Bruce killed all of the power around them before wheeling a device next to her bed. "It should take longer to throw the switch than for the EMP to do what we expect." Bruce said as he attached two wires onto her forehead. She nodded to indicate that she was ready, and without a second warning he flipped the lever. The machine whirred for a couple of seconds before what looked like electricity began to flow through a liquid substance inside the device. Suddenly the whirring noise stopped, and was replaced by a single yet extremely loud pop.
Diana sat up instantly clutching her head. The pain was immense and unexpected. She felt something that could only be described as tiny explosions happening over and over inside her head. "Diana!" Bruce yelled to her as he rushed to offer any comfort that he could, but she shoved him away before she inadvertently rolled off the bed. Wonder Woman stepped in and grabbed her by the arms, and helped to pull her upright until she was standing on her own before letting her go.
Diana bent over and rested her elbows on the bed, and waited in that position until the explosions eventually ceased. Slowly she began to relax as the pain subsided, and she turned to see her Bruce still climbing back to his feet. She felt horrible for having shoved him away and rushed to him, wrapping him in an embrace. "I'm so sorry Bruce." She said contritely. "I didn't mean to…."
"It's alright Princess." Bruce responded as he gently stroked her back. "All that matters is if it worked."
Diana slowly straightened up and pulled out of the embrace as she searched her thoughts. "The voice is gone." She soon confirmed, and sighed in relief before a somber expression crossed her face.
"Is something wrong?" Batman asked in concern.
"I still can't remember…" Diana blankly stated as she pulled out of his hold. "I can't remember us Bruce."
Batman looked like he'd anticipated something like that was possible as there was no evidence of shock on his face. When Diana's expression became questioning he answered the unspoken request. "It's been almost five years that you've been under the control of the nanites." He explained. "The closest thing I could track this technology to was Jervistech, and I know from experience that the effects will wear off and your memories will eventually come back. The first step to recovering them though was stopping the nanites from sending out their signal into your brain."
Diana's shoulders slumped as far as anyone had ever seen before. She couldn't remember any of the loving thoughts aside from the visions she'd experienced from the Lasso of Truth, and that felt more like watching a video of someone else. She had no emotion tied to those visions aside from the guilt, and it was already weighing heavily on her. Suddenly and unexpectedly she straightened up to her full height. "I wish to be returned to my holding cell Bruce." She said resolutely.
"Just give me a minute please Diana." Bruce responded before turning to the other two in the room. "With the voices confirmed as being gone, I'd like a minute alone."
Batman and Wonder Woman looked at each other questioningly for a moment before both agreed and left their two counterparts for some privacy.
~~ Later that day ~~
"So he's sending us back tomorrow?" Diana asked.
"That's what he's planning." Batman answered. "We've already established a level of strength to the Atlanteans that their Arthur is to remain incarcerated regardless of their protests against it. With evidence of a Wonder Woman and a Superman still available for the protection of people on the planet's surface, they know from previous experience that they would lose the battle. That was the last thing that he needed from us to quell any potential uproar."
"I'm still concerned for him Bruce." Diana responded. "He's acting less and less human, and he won't be able to keep up at the rate he's going either. He's hurting, I can sense it, and what's worse is he's choosing to ignore it rather than doing something about it."
"Perhaps when he figures out if he's able to bring back those put into the Phantom Zone." Batman suggested. "There's still the chance that he could bring Barbara and Tim back."
"That's not what I meant Bruce." Diana retorted with some frustration revealed in her tone. "They need each other. You can't honestly tell me that you don't see it."
"She made her choice when the pardon was granted." Batman replied. "You have to remember that even though they're like us in a lot of ways, there are still some differences as well."
"You're right." Diana agreed, but it was a little too easily and quickly for Bruce's liking, and he didn't have to wait long for his suspicions to be confirmed. "They're not as stubborn as you or I. So we're going to Themyscira to talk to my alternate self. She needs the push just like you did not too long ago if you recall."
~~ Temple of Athena, Themyscira ~~
Diana was kneeling before the altar of Athena in prayer as she was meditating. She'd spent much of her time in that position ever since returning to her homeland searching for some form of peace within her mind. Even though her Bruce had been successful in silencing the nanites from sending out their controlling signal, she just didn't feel it was right to attempt returning to her old life in any fashion. She didn't deserve it after what she'd been a part of. She'd actually wished that Bruce wouldn't have put forth the effort in attaining her pardon, but he wouldn't hear any of it when she did try to talk him out of it. Instead of fighting him, she waited and allowed him to do what he needed until all the evidence had been gathered to make his case. Then she left for Themyscira, only to be returned to her mother's thrown. It was yet another place that she felt as if she didn't deserve to have, but her people still expected her to lead them.
So the temple is where she went, looking inward and for anything that would help her come to grips with what she'd done and what she needed to do next. To that point, the only thing that she had come to was that she needed to step down as queen. That title belonged to someone more clear headed and less accountable than what she was in the subjugation of the rest of the world. She needed to find answers still though for what purpose she could seek out for the world. Now it wasn't to promote peace anymore, she had a burning need to pay some sort of reparations for the past five years as well. However, thinking along those lines was interrupted as she felt a presence inside the temple with her. "I said that I wasn't to be disturbed." She announced to the intruding presence.
"My apologies queen Diana, but there is a man trespassing on the island." An Amazon porter replied with her head bowed.
Diana's head instantly began to swim as she stood to her feet and spun around to face her subject. Had her pardon been revoked and a messenger been sent to return her for a just punishment? Or perhaps it was Bruce coming to try and convince her to return to man's world one more time? Or perhaps it was just the random sailor or pirate that managed to make it to the island from a shipwreck. Any way she was still the acting queen and had a duty to investigate this trespasser. "Bring the trespasser to the throne room immediately." She demanded.
"As you command my queen." The porter bowed again before ducking out of the temple to follow the orders she'd been given. Diana reluctantly made her way out of the temple as well, her thoughts back to renouncing her place as queen. Perhaps she would make an announcement for a tournament to be held in order to discover a worthy replacement. Then she could fall away to some sort of self imposed solitude until she could discover some form of inner peace and acceptance.
No sooner had Diana taken her seat in the queen's throne, than did the porter walk in followed by some soldiers that were surrounding not one intruder, but two. Diana's eyes widened for a moment, but quickly set back to normal. "I'm surprised to see that Bruce hadn't already returned you to your own universe." Diana said to her unexpected guests. "Even so, what business have you here?"
"We came to request an audience with you Queen Diana." Wonder Woman announced.
"It must be important for the both of you to have openly chosen to defy the law against men being permitted on Themyscira." Diana responded before waving off the armed guards and porter with a wave of her hand. "Leave us."
The three of them all waited until the rest of the Amazons had left the room before Diana appraised the other two. Wonder Woman was the first to break up any silence that had grown. "Your Bruce was reluctant in allowing some of us to stay behind, but in truth he had little choice in order to prevent chaos from ensuing. " She explained. "That being said, he plans to send us all home tomorrow."
"Then what brings you here?" Diana asked.
"We came to convince you that you are still needed." Wonder Woman answered. "Bruce needs you."
Diana snorted as she stood to her feet and walked away from the other two with her arms folded behind her back. She stopped to peer out through an opening that looked out over the island to reveal a beautiful blue ocean. "From what my true memories reveal, Batman wasn't one that required help from others." She stated. "That was especially the case when it concerned a Meta human."
"You're wrong." Batman chimed in. Both Diana's looked to him with shock on their faces. His Diana because of how reluctantly he'd been about even traveling to Themyscira in the first place, and the other Diana because she'd not realized how much she missed hearing that voice. Batman had remained quiet until he noticed that the looks of shock were being replaced by ones of questioning. "Even this world's Batman worked on the Justice League during some point. Regardless that isn't what matters. Your Bruce or Batman is alone. Like me, there is a high probability that he does some of his best work alone, but unlike me or for him at any point until now, he's never had to face the world with literally no one to stand beside him. He has no Alfred, no Dick, Tim, or Barbara, and if you choose to stay hidden from the rest of the world he won't have you either."
"He doesn't need me." Diana retorted somewhat weakly.
"He needs your love." Batman fired back. "He's always needed it, and now he needs it more than ever."
"Why?" Diana asked as she turned to face her "guests" fully.
"Because he loves you." Wonder Woman replied. "He needs your love, and you need his as well. The feelings that you still share can save the both of you. All you need to do is allow it."
"She's right." Batman added. "I've never been as strong as I am with Diana at my side. She's the only one that was able to help me from myself."
"I….I can't." Diana responded, her shoulders slumping once again. It seemed like that was to be her normal posture for the rest of her days. She didn't believe that she deserved the happiness that could come from being with Bruce.
"Why not?" Wonder Woman frustratingly questioned.
Batman then did something that Diana wasn't expecting. He walked up to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. Then he leaned in close to her ear and began to whisper to her. "If you feel guilty, then the least you could do would be to help provide the Earth's proclaimed true hero with some happiness in his own life." He suggested. "Making up for what you're feeling responsible for won't come from you sitting idly by doing nothing. Take an active role to better the world. Both Bruce and the world need you there to help with the times that are inevitably going to come. You're a good person Diana. Don't let what Kal did to you be what defines the next part of your life."
Diana's eyes widened for the second time in just a few minutes. What Batman had said definitely struck home in some way. Was she letting Kal's control still play a part in her life? She needed come to a conclusion about what she should decide to do. "What you say may hold some merit." She agreed. "I will take what you've both said into account, and come to a decision on what course of action is appropriate to make. For now though, I must ask that you return to Bruce and then your own world. We've inconvenienced your world enough already."
Wonder Woman was going to continue arguing, but Batman made it clear as he started walking toward the exit that there was nothing more to be said. She had to leave with him or risk the Amazons outside the throne room taking him and treating him as they would any other male trespasser.
~~ Batcave, the following morning ~~
"Thank you for all of your help." Bruce said to all of the remaining heroes that had stayed behind to help keep the peace for his world.
"You know where to find us if you ever need our assistance again Bruce." Superman said as the portal began to open behind him.
"Yes, I do." Bruce replied as he watched Clark disappear from his world. He shook the hands of Aquaman, Oliver, and Hal before each of them followed Superman leaving only Batman and Wonder Woman behind. "I know what the two of you did."
"We were only trying to help." Wonder Woman responded.
"It wasn't necessary." Bruce replied somberly. "Although I do appreciate it. She just needs to find her answers in her own time."
"Hopefully she won't wait too long." Wonder Woman added before stepping forward to envelop the alternate of her Bruce in an offering of comfort for a man that truly deserved it.
"Is now too late?" The sound of Diana's voice questioned from above as she floated down in front of the three of them to find that they were all wide-eyed. She was pleasantly surprised to find that she'd finally managed to evade detection, and it wasn't just from one Batman, but two. Still there would be time to savor that moment later. She walked up to her Bruce, who was still stunned to see her there before him as he moved out of Wonder Woman's hold.
"Diana?" He asked almost in disbelief that she was actually standing there before him.
Diana remained silent as she fought against the awkward feelings that were growing inside her. She knew from her memories that she should want nothing more than to be together with this man before her, but it just didn't seem right. Still though she battled through it and continued moving forward until she was standing just before him. He seemed to be frozen in place, not moving and if she didn't know any better she would've thought that he wasn't breathing either. She started to wonder if showing up there was a mistake, but that was until he quickly closed the remaining distance between them and pressed his lips firmly against hers. At the feel of his lips against hers, something inside triggered and she instantly felt all of the emotion that had been tied to every memory she had of the two of them. It was almost overwhelming her emotionally as she responded, wrapping her arms around his neck and deepening the kiss. She couldn't believe the tingling sensation she felt on her lips as he continued to kiss her, but the feeling was familiar and she felt a tear slip free from the corner of her eyes due to how much she missed experiencing that sensation. Then she felt him almost collapsing into her. He needed her there with him, and she knew that now. From that point on regardless of how difficult it'd be, she would be there for him, and she knew that he'd be there for her.
Eventually they had to break away to catch their breaths. There would be time for that later as well. They still had guests in the cave to send home, but before they turned their full attention to their alternates Diana noticed how Bruce seemed to be standing more resolutely. It was almost as though he'd become reenergized, and if she had to admit it, she was standing taller once again as well. Bruce walked over to Batman and handed him a CD. "Just in case." He said cryptically.
Batman pulled a piece of Kryptonite from his belt and handed it to his counterpart. "Just in case." He repeated.
Both Diana's joined each other as well, and wrapped one another in an appreciative hug. "Thank you sister." Diana stated.
"You'd do the same for me." Wonder Woman replied.
It was then that Diana whispered some advice to Wonder Woman before they too separated and stood beside their own Bruce. A few seconds later each world had the full compliment of their own heroes back home. Bruce powered down the inter-dimensional teleporter and looked back longingly at his Diana. He almost still couldn't believe that she was actually there with him. The world would in time become incredibly difficult to keep safe. He was just one man, and even though she was immortal, she wasn't invulnerable, but for the time being there was hope and with hope anything was possible. Even finding true happiness together.
Well, that's it for this story. I hope you all enjoyed it. I've gotten a little feedback for a sequel. Anyone else interested in seeing where I might take this fic moving forward? Let me know, and thanks for sticking with me on it.