AN: Well, it's been a while. I had most of this finished this years ago but I wasn't sure about posting it. I had writer's block in some areas. So I let it sit, do other stuff, sit, read comics and wonder WTH DC is doing, let the story sit, write some more until it was finished, let it sit again but I wasn't sure about the ending. I'm sorry it took forever to finally post this. I know many had forgotten, got frustrated or thought I wouldn't come back to this. I wasn't sure either but I'm glad I did finish it and I hope it's a satisfying conclusion for you.
The Bounty Hunter
Part Twenty- Five
Over the years, Steppenwolf witnessed many battles for Darkseid. He reveled seeing the destruction his army caused over planets he conquered; the fear in his opponents' eyes of their impeding defeat; the whimpers and pleas for mercy before Steppenwolf went in for the final kill. Never did he think of witnessing that destruction and fear on his home turf.
The Tower of Rage was completely destroyed. Pieces of his home were scattered across the land in heavy chunks with smoke filling the crimson skies and fire blocking off paths to safety. Dismantled satellites crushed Apokoliptans not quick enough to run for cover. One even severed the head of a Justifier. The bodies-whole and pieces-of parademons, Justifiers and mind controlled citizens littered the area. The survivors were scavenging through the rubble for their master, Darkseid.
But where to find him in all this mess? Steppenwolf wondered. The Tower had several levels and Steppenwolf didn't know what level Darkseid was on when the Tower exploded.
I suspected it but I still can't believe the Bounty Hunter did this.
After burying Kalibak's head in a different area from his body, Steppenwolf thought enough time passed for him to return home. The last thing he wanted was to return early to find Darkseid and Kal still fighting and be asked to intervene. Upon activating his boomtube, Steppenwolf discovered it was offline.
All boomtubes were connected to the MotherBox located in the Tower of Rage. It was Steppenwolf's idea to add one in Granny Goodness Happiness Home. If the Motherbox was destroyed in the Tower of Rage all power would transfer to Granny Goodness home so anyone returning to Apokolips will not be stranded. It was only a precaution but never something Steppenwolf thought would ever be in use. When the boomtube eventually came online, Steppenwolf knew the battle was over and the MotherBox in the Tower of Rage was damaged.
But this sight was unexpected.
Taking charge, Steppenwolf shouted orders, "Find Darkseid! We must find our leader!"
I need to make sure he's dead.
Steppenwolf assisted in the search. He lifted rubble, kicked away dead bodies. There were many but they were not of the one he was looking for. Several yards away, Steppenwolf spotted a group of parademons and Lowlies hollering in joy. Thinking they found Darkseid, Steppenwolf hurried over.
Approaching, Steppenwolf heard a Lowly murmur, "There's movement."
"Don't just stand there!" Steppenwolf scolded. "Let's get it off him." Assisting with the parademons in lifting what was once a solid wall that weighed a ton, they heaved the heavy debris off the body. Steppenwolf recognized the body immediately.
If not for the remains of the burnt clothes he'd given Kal, Steppenwolf wouldn't have recognized him. The once strong, muscled bounty hunter was a frail skeleton, and with that labored breathing, near death. It wouldn't take much to kill him now. A stomp to crush the fragile bones in his neck would do it.
Or he could leave Kal to the parademons to finish him off. He only had to acknowledge him by name.
However, something refrained Steppenwolf from doing so. Call it honor. Call it stupidity. Steppenwolf wasn't sure. After all, were it not for the Bounty Hunter, Apokolips would not be within his grasps to take.
Besides, the Bounty Hunter would owe him for this and to have something so significant to lord over the arrogant Bounty Hunter was just too tempting to resist.
"Step away," Steppenwolf ordered the parademons and Lowlies surrounding Kal. "This isn't Darkseid. This is a Justifier near death. He's of no use to us. Search for Darkseid. I'll deal with this useless trash."
Steppenwolf waited for everyone to move out of view before making his move. He couldn't have any witnesses to what he was about to do. Steppenwolf pulled Kal to his feet. One bony arm of Kal's hung limp over Steppenwolf's shoulder as he dragged Kal further away. Kal slowly turned his head to Steppenwolf. He opened his mouth but couldn't speak. The kiloton explosions took away his voice.
"I won't kill you, Bounty Hunter. I'm helping you home."
If Kal still had eyebrows, they would've risen in surprise.
Steppenwolf scanned for Earth's signature on his boomtube. As the portal to Earth opened, Steppenwolf caught sounds of boomtubes opening in the skies above him. The army from Earth was returning. He had to be quick about this. "Return to Earth and don't come back." Grinning, he said, "Let it be on your head I spared your life when I could've killed you." He yanked Kal's arm off him and pushed him into the portal.
Once the portal closed, Steppenwolf turned his attention to the army from Earth returning. Among the smaller number of parademons, Justifiers and Demon Dogs, Steppenwolf noticed an injured Lashina in the arms of Knockout. Bernadeth and Mad Harriet's notable absence didn't need explaining. Steppenwolf raised an arm signaling the Furies. Knockout controlled her Aero-discs to land before Steppenwolf.
"What the hell happened here?" Knockout asked. "And how did Wonder Woman escape?"
Weakly, Lashina asked, "Where's Darkseid?"
Steppenwolf gestured Lashina to the ruins surrounding them. "Somewhere among this rubble. The Bounty Hunter set off several kiloton explosions to destroy the Tower."
Knockout snorted, "Looks like you avoided being caught in the bombs." He didn't look as if he was engaged in a fierce battle like she and Lashina. Noticing the patch over Steppenwolf's eye, Knockout frowned, "Don't tell me you were still in recovery when this happened?"
"Yes," Steppenwolf lied. "And when the explosions occurred, I was among those left behind that escaped. I barely survived."
Knockout wasn't impressed. "You ran like a coward."
Lashina had a cooler head. The last thing needed now was fighting among them. Their forces were too depleted. "Enough, Knockout. Where's Kalibak?"
"I don't know," Steppenwolf lied again. "I haven't been able to locate his boom tube signature. It wouldn't surprise me if the Bounty Hunter killed Kalibak, took his boom tube and escaped with Wonder Woman."
"We fought Wonder Woman on Earth but we didn't see the Bounty Hunter," Knockout looked around. "He must still be here. Could he still be alive?"
"No, he's dead," Lashina spoke. "Wonder Woman said so. I was underfoot when she confessed Kal-El pushed her in a boomtube. He stayed behind to fight Darkseid." Lashina looked around the destruction. After what Wonder Woman did to her, Lashina wished it so. "It would serve the Amazon right."
Another commotion several yards away caught the three's attention. Steppenwolf rushed ahead of the Furies. Arriving first, he saw five parademons pulling Darkseid's body out of the rubble.
Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips, didn't look like the formidable dictator who ruled with an ironed fist. His stony frame was marred with cuts and deep cracks on his broken face. The fire was gone from his eyes. His bulbous arms and legs were withered liked raisins. Despite being frail, nearly zapped of all his magnificent strength, he was alive.
Steppenwolf knelt to Darkseid speaking ever so calmly. "My Lord. It's Steppenwolf."
Darkseid turned his weak head to Steppenwolf's voice. "Kalibak. Where is he?"
Steppenwolf held his tongue; put off at Darkseid's question for his son. "We're still looking for him."
At this moment, Knockout and Lashina arrived on Knockout's aero-discs. Knockout laid Lashina on the ground as a mind controlled physician hurried over to apply medical aid. The two Furies listened in on the conversation between Darkseid and Steppenwolf.
"Desaad?" Darkseid rasped.
"Still missing." If he did survive, Steppenwolf knew he would have to kill him. Desaad would not serve him loyally.
"Kal-El," Darkseid breathed deeply. "Where is he?"
"We haven't found him but he must be dead."
Darkseid snarled, "If I am in this state…. then Kal-El….. Bring me…. his body."
Steppenwolf wanted to throttle his master. After all this, Darkseid was still obsessed with him. "There are so many bodies and debris to search through, my Lord. You're stronger than Kal-El. If you're in this state, then the Bounty Hunter is dead. He's not a problem anymore."
Darkseid clenched a weak fist. "I won't…. believe he's dead….until I see a body. Bring it… to me!"
"He's dead," Steppenwolf insisted.
Darkseid's glare deepened as a faint flame flashed in his eyes. "Until I see a body… he's still alive. I will not rest…" he couldn't finish.
Darkseid wouldn't listen to reasoning. At least not Steppenwolf's reasoning. He was still obsessed with Kal-El and if he was obsessed with him, he was obsessed with Wonder Woman as well. "Yes, Sire, but let me take you to a safe place where you can recover. I will search for the Bounty Hunter and make him pay for what he did to us." To the parademons surrounding Darkseid, Steppenwolf ordered, "Granny Goodness Home is undisturbed. She has cruisers there. Place Lord Darkseid in one and wait for my arrival."
Parademons gingerly lift Darkseid and carried their leader away. Lashina's eyes thinned in suspicion. Maybe the loss of blood was affecting her thinking but something wasn't right. "Where are you taking Darkseid?"
"He has to be treated and it can't be here. We're too vulnerable right now." Watching the mind controlled physician care for Lashina's injured middle, Steppenwolf said, "Concern yourself with your wounds. I'll take care of our Lord."
Steppenwolf walked away in the direction of Granny Goodness' Home. Lashina grimaced slightly as she pushed herself to her feet. Shoving the physician away and hurrying Knockout over, Lashina leaned on the female Fury as the two climbed on Knockout's Aero-discs and followed after Steppenwolf.
Seeing he was followed, Steppenwolf scolded Lashina. "Don't argue with me! Treat your wounds!"
"Not until you tell me what's going on in your head, Steppenwolf." Lashina wasn't the Fury leader without earning the title with her sharp physical and mental skills. Not to mention her ruthlessness. She knew Steppenwolf was up to something. "It would be foolish to take Darkseid off world. He should stay here."
Surprisingly, Knockout agreed with Steppenwolf. "There are planets under Darkseid's command that will treat him and would not dare betray us no matter how vulnerable we are, Lashina."
"You agree with this, Knockout?" If she didn't need her, Lashina would push her off the Aero-discs.
Knockout shrugged. "I don't see a problem."
Halting, Steppenwolf turned to the women. Knockout's support was a surprise. If he wanted to be successful in his plan, he would need support, and if Kal-El could sway him to betray Darkseid, why couldn't he sway Knockout and Lashina to his way of thinking? "Darkseid is gravely injured and even after this destruction, after what we've lost, he is still consumed with anger against the Bounty Hunter. I've no doubt once Darkseid is healed he will go after Wonder Woman again."
"Why not?" Lashina saw no harm in that. "I would love to have another crack at Wonder Woman."
"Look at what our Lord's obsession has done so far. Our kingdom is in ruins and our forces depleted. We've never been so vulnerable. How much longer will we continue this?"
"Continue what?" Knockout asked.
"Continue going along Darkseid's obsession with Wonder Woman. He's lost his mind. He's willing to sacrifice all of us because of one woman and I have had enough of it."
Knockout laughed. If Steppenwolf was thinking what she was, then he had lost his mind. "What are you going to do? Kill him? You can't kill Darkseid."
Steppenwolf wasn't laughing. It was best if he had them as allies but if Knockout and Lashina couldn't be convinced, he was ready to kill them. Lashina, in her state, wasn't a threat. Knockout would give him trouble but he had the strength and skills to overpower her. "In his weaken state, Darkseid's vulnerable. We can put him in the Source Wall."
Knockout immediately stopped laughing.
"We?" Lashina sputtered. "Who's we?"
Steppenwolf considered his words carefully. He studied the women with his eye. Knockout was silent but she didn't look repulsed to the idea. Lashina would need working on. "We are the Elite of Apokolips. We used to have a purpose. We used to conquer planets. Planets we never set foot on feared us by reputation alone. This constant fighting to get one woman and a bounty hunter has weakened us."
Knockout agreed with their weakening reputation. Their losses to the Justice League was spreading. More than once in the past year, they'd encountered resistance from their enemies. Still, Knockout wasn't ready to concede to Steppenwolf's thinking. "Once Darkseid heals, we'll return to Earth. With him on the battlefield, there's no way Earth can win. Our mistake was fighting without him."
"Our mistake?" Steppenwolf scoffed at the insult. "You mean Darkseid's mistake. It was he who decided to not fight on Earth."
"Because he was confident in our skills. Without the Bounty Hunter and Wonder Woman, it should've been easy to squash Earth. It's embarrassing that we didn't."
"No, it's not embarrassing. It only proves Darkseid was no longer a competent leader."
Knockout sputtered. Steppenwolf spoke blasphemy. "How can you say that?"
"Because it's true. Darkseid kept an eye on Kal-El for years. He knew how he operated and yet Darkseid still underestimated him. Look at this place!" Steppenwolf spread his arms gesturing to the destruction around them. "Look at what Darkseid's incompetence has done!"
Lashina kept silent while Knockout humph as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay. Maybe Darkseid bitten off more than he could chew with the Bounty Hunter."
"It would be wise if we forget about him and Earth. What is that puny planet compared to the other planets under our control?"
"It's a puny planet we haven't conquered but should've. It's a puny planet that has left a dark and embarrassing mark on us. It's a puny planet that must be crushed to restore our reputation!"
Steppenwolf shook his head at Lashina's outburst. "You're focusing on the wrong thing, Lashina. Have you considered what will happen if Darkseid succeeds in having Wonder Woman as his wife or if he gets the Bounty Hunter under his control?"
Though she wasn't aware of Darkseid's decree to kill Kal, Lashina wasn't buying what Steppenwolf was spewing. "From the way Darkseid sounded, I got the feeling he didn't want the Bounty Hunter anymore."
"Darkseid said he will believe Kal-El's dead if he sees a body. That doesn't mean Darkseid will kill Kal-El if we found him. If found alive, Kal-El will be brainwashed to follow Darkseid. Darkseid's done this before with others who resisted his authority."
Lashina and Knockout were very aware of Darkseid's brainwashing. The two had fun with those who were brainwashed. "So, Darkseid will have his perfect soldier." Knockout grinned. She recalled seeing the Bounty Hunter during his first trip to Apokolips. "Lashina and I can fun with him as we had with other brainwashed heroes."
"You won't have a chance to sink your claws into the Bounty Hunter."
"Why not?" Lashina asked. "Darkseid won't keep him so busy we can't have our fun with him."
"We are all expendable if Darkseid controls the Bounty Hunter!" Not thinking, Steppenwolf let it slip, "Darkseid will do away with me and Kalibak if he wasn't dead already."
Lashina perked up. "Kalibak's dead? You told Darkseid he was still being looked for."
Lashina was sharp but Steppenwolf also thought fast on his feet. "Do you see him here, Lashina? What other conclusion can one make? If he was alive, he would've appeared by now."
"Perhaps," Knockout gestured to the parademons around them, "but the recovery is still ongoing. If the Bounty Hunter put you and Kalibak out of a job, that's your problem. It has nothing to do with us. We're not as expendable as you think."
"Oh? You think you'll still be here if Darkseid's gets Wonder Woman? If Darkseid submits Wonder Woman to his will, she will be his Queen and what she wants, she'll get and what if she doesn't want the Furies around?"
Lashina scoffed at Steppenwolf's attempt to scare her. "Oh, please. If you're insinuating Wonder Woman will have any control over Darkseid…."
"Doesn't she already?" Steppenwolf questioned. "Have you ever seen our Lord so obsessed with a woman?"
"She's a woman and worst, she's an Amazon. They are a cunning race and she's among the best with deep feelings for that Bounty Hunter. Darkseid will break Wonder Woman to submit to him but it doesn't mean she'd forget that Bounty Hunter. If she's Queen and catches you or Knockout sniffing around Kal-El, she won't allow you to have him. No, she'll use her cunning and feminine skills to convince Darkseid Furies are unnecessary as long as she's around and Darkseid will keep her around forever." Both women were silent as they considered Steppenwolf's warning. Slowly, Steppenwolf circled them, reeling them in. "You will be expendable. Wonder Woman will have both of them. I doubt she's the type to share."
Knockout wouldn't mind sharing but given this new perspective….."What's in it for us?"
Steppenwolf was glad to have Knockout on his side but knew he needed Lashina, too. "I will rule Apokolips. Lashina will be in command of the Apokolips army and you, Knockout, will lead the Furies. Together, we will rebuild Apokolips to the magnificence it once was."
"One thing is very obvious," Lashina knew the disgusting truth. "The Bounty Hunter is still alive. You wouldn't offer us such riches and betray Darkseid if he were dead. I bet you helped him and Wonder Woman escape."
Knockout waited for Steppenwolf to defend himself. When he didn't, she couldn't hide her own shock. "You betrayed Darkseid for them? Do you know what hell Wonder Woman did to us on Earth? I should kill you!"
And she would, too, or at least try her best but Lashina intervened, "Let's not be hasty, Knockout."
Knockout expected Lashina to share her anger. But now… "You can't possibly consider this, Lashina, after what his actions cost us!"
"I would refuse his offer if what he said wasn't true. Darkseid would make the Bounty Hunter his perfect soldier and Wonder Woman his Queen if he got control of them. Steppenwolf is right about everything. This treason will be very rewarding for us, Knockout."
Knockout couldn't believe her ears, "Lashina….."
"Knockout," Lashina held the other Fury's gaze. "We've all stabbed each other in the backs before. It was always done for a payoff. Think of your reward. You'll be the new Fury leader. I know you've wanted that title for a while. Now you don't have to betray me for it."
What Lashina said was very true. Betrayals were common here and she herself had grown tired of following Lashina. But this? Could she betray Darkseid to get what she wanted?
Knockout flipped her hair, haughtily saying, "I can bring new fear as leader of the Furies."
"And I will make the New Apokoliptan army the most feared in the universe," Lashina promised.
Steppenwolf was pleased this union was coming along nicely. "Then we are in agreement? We will place Darkseid in the Source Wall."
"Kicking and screaming in his weakened condition," Lashina agreed with a sadistic smile. "We'll tell the survivors he died on route by injuries the Bounty Hunter has caused."
"And if anyone should defy us?" Knockout asked. She could think of half a dozen off the top of her head
The answer was simple to Steppenwolf. "We'll kill them."
For Diana, it felt an eternity passed since she last walked the marble towers of her home. It had been a hectic seventy-two hours since returning to Earth and Diana spent most of her waking hours dealing with the aftermath of Darkseid's attack. It wasn't until Donna's insistence Diana finally returned home for a break and be with the one she desperately thought about for three days.
Diana acknowledged the guards on duty as she stepped out of the Embassy's portal to Themyscira. Taking flight, Diana flew to the Healing Isle. After Darkseid's fleet returned to Apokolips, the Justice League went about assessing the damage to Earth and Diana made a decision between love and duty.
Seventy-Two Hours Ago
"I wish I could, Mother, but I cannot." Kal was in her arms, barely alive. He needed help and she couldn't personally provide that for him. "I must stay here and deal with this calamity with the Justice League and this city." Diana turned to her sister, "Donna, I trust you to take Kal to Themyscira."
"Don't worry," Donna assured her sister as she gently took Kal's frail form from Diana's arms. "I will allow nothing to happen to him." Donna couldn't believe the man she held in her arms was Kal, the famed bounty hunter. The very man who took down the Justice League and kidnap her sister before winning her heart. "But we need to go now. He's fading."
"Then let us go," Hippolyta announced rising in the air in her winged chariot. Donna flew alongside her mother and Amazons. No one questioned Krypto following them.
It was so tempting to follow but Diana knew her place. She faced the Justice League ready to deal with the aftermath in Washington, D.C.
Diana touched down on the Healing Isle. There were fewer guards but they were as vigilant as the ones guarding the portal to the Embassy. Stepping inside the healing citadel, Diana spotted Epione. Diana picked up her pace and embraced her.
"How are you, Sister?" She had not spoken to her sister since well before Earth's attack. "Donna told me of the injuries that have befallen the Amazons."
"I'm well, Diana, as are all of us. We are fortunate to only suffer injuries and not any deaths during our battle. Praise our Gods for protecting us."
"Yes." Epione knew who was on her princess' mind. "Your mother is also here and she has been alerted of your presence."
"My mother?" In her haste to get here, Diana didn't think to stop on the Main Isle to check on her mother. Still, Diana never thought her mother would be here. "But why?"
The nerves in the princess was evident but Epione reassured Diana, "Queen Hippolyta has spent a few hours every day checking on up on our patient."
"Well, how is…
"Epione, I will speak with my daughter over our guest as she will update me on her long awaited return." Queen Hippolyta's commanding voice echoed as she gracefully walked from the long hall to Diana.
Seventy Hours Ago
First Lady Chalmers sat in the Oval Office of the White House. When the Furies led the battle from the White House, many members of the Justice League followed while others stayed back.
The President's children, scarred forever, sat together in the next room watching the news of Darkseid's fleet retreating. There weren't live images of the battle so the news of what happened at the U.S. Capital was limited. Senators and Congressmen who were held hostage at the U.S. Capital were being debriefed by the military and not allowed to speak to the public yet. It was reported Wonder Woman was back and she and the Amazon Nation fought back Darkseid's invasion with the Justice League. While it was a relief the nightmare was over, it didn't change the fact Washington, D.C. was decimated and the President of the United States, her husband, was dead.
Her husband had so much faith in the Justice League. Ironic what that faith cost him.
Hearing the doors to the Oval Office open behind her, the First Lady turned her husband's chair expecting to see the Vice President. He was at a speaking engagement in New York City when Darkseid invaded and was swept into secrecy. After the battle in D.C., the First Lady got word the Vice President was alive and on route to Washington, D.C. The First Lady never expected to see Wonder Woman standing across from her.
"Mrs. Chalmers," Diana stepped forward. "I've come to express my condolences on the death of your husband."
Mrs. Chalmers rebuffed the warmth and sincerity in Diana's voice. "He wouldn't have died if you had accepted Darkseid's proposal."
The First Lady's anger was expected but Diana hoped to make her understand. "Darkseid wouldn't have stopped his invasion if I had accepted it, Mrs. Chalmers. His past attacks on Earth is proof he could not be trusted to honor his word."
"And what about your honor to protect us? The Justice League ran away and let those aliens invade the nation's capital, kill our soldiers and kill my husband! If you had accepted his offer, my husband would be alive!"
Diana repeated, "Darkseid could not be trusted. He would have fallen back on his word."
"You don't know that! You didn't give him an option! You let that monster kill my husband!" Several inches shorter than Diana didn't intimidate the First Lady as she threatened, "I will personally see to it you and the Justice League pay for this!"
Diana knew a meeting with the U.S. Senate tomorrow was one of those ways the First Lady was going to make her pay. They were going to crucify her and the Justice League for what happened. Pushing thoughts of the unpleasant meeting aside, Diana greeted her mother in a hug.
"Diana." The queen sighed as she held her daughter. Diana's time on Apokolips caused Hippolyta plenty of guilt and worry. Now that Diana was home, Hippolyta hoped to learn what happened on Apokolips and if needed, help her daughter heal.
"Mother, I meant to have come sooner. I thought you were on the Main Isle but I wanted…"
"Hush, child. You need not explain. I've been so worried about you since learning you were taken to Apokolips."
"I'm fine, Mother." She wanted to see Kal but until this moment, Diana didn't realize how much she needed her mother. There was much to say given how rotten she left things between them.
"I take blame for what happened. Perhaps, if I weren't so hard on Kal-El, you wouldn't have left Earth and got taken by that monster." Horrible images filled her mind at what could have happened. Hippolyta needed to know no matter how painful. "Diana, when you were on Apokolips, did Darkseid force himself on you?"
"No, Mother, he did not." Diana heard her mother sigh with relief. When Diana pulled back, she was shocked to see her mother's eyes glisten with tears. Hippolyta never cried. "I'm sorry for worrying you, Mother. I'm sorry for leaving our last moments before my kidnapping in anger. Hera, it could've been the last time we saw each other. I will do my best to not let that happen again."
"As will I. No man is worth me losing my daughter over."
Speaking of that man, Diana couldn't hold back asking, "How is he?"
Diana spoke cautiously but Hippolyta sensed excitement in her voice. That man most certainly held her daughter's heart. She turned on her sandals walking away from her daughter. Diana followed. "He's awake and he's been asking for you."
"How much has he recovered?"
"He doesn't look as horrible as he did when we brought him here," Hippolyta said assuredly. "He started walking yesterday and took flight this morning albeit an hour before falling flat on his face." A smiled curved the Queen's face recalling the moment. "I imagine he'll leave us in a day or two. By the way, how is it in the outside world? Donna has told me there's hostility towards the Justice League."
Diana's proud shoulders sagged. "We defeated Darkseid but in a way, he did win. The world is angry with the Justice League for Darkseid's invasion, the death of twelve U.S. Senators and Congressman and President Chalmers assassination. We've been banned from attending their funerals."
"The politicians that were killed accidentally by the Justice League's hand…. will there be retribution?"
"In truth, there isn't any footage of the battle at the U.S. Capital but we did tell the new President what happened. He thought it wise the true details remain a secret from the public. The press released a statement saying the twelve that died were casualties in the war against Darkseid. That still doesn't mean we are in the clear. Many in the Senate and Congress know what happened and while there's anger from them towards us, even they know how foolish it would be releasing that knowledge to the public."
Hippolyta narrowed her eyes. "At least for now. There will be a price down the line."
Diana sighed, "I know and I'm sure they will let me know when I meet with them tomorrow."
"Daughter, it's not your fault."
"They call the Justice League cowards for running."
"It was a strategic retreat and you did return. Only one city fell, Diana. It happens in war."
"It was a very important city, Mother. It was the United States' capital and their leader's assassination was witnessed by the world because I refused to be Darkseid's bride."
Hippolyta wasn't pleased to hear guilt in Diana's voice. "You know as well as I Darkseid wouldn't have pulled back from the Earth if you agreed to his monstrous proposal, and if the people of Earth think you should've sacrificed yourself for them in that way, then they can burn in Hades! You've given them nearly all of yourself. I would not tolerate you giving them that." Calm moments ago, Queen Hippolyta's temper boiled. "Perhaps if Earth wasn't so reliant on you and the Justice League, things would not have come to pass as they did."
Diana knew where her mother was going with this. "Mother, please. Not this again."
"Diana, you and the Justice League have spoiled and coddled the people of this planet." Diana opened her mouth to speak but Hippolyta's raised hand silenced her. "While the Amazons live in peace, we are always prepared for war. There are more people on this planet than Amazons, and yet when the invasion happened, the populace hid in their homes, gawked at the invasion, and recorded the battle on their technological devices instead of grabbing a weapon and fighting back. The moment you weren't there for them, what did they do? They criticized and cursed you when they should be cursing themselves for not being prepared. Sometimes the people of this planet absolutely disgust me. They expect you to do the heavy work while they sit on their laurels and do nothing."
Her mother had valid points. Given how people were treating the Justice League, Diana didn't disagree but still felt the need to defend the people of Earth. "Mother, you're being too harsh."
"And you're being too soft, Diana." Hippolyta argued. "The Justice League can help but it can't save Earth every time by themselves. The Justice League's weaknesses were exposed once before when Kal-El kidnapped you. Earth was warned and her people did not heed the warning. Hopefully this recent incident is the wakeup call the planet finally listens to. If not, then there is no hope for this planet."
No hope? Diana didn't agree with that. "There is always hope, Mother. Were it not for hope, you wouldn't have changed your feelings toward Kal."
They reached the door of Kal's room. Hippolyta's lip turned up in a smile. She reluctantly admitted her daughter had her there. "Well, miracles do happen." Reaching forward, she caressed Diana's cheek, she said, "After all, you are my miracle."
Diana smiled, "So you approve of him?"
Hippolyta dropped her hand. "I think Kal-El cares for you a great deal. It's a start." Refusing to hold her daughter back any longer, she said, "Go in. I know you're anxious to be with him."
Embracing her daughter once more, Hippolyta walked away leaving Diana standing in front of Kal's door. Diana was overcome with emotions for two reasons. One- her mother approved of Kal. If her mother could forgive and approve of Kal, there was hope for this world and the situation the Justice League found themselves in. Two -Kal was on the other side of that door. While busy in Washington, D.C., Diana refused to think of Kal and the condition she last saw him in. She focused on being needed with the recovery of the nation's capital and the Justice League. She couldn't allow herself to think of him.
Krypto turned his head at the door opening. Though this place was peaceful and safe for him and Kal, Krypto was still on guard. This magical isle limited his senses. He couldn't see or hear anyone outside that door so whenever it opened, he always jumped to his feet, growling until he saw who entered.
Krypto leapt to his feet and ran to Diana, barking and standing on his hind legs as Diana bent slightly to greet him. "Hello," Diana said quietly taking note of Kal sleeping. "I've missed you and Kal. You've been taking care of him for me, haven't you?" She laughed as Krypto licked her face. "Oh, you are a wonderful dog." Gently forcing Krypto on all four legs, she told him, "I'll play with you later. Allow me a moment with Kal first." Turning to her love, Diana took him in.
Kal slept on his side with the bed sheet at his waist. His body no longer looked gaunt. His bones were once more hidden by his muscles and thick skin. There were still splotches of wounds on his chest and back but he looked a lot better than he did seventy-two hours ago. Whatever treatments given to him by the Amazons worked. Looking around the room, Diana realized it was also a treatment for Kal. The room modeled an atrium with its glass roof and columns, allowing an abundance of sunlight in.
Diana slipped off her boots and climbed into bed with Kal. She laid there for several moments watching him sleep. She recalled the last moments she saw him on Apokolips. The image of Kal begging she watch Krypto for him still burned in her mind. When he arrived on Earth, he looked so….Diana closed her eyes to the memory. He didn't die. He survived and he was with her right now.
Lightly, she traced a finger over his face, "And mother said you were awake waiting for me. How ironic when I come to see you, you're sleeping."
"Just resting my eyes, Sweetness." Kal opened his eyes. His gaze swept over Diana. "You look good."
Eyes brimming with tears, Diana kissed him. An arm at her waist, she was pulled closer to a body that awakened feelings she kept dormant the past three days. Long, loving kisses followed as Diana felt hands stroking and caressing her possessively. Diana returned the same feelings as her hands traveled, caressing skin that was covered by her own mouth in happier moments days ago.
It was Kal's wincing at Diana touching a wound on his back that forced Diana to break away. Kal's arm around Diana kept her close to him. The way he looked at her now, it was hard to believe he was at death's door days ago. "You're not back to full strength. How do you feel?"
"Like I've been fruck over and not in a good way. I don't look so good now with my hair the way it is. Hell, there's not enough for you to grab if I fool around your sweetness."
She recalled noticing Kal's thick locks burnt off when she held him. Touching the back of his head now, she noticed the hair that was burnt off seventy-two hours ago had a patch of hair now. Not enough to grab but there was something there. Diana chuckled, "I can't believe you said that. I can't believe you're thinking that now."
Burying his face in Diana's neck, he kissed and nibbled the flesh. "A beautiful woman crawls in my bed. What else am I to think?"
"With the way you are now, it's hard to imagine how close to death you were." Diana's breath caught in her throat feeling Kal's hand high on her inner thigh. "Really hard."
"Well, Sweetness, you know how to bring a man from the brink of death." He moved from Diana's neck to her lips once more for another kiss. "Even when that tower crashed on me, all I could think about was you."
Darkseid's formidable tower. That would explain some of his injuries but not all of it. She touched Kal's face. Kal in turned kissed her hand. "Tell me how you got your injuries."
Pulling away, Kal laid on his back with his hands resting behind his head. "I'm better than I was when I got here. It's a slow recovery, Diana, but given what happened to me it's probably best." Turning his head in Diana's direction, he saw her worried expression. "Slow recovery is annoying as hell but I'm safe here, Diana. I'll give it another couple days before I'm fully back to myself."
His upbeat outlook didn't cheer up Diana. "You have all types of medicinal properties at your Fortress. You can use the starburst."
"I thought about that when I woke up here. The starburst has enough yellow solar energy to revive me but using that on my frail body would've done more harm than good. Direct sunlight burned me as Donna carried me here. That sunburst is ten times more powerful than direct sunlight so you can imagine what that would've done to me in my skeletal state. Even now it may cause a slight strain on my body."
Diana looked upward at the skylight and at the columns. There was plenty of sunlight coming in. "If that were the case, then your first day here….."
"Was hell. I was in an out of consciousness but I wasn't put in this room until yesterday. I don't know all of what the Amazons did but they made the right choice putting me under minimum sunlight when I got here. The second day I was more adaptable to the sun. I could walk but not fly. Those kilotons explosions nearly killed me. Been three days and I can't fly long without making myself a human pancake." He recalled his flying antics earlier today, knowing he thoroughly entertained the Amazons, particularly Queen Hippolyta. "If twenty kiloton explosions did this to me, I can imagine what it did to Darkseid."
"What happened on Apokolips, Kal?"
Kal gave Diana a brief rundown of his alliance with Steppenwolf and his showdown with Darkseid. He finished with, "We both took the explosions head on. Strength wise, Darkseid and I are very close and we were both in bad shape. I couldn't crawl from the rubble after the explosions."
"If you couldn't move, how did you get here?"
"Steppenwolf sent me here."
The very thought of Steppenwolf helping….. Diana couldn't wrap her mind around it. There had to be an ulterior motive behind it. "He could've killed you."
"He had the opportunity," Kal admitted that. "Even though we had a deal, he could've finished me off."
"But he didn't."
"Nope." Kal recalled Steppenwolf's words before he was pushed into the boom tube. "He wanted me to remember I owe him." He saw Diana's worried expression again. "Oh, I know that look. Don't worry, Sweetness. I can handle Steppenwolf especially with Darkseid out of the picture." At Diana's raised eyebrows, he explained, "Steppenwolf finished off Darkseid or whatever was left of him."
Diana wasn't as confident as Kal of Darkseid's demise. "You didn't see him do that."
Kal didn't need to see. He knew. "If Darkseid survived, he'll invade Earth again. I wouldn't hesitate telling Darkseid about my pact with Steppenwolf and he knows that. Besides, with Darkseid gone, Steppenwolf can rule Apokolips without anyone challenging him. There's Kalibak but I'm sure Steppenwolf finished him off, too."
What Kal said made sense, but Diana still had a hard time believing it. "Even so, how would Steppenwolf kill Darkseid?"'
"If Darkseid was in the shape I was in, then it wouldn't take much. There's also radion and the Source Wall." Thinking about it, Kal knew Steppenwolf wouldn't kill Darkseid with his bare hands. If anyone knew what he did, it will create a revolt on Apokolips. He would need solidarity. Whatever the case, Kal wasn't concerned with it. "He'll need some help and I'm sure he'll get it if he plots it right."
"You seem so confident it's over." After everything she had been through with Darkseid, Diana couldn't believe she saw the last of him.
Kal sensed Diana's uneasiness. He never battled with anyone for years at time as Diana had. If he had an enemy, he'd take care of it so he wouldn't have to deal with them anymore. "It'll take a while for you to realize your fight with Darkseid is over but you will."
"I hope so," Diana sighed resting her head on Kal's chest. "I have enough on my plate."
After a moment of silence, Kal said, "Donna and the Kents have told me about your upcoming meeting with the U.S. government."
Diana knew Donna kept Kal up with what was going on but she was surprised the Kents did. "When did you see the Kents?"
"Yesterday. Your mother invited them. She figured they were worried about me and sent Donna to get them."
Diana's incredulousness caused Kal to laugh. "She's visited me every day. Scared the fruck out of me when she came the first time. I think she's softened up towards me."
"Nearly sacrificing yourself for me, for this planet will change the heart of anyone. Even my mother." Diana leaned forward and kissed him. "It gives me hope for the future. I will need it tomorrow with the U.S. Senate."
"You can handle them." Kal pulled Diana to him. She leaned against his bare shoulder while a hand caressed his chest as Kal whispered in her ear. "Until you return, how about you handle me?"
Diana raised her eyes to meet Kal's. His was lustful and his look sent a delicious chill down her spine, settling between her legs. "Kal, you're still recovering and your dog is here." She tilted her head to the canine who sat at the end of the bed, watching them.
"I've been in twenty kiloton blasts that nearly killed me, I haven't seen my woman in three days and you won't fool around because my dog is here?"
When he spelled it out like that, it did sound ridiculous. Still, Diana touched a wound on Kal's chest. "And you're-
Kal surprised Diana by rolling over and pinning her beneath him. "I'm not that weak."
Diana pushed her hips against Kal's. Seeing the momentary distraction, Diana easily maneuvered until Kal was beneath her. She straddled Kal and had both his hands pinned against the silky sheets with one of hers. Kal looked more amused than embarrassed. Before lowering her lips to his, she whispered, "Yes, you are."
Outside the palace of the Healing Isle, Hippolyta walked alone on the beach. Her daughter was spending time with Kal-El and after spending time with him, Hippolyta expected to resume talks with her daughter. The Queen of the Amazons still wrestled with her feelings over the Bounty Hunter. While she no longer thought of him as a horrible man who kidnapped her daughter, she was still getting used to him and accepting his courtship with her daughter. He truly cared for Diana. There was no denying that. It was that alone that assured the Queen Kal had changed.
Something caught her eye. Looking upward to the palace, Hippolyta noticed Krypto flying from Kal's room. With the single lap he took around the palace, Hippolyta thought the white beast was getting some exercise, but when the canine spotted her, he flew to where she stood on the beach. Hippolyta's eyebrows furled in puzzlement at the dog's sudden arrival. The dog never left Kal's side. Was he sent away? Was he looking for company?
Hippolyta's suspicious eyes moved up to Kal's room. Hippolyta shook her head unsure if she was bemused or annoyed. "They are certainly testing my change of heart, aren't they, Krypto?"
Krypto buried his head in the sand. He was not getting involved in this sticky situation.
Hippolyta's smiled at the Kryptonian dog. "You, I have no trouble liking."
Diana stood as the lone Justice League member on the floor of the United States Senate, listening to a summation of the events in Washington, D.C. It was Diana's decision to come alone. As ambassador of Themyscira and a leading member of the Justice League whose very presence was cause of what happened to Washington, D.C., Diana felt it was her responsibility to answer the questions of the United States Senate.
Senators Watt, Russell and Lawrence were leading the interrogation. Senator Watt embraced the Justice League when they were individual heroes and supported the formation of the Justice League Watchtower base of operations in Washington, D.C. Diana hoped for the female politician's support but she's been in this world long enough to know how politics work and given how Senator Watt was up for reelection this year and the media's criticism against the Justice League, Diana knew she didn't have an ally in her anymore.
Senator Russell had been critical of the Justice League since Kal kidnapped Diana and vehemently opposed Kal as Superman. With the anger he was spewing these three days, he was gathering a lot of support for his reelection.
Senator Lawrence was always in the middle. Like Senator Watt, Senator Lawrence supported the Justice League but later questioned the actions when it was revealed Kal kidnapped Diana and his joining of the Justice League. However, he softened witnessing Kal's exploits as Superman. Diana hoped for his support.
Once the summations concluded, Senator Lawrence addressed Diana, "Wonder Woman, you are recognized as the leader of the Justice League. Can you explain the Justice League actions in their initial weak defense of the alien invasion?"
"The Justice League acted the best they could under the circumstances in what was obviously a well-planned attack against the Justice League. It is the only reason the Justice League was initially weak as you say."
"A well planned attack that involved betrayal from two members of the Justice League: Booster Gold and Plastic Man." Diana wondered how Senator Russell got that piece of news. "It is being said they assisted in the invasion and the destruction of the Justice League's Watchtower. Is that true?"
"Plastic Man and Booster Gold were captured and brainwashed by sycophants of Darkseid. They would never willingly betray the people of this planet."
"How fortunate for them they cannot defend themselves as they are dead," Senator Russell's sarcasm didn't go unnoticed. "It will remain ambiguous if they were truly brainwashed or not."
Diana started to counter Senator Russell's sarcasm when Senator Watt interjected, "Given the live feed from Darkseid's world of Apokolips, it's obvious you were not on Earth during the invasion."
"And there was no record of Superman on Earth during the initial and final attack," Senator Lawrence added. "Despite his controversial beginnings, Superman has gained large recognition and admirers and yet when the Earth needed him, he wasn't there. Did he abandon this planet?"
"No. Superman, like I, was captured and taken to Apokolips. Superman and I escaped our prisons and while I returned to Earth, Superman stayed behind to deal with Darkseid permanently." Diana had no desire to go into the details and she wouldn't even if asked.
"And did he?" Senator Russell asked. "Did Superman die facing Darkseid? It's been almost week and no one has seen him."
Diana knew Senator Russell wished it was so. It was a privilege to remove the gleam from his eyes. "Superman isn't dead but he was badly injured. He is recovering."
Senator Russell obvious disappointment was replaced with an exasperated, "Did he at least kill Darkseid? The last thing we need is another Darkseid invasion when the Earth is vulnerable and the Justice League so obviously incapacitated."
Diana hope Kal was right about Darkseid but she wasn't confident on Steppenwolf not responding with some retaliation. "I have spoken with Superman. Darkseid is no longer a threat to Earth."
"That doesn't answer the question, Wonder Woman." Senator Watt wasn't holding back on Diana's indirect answer. "Is Darkseid dead? Yes or no. Did Superman kill Darkseid? Yes or no. If Darkseid is only injured then it will be a matter of time before he attacks Earth again. Which city will fall that time? Will it be New York? Perhaps London. Maybe the entire continent Australia. No one on this planet is safe unless we know the true fate of Darkseid. Is he dead or isn't he?"
This was being broadcast live not only across the United States but around the world. Diana was certain the senator was doing her best to look good in front of her constituents. Politicians, Diana thought bitterly. She was never in favor in how they operated. "Given Superman's state in which he returned and his promise to stop Darkseid for good, it is likely Darkseid has been permanently defeated and will not return to Earth."
"Likely? That's not a ringing endorsement and it doesn't sound as if Superman witnessed Darkseid take his final breath."
"I believe Superman, Senator Watt."
Senator Watt smiled cryptically. "You're not letting your feelings for him confuse you, are you, Wonder Woman?" Diana cursed herself for giving the Senator a blatant opening for attack. "You have not hidden your courtship with Superman. While you are to lead your own life as you please, I would think—no, hope a woman of your stature and strength would not succumb to such feelings believing every word from your lover when the facts may say otherwise."
That remark burned. Diana considered herself as a woman of great patience but at the moment was ready to rip the podium her fingers now gripped so tightly. "I was with Superman on Apokolips. I witnessed his determination to stop Darkseid. You don't have the look he had and fail and I do not say this as a lover but as a Justice League member trusting her colleague."
"Be that as it may," Senator Lawrence thought wise to intervene, "it doesn't sound as if Superman witnessed Darkseid die but both were severely injured after their battle. Time will tell if Darkseid attacks Earth again. Until then, this planet needs to remain vigilant and we shouldn't burn relations of our allies. Speaking of whom, where is Superman recovering?"
"As I told you, Superman was severely injured in his battle against Darkseid. As to his whereabouts," Hippolyta's words filled her mind, "he is at home-a common place anyone would be when recovering from injuries and will return to the public eye on his own accord."
In truth, Kal returned to the Fortress with Diana's help when she left Themyscira that morning. He wanted to see the meeting and also felt strong enough to finish his recovery at his Fortress.
Senator Russell moved on disturbed Senator Lawrence still considered Superman an ally, "Speaking of home, given the destruction of our nation's capital and the demise of the Justice League's Watchtower, it is in the Justice League's best interest to rebuild their next home elsewhere. Wouldn't you agree, Wonder Woman?"
"The message is loud and clear, Senator Russell."
Senator Watt joined in very smarmy, "This nation suffered a great loss with the death of President Chalmers and twelve Senators and Congressman. It will be very hard for the people of this great country much less the planet to have faith in you. Amazing deeds must be done before we can even consider believing in the Justice League again."
Diana's podium cracked. She had enough of the cheap shots. "Amazing deeds? You mean the most recent amazing deed where the Justice League fought back and saved the world? What happened to Washington, D.C. was horrible but that was only a sliver of what would've happened to Earth if Darkseid took over.
"The Justice League made a strategic retreat after the initial attack, retaliated and won and we are not the only ones to do so. The Union forces retreated in many battles before conquering the Confederates and winning the Civil War. During World War II, many nations fell to the Axis Power before the Allies joined forces and triumphed. Would you criticized those brave citizens of Earth, the way you are criticizing the Justice League?"
Senators Watt and Russell were embarrassingly silent. It wasn't until Senator Russell caught Senator Lawrence holding back a smile as he seemed pleased Wonder Woman put him and Senator Watt in their place, that he snark at Diana, "Sounds to me you are making excuses, Wonder Woman."
Diana snapped back, "Have you ever fought in a war, Senator Russell?"
Senator Russell swallowed his tongue as Senators Watt and Lawrence looked at him expectantly. Close circles knew he was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. He managed, "No and my not serving is not what matters here."
"I believe it does. Only a soldier who fought on the battlefield can truly understand what the Justice League is going through. You who have not fought in a war, not led many in battle or witness comrades die, are severely lacking in fair judgement of the Justice League."
Senator Lawrence took over questioning as his colleague's faces drained of color. "Being a man who did serve in a war, I have to agree with Wonder Woman but I also understand my colleagues harsh questioning. We are only asking questions the people of this planet want answered."
"I have answered all questions to the best of my ability and before these attacks continue to get personal, I will take my leave. If the United States wish to ban the Justice League from building a facility in this country, that is their prerogative and we will make arrangements elsewhere. Countries have fallen by not uniting against a common enemy. The Justice League have fought many battles saving the Earth but we are only a small group. It's time we stop fighting alone."
Diana stepped away from her podium. She turned to leave when she spotted a familiar face making his way in the room. Murmurs and shocked gasped passed over the room while Diana froze momentarily not expecting to ever see him again.
"Wonder Woman is right about one thing," the cocky voice echoed as he entered the room. "It's time we stop relying on the Justice League. Humans can stand on our own without them."
Diana stood rooted to the floor as Lex Luthor approached her. He winked at her and walked ahead to the podium she had abandoned. Lex Luthor smiled arrogantly, facing his audience like a movie star high on a big comeback. "I was a prisoner on Apokolips and it was thanks to Superman I made my escape. However, it was thanks to me I helped Superman take down Darkseid and made my return to Earth."
What was this nonsense Lex Luthor was blathering? Kal never mentioned encountering Lex Luthor. Diana didn't think he was alive let alone was on Apokolips as a prisoner. She assumed Darkseid had something to do with Lex Luthor's sudden disappearance but she thought the dictator had him killed and not tortured as Lex Luthor's new pair of hands suggested.
Before Diana could asked, Senator Watt spoke. "You witnessed Darkseid's death?"
Lex Luthor smiled flirtatiously at the Senator. "No, I did not, but I can assure you Superman would not have left Darkseid alive on Apokolips. I was a prisoner on Apokolips," he lowered his head gravely. "Knowing how I was tortured, I've no doubt Superman did what the Justice League could never do."
"You were a wanted criminal in league with Darkseid," Diana clarified. "You kidnapped Jonathan and Marta Kent to lure Superman into a trap. It is because of you, the Kents had to leave their home in fear of another attack from the Injustice League."
Damning as the facts were, Lex Luthor brushed them off. "All of what you say is true, Wonder Woman. I foolishly worked with Darkseid because I didn't trust Superman. After all, he kidnapped you. I only did what I did because I thought the world shouldn't trust Superman, and if turning him over to Darkseid spared Earth, where was the harm?" He lied so smoothly Lex even impressed himself. He could see it in the eyes of Senators Russell and Watts they believed him and so will millions of others watching. "I made a deal with the devil and I know now how wrong I was. I've paid for my sins," Lex held up his mechanical hands, "And I started my atonement by helping Superman. He freed me and I've provided him with Apolkolip weapons that Superman used to defeat Darkseid."
"Is this true, Wonder Woman?" Senator Russell wanted verification. "Did Lex Luthor help Superman on Apokolips, and if so, why did you not tell us?"
Diana knew how this will look in the eyes of the world. If a sliver of this was true…."During Superman's recovery, he neglected to mention coming across Lex Luthor, but given his state when I spoke to him," Diana improvised, "it was not as important as Lex Luthor is making it out to be."
Lex Luthor saw it differently and he knew others will as well. "I beg to differ, Wonder Woman. I, a human, helped Superman defeat Darkseid. It gives hope to all humans on this planet. If humans put their minds together, we can create the weaponry needed to defeat any invasion on this planet. We won't need to rely on the Justice League. Perhaps, it will force the Justice League to retire and resume private lives that will not force Earth to garner attention of planets that wish to destroy or enslave Earth." Lex Luthor turned to Diana. "After all, it was you who Darkseid wanted, Wonder Woman. Earth was a means to an end. If not for your presence, Darkseid would have never batted an eye at Earth."
Lex Luthor was a great manipulator. Diana credit him that and he won many over with his persuasive argument. However, Diana wasn't ready to concede defeat. "It wasn't Darkseid's invasion but years ago, there was an alien invasion that brought many heroes out of hiding and join together to save this planet when it was on a verge of destruction."
"I will concede humans needed your help then but not now, Wonder Woman. Through the death of our great President, our Senators and Congressmen, humans will learn from this tragedy. President Chalmers' death will not be in vain. I…" Lex Luthor paused as false tears fell from his eyes. He didn't wipe them away. He wanted everyone to see his emotions. "I spoke to our First Lady who is showing great resolve in this tragic time. She is an amazing woman and an amazing mother to children who will grow up without a father. She agrees with me. Humans not meta-humans should handle any invasion without the needs of the Justice League."
The arrogance of this man. How dare he manipulate the First Lady's vulnerability for his plans? Diana was livid, "This attack is proof we shouldn't do everything on our own. We need to work together."
Lex dismissed Diana's argument, knowing she was losing hers and he was winning his in the eyes of the public. Upon his return to Earth, Lex caught up on Washington, D.C.'s fall, the Justice League failures and knew exactly how to tap in the minds of the gullible. "Given the state of the Justice League's Watchtower and heavy losses of members, the Justice League needs to get their own house in order first before working with humans on keeping Earth safe."
"As disturbing as Lex Luthor's actions were to the Kents, I'm inclined to agree with him in how to approach future invasions." Diana nearly rolled her eyes at Senator Russell's comment. "Perhaps, it is time we took more control of our own affairs and not rely so heavily on our super power guardians."
While it was encouraging humans were going to take a more responsible role, it wasn't how Diana thought it should be. Diana could argue her point but knew it would fall on death ears. Lex Luthor manipulated the room very well and Diana could feel the tide of support-the little she had-shifting away from her. This wasn't a defeat, Diana decided, but merely a strategic retreat.
It was only the power and influence of Bruce Wayne that allowed him access to Zatanna in the metahuman wing of Metropolis Hospital. The past four days were insane as the remaining Justice League divided their time helping out in Washington, D.C., salvaging what was left of the Watchtower and preparing for memorial and funeral services of their fallen comrades. Bruce tried to see Zatanna after the first twenty-four hours but even a man of his power and influence had to wait until Zatanna was cured of any radiation to receive visitors.
Bruce Wayne stared at Zatanna through the window of her room. She hadn't notice him as she sat in bed flipping the channels on TV. Four days ago, Zatanna was knocking on death's door. Now….she never looked more beautiful.
Bruce pushed the door open. Zatanna lowered the remote and smiled as he took a seat by her bed. "So, the bribery finally worked. How did you do it? Money or did you charm a nurse a date with the elusive and rich, Bruce Wayne."
"I know you've been trying to get in here since I've been admitted." She winked at him. "Good thing for that radiation keeping you out."
"Oh, stop, Bruce. I wasn't sitting here pining away for you. Hal visited me and I've been kept up to date on what's been going on. Donna dropped by, too. She used the Purple Ray on me." She raised the sleeves of her hospital gown and pulled back the bed sheets to reveal her arms and legs. "No scars and I don't feel like I got run over by a semi. Because of her, I'm getting out tomorrow."
"Hal visited you?" Bruce saw him several times over the four days and not once did Hal mention visiting Zatanna.
"Every day." Realizing he didn't react to well Hal's visit, Zatanna decided to be playful. "His ring protected him, Bruce. Hal was good company since I'm bored out of my mind here."
"Donna kept you company, didn't she?"
Zatanna shrugged nonchalantly. "A man's company is different from a woman's." Stretching her arms over her head, she said, "Hal's treating me to dinner when I get out tomorrow. Hospital food is crap and Hal's promised to take me to the finest restaurant in Metropolis."
Bruce grumbled. "We have too much to do now to be dining out. There's a lot going on with the Justice League."
"Yeah," Zatanna sadly agreed, "I still can't believe what happened in D.C. We won but what a price."
"There was almost a price for you, too." Bruce placed a hand on the bed near Zatanna's but not touching her. "You almost died pulling that stunt of yours."
Zatanna placed her hand over Bruce's. "I saved the people of D.C. and the surrounding areas from being contaminated with radiation. I saved everyone in the Watchtower that were able to fight off Darkseid's invasion." Her eyes locked with his. "It was a worthy stunt that saved your life."
The sincerity in her voice and eyes were almost too much. Almost. Bruce remained cool. "Krypto would've gotten me out in time."
"Oooh, on a first name basis? You couldn't get Kal's woman so now you're stealing his best friend in retaliation." It was a tease that even got a chuckle out of Bruce. "Hal told me about you two bonding."
"Hal?" Again. Bruce wasn't smiling anymore. "When he visited you, how long did he-"
Bruce was silenced by Zatanna's lips. For several long moments, they kissed until the need for air cut off their baser needs. Zatanna pulled away, amused to see a smile on Bruce's face. She whispered, "Thank you for caring. Sometimes it's hard to tell you do under that cold exterior of yours."
Bruce sighed, pressing his forehead against Zatanna's. After what happened at the fall of the Watchtower, there wasn't any sense in holding back on what they both wanted. "Listen, Zatanna. I'm not good at this. Women I care for, I end up hurting them in the end."
"Bruce, I'm not looking for a wedding, perfect husband, house and a Brady Bunch load of children. I know you don't want that either. You're not going to admit it but given what Kal did to the Joker and the Injustice League, your mission doesn't have to consume your life anymore. There's a chance for something else. I'm not saying it's me, but we do have feelings for each other, Bruce. Let's see where it goes. If it ends, it ends. If not," she smiled hopefully, "what a story to tell our children, our grandchildren. Besides, you don't want to live to ninety and wonder what could've been."
"You think I'm going to make it to ninety?" Bruce asked ruefully.
"If it were possible, you would make it to one hundred and ninety."
"I'm a little obsessive-" Zatanna raised her eyebrows. "I'm very obsessive. I'm controlling. I have to be right. Sometimes I think I'm as crazy as villains in Gotham. I don't know how to be normal, Zatanna."
Zatanna chuckled softly. Was he really that worried? "Good news for you, Bruce. I don't want normal. I want you."
"If you'd taken my help when I offered it, this wouldn't have happened."
Kal expected that scolding from Urvashi. She was horrified at his appearance when he appeared on her screen from her world. He lost count on the number of times he assured his friend that while he looked horrible, he was fine.
That morning, Kal had enough strength to travel to the Fortress and finish his recovery from there. Besides, he wanted to see Diana's meeting with the U.S. Senate and Themyscira didn't have television. The meeting left him boiling especially when Lex Luthor arrived and put his spin on helping him deal with Darkseid.
Frustrated, Kal reached out to Urvashi who at the moment was giving him a good scolding. "The attack would've happened, Urvashi. The casualties might not have been as bad."
"Earthlings are a strange species. The primitiveness; the sense of entitlement. Something bad happens and they want the Justice League to help. If the Justice League fail in anyway, the people complain while they did nothing to help."
Although he agreed with his friend, he defended his adoptive home. "They're not all like that."
"I'd suggest leaving and let Earth fall apart because that's what happens to societies like theirs, but you won't leave because you love Diana and she'll never abandon her home."
"It's not just Diana," Kal admitted. "I want to stay because of the Kents and my birth parents. And," he sighed, "I'm partially blamed for what happened. My crippling the Justice League when I took Diana helped Darkseid with this attack. I still have some atonement to do."
Urvashi was impressed. Her friend really had changed over the years. The Bounty Hunter she knew would've left Earth a long time ago and never returned. If he was going to stick it out on the backwards planet Earth, as a friend she was going to help him. "From what you told me, Earth is thousands of years behind with the most primitive technology. My offer still stands to assist Earth, Kal. Earth is a spoiled child. It needs a big brother or big sister planet to take them in and show them the ropes."
Arms crossed over his chest, "You would know about being spoiled being one yourself."
Urvashi stuck her tongue out. "I've grown up. I'm going to be Queen one day and while my planet is powerful, I can't do all this alone. My planet is united with other planets in and outside our galaxy and we've maintain a peaceful alliance for generations. In fact, there is a planet requesting to join our alliance whose ruler you know very well."
Kal paled. "It's not someone I slept with, is it?"
Urvashi laughed. If only! "No but she tried to bed you. It's Queen Maxima of Almerac."
"Yes. Almerac was attacked by Darkseid's forces recently. My father reached out to Maxima's parents' years ago but they turned us down. Maxima's proven smarter than her parents. Almerac's approval from the other planets in our Federation is imminent. Earth is a different matter. I will vouch for Earth but the other fourteen planets in our Federation will need convincing. On the surface, Earth brings nothing to the table. Technology and medicinal wise Earth is generations behind us."
Kal agreed with that. Earth didn't have a lot to offer. "There are natural resources that can be beneficial and Earth does have the Justice League. If Earth is brought into your Federation, the Justice League can help when needed."
"That's one good thing especially with you as part of the Justice League. Planets in our Federation also have free trade and populace living on other planets, Kal. It's one of the ways we've maintain strong alliances within each other. Will Earth be open to taking in residence of my people or citizens of other planets?"
"If they look like your people, yes." Kal regretfully said, "Unfortunately, Earth is still prejudicial when it comes to those not looking like them. There are Earthlings who will be welcoming; they've accepted the Martian and Thanagarians but there are others who won't be. This recent attack by Apokolips has a lot of Earthlings scared."
Urvashi cursed. "So I can count five planets that will not vote for bringing Earth into our Federation." Bringing Earth in was going from difficult to impossible. "Even if Earth is accepted, there's a matter of Earth complying with the rules."
"Earth will need an Embassy established for the planets in our Federation as we would open an Earth Embassy on one of ours. My planet will be the obvious choice to start with but over the years Earth will have to expand Embassies to the other planets with beings that don't look like them."
Given Urvashi's people were beautiful nymphs with one percent body fat, Earth would welcome them with no hesitation. Her kind were also intelligent and warriors. With their healing properties, they would win over several open minded scientists and doctors. "I don't think there will be any problems establishing an Embassy for your planet but we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's see if Earth can get in your Federation first."
Urvashi already knew what the results will be but was pushing forward anyway. "I'll let you know."
Without a home base, the Justice League met at the Titan Tower for their meeting. In attendance were Diana, Bruce, Dinah, J'onn, Oliver, Hal, Donna and Wally. It was the first time in five days all were in the same room together. Their roles were divided among the salvage recovery of the Watchtower, helping rebuild Washington, D.C., caring for their injured comrades and speaking to the families of the fallen. Diana's meeting with the Senate was the unfortunate highlight as the aftermath of it hardened relations with the Justice League and government even more.
Dinah reported, "The government will handle the rest of the cleanup in D.C. No doubt spurned on by Lex Luthor yesterday." Dinah rolled her eyes. She didn't know who she was angrier with: Lex Luthor or the people blindly following him. It wasn't long ago it was revealed he headed the Injustice League and now the same people who crucified him were supporting him and crucifying the Justice League. "We were able to retrieve everything from the Watchtower wreckage before the government seized the land. Diana, my thanks to Steve Trevor for giving us the heads up."
When Diana returned to the Embassy after the Senate meeting, Julia rushed to her with news of Steve Trevor urgent calls. Julia, who deeply regretted her part in leading Darkseid to Kal and Diana on Gallinore, wanted to resign from her duties but Diana wouldn't accept it as she knew Julia would never willingly betray her and only acted under Darkseid's control.
Diana returned Steve's call and learned the government was going to seize the land and all property of the Watchtower wreckage by dawn. All thoughts to see Kal went out the window as recovering everything from the Watchtower was top priority. Alerting Batman and Green Arrow who were already in the process of transporting the wreckage to warehouses owned by Queen Industries and Wayne Enterprises, they sent a distress signal to all available members to come to D.C. to recover all wreckage.
"What about weapons room?" Diana asked. "It was built using Martian and Themysciran science."
"True," J'onn agreed. "And because of that and Zatanna, they weren't affected by the bombing."
"But it took a big hit when the Watchtower fell." Donna was part of the recovery team of the Watchtower remains, but she wasn't on Captain Atom and J'onn's team who were sorting through the weapons. "Have you gone through to see what's salvageable?"
"Not yet. Captain Atom and I are still going through the inventory. We've divided everything in two groups: Located and Missing. I gave Dinah an updated list this morning."
Wally touched the screen of his Q-Pad reading over the updated list of recovered and missing items. He suggested to Dinah, "You should make a list of which warehouses are holding what items."
Diana perused the list on her Q-Pad. "It's listed next to each item, Wally."
Wally turned his Q-Pad around for all to see. "It's not on mine."
Donna looked over at Diana's shoulder at her Q-Pad and back at hers. "I don't have that list either, Diana."
Hal checked his Q-Pad. "I got the right list."
Diana looked at her sister's Q-Pad. "That's odd. Why…?" Diana looked around the room acutely aware how silent Dinah, Bruce and Oliver were. Hal looked as puzzled as she. J'onn sent a sympathetic gaze to Wally as he was aware of what happened. "What's going on?"
Dinah glanced at Bruce for a moment before saying, "Due to recent events, we're keeping the information of what each warehouse is holding on an as needed basis and right now not everyone needs to know that."
Wally read between the lines on that. "In other words, me." He signed turning off his Q-Pad. "I knew I shouldn't have come."
Hal blurted, "I see why you left Wally out but why did you leave Donna out? She didn't do anything. She's only his-oohhhh!"
Diana looked at her comrades. "Whose idea was this?" She asked the question to everyone but her eyes were on Bruce.
"It's okay, Diana," Wally assured her. "They're right to do this. Let's hurry up this meeting, okay?"
Oliver tried to lighten the mood. "Bruce and I are working on schematics on the new Watchtower. It's gonna be a satellite orbiting Earth."
"Satellite?" Donna inquired. "Sounds top secret. Shall Wally and I wait outside so you all can discuss this, too?"
Bruce ignored Donna. "A satellite is the best option for a new base. We have the money to buy land anywhere and make sure it doesn't trace back to Oliver Queen or Bruce Wayne but once it's known the Watchtower is going there….."
Donna nodded knowing where Bruce was leading. "Protests. Pressure from local constituents to kill the deal…."
Oliver grinned. "They can't get to us if we're on a space station orbiting Earth."
"Once things have cooled down," Bruce continued, "we'll build another land station but until then…."
"It's almost as if we're exiled from our own planet." Dinah shook his head. "I can't believe it's come to this."
J'onn eased Dinah's concerns. "We can protect Earth better as a space station. We'll be the planet's first line of defense of any dangers."
"What good would that do if our enemies come through boom tubes like last time?" Wally snapped. "What if they invade the populace like they got to Michael, Patrick or Julia? With us in a space station or on the moon, we'll react too late again!"
"Wally!" Diana raised her voice to silence the young man. She sympathized with Wally over his guilt for she had her own but their teammates still trusted her. The same couldn't be said for Wally. Donna grasped Wally's hand and whispered in his ear but he only pulled away. "Things are rough now and will be for a while but we all need a level head to get through this." Looking to the rest of the members she said, "Anything else before calling this meeting to a close?"
"Funerals plans have been announced," Dinah spoke. "Dr. Midnight's funeral will be on Saturday. Samarai will be cremated and there will be a memorial service on Sunday. Red Arrow's….Roy's will be Tuesday. Hawk's funeral will be Wednesday and Question's funeral will be a simple burial. Huntress said that's how Question wanted it. As soon as families of our remaining falling announce plans, I'll let you know."
"I know he's still recovering but when will we see Kal?" Oliver asked Diana. "Will he be attending the services?"
"I'll see Kal after this meeting but I'm sure he will want to attend the funerals. If there's anything else, I think it's best we adjorn-"
"Wait," Wally interrupted as he stood. "I have to make an announcement." Wally looked around the room, his eyes meeting everyone's before saying, "I'm gonna step down for a while."
"Wally," Donna stood by him. "You don't have to do this."
"Yes, I do," he spoke firmly. "I've made costly mistakes. It's gonna take a while before I forgive myself," he looked around the room, "or before others forgive me. It's not just Bruce, Dinah and Ollie. I've gotten the cold shoulder by others as well. Besides, how much are we really needed now with the Injustice League disbanded and locked up? The crimes going on now are the petty ones the police can handle."
"Wally," Diana warned the speedster, "we made a mistake letting our guard down thinking things were peaceful after we ended the Injustice League."
"Well, you can get along without me on the regular roster. I'll help whenever you need me but for now, I'm staying in my own city."
Donna started to follow Wally but decided to stay back. Nothing she could say would change his mind and at the moment, he needed to by himself.
"Poor kid," Dinah said quietly.
Donna scoffed at Dinah. "You feel sympathy for Wally?"
"I can't help how I feel, Donna."
Exasperated, Hal turned to Bruce, Dinah and Oliver, "Wally didn't know and we've all been deceived so get off your high horse or have you and Ollie forgotten what you did at the U.S. Capital?"
Dinah inhaled sharply. "That's low, Hal. We didn't know those politicians were in those missiles and there would've been far more damage and death if the missiles weren't stopped."
"Exactly. You didn't know like Wally didn't know about Michael and Patrick and yet you're treating him like a criminal; as if he can't be trusted. He made a mistake."
"This isn't the first mistake Wally's made," Ollie reminded Hal. "The world knows about Kal being the Bounty Hunter that kicked our ass and kidnapped Diana almost two years ago. The world praised Kal when he showed up as Superman but when they learned his past because Wally couldn't keep his mouth shut to that Lane reporter, it hurt our credibility. Once again Wally's error hurt our credibility to possibly beyond repair and it cost the lives of several people: politicians, civilians and people in our very own Justice League family." Frustrated, Ollie slammed a hand on the table. "I lost Roy!"
Hal stared at his best friend. He felt sympathy for all the anger and guilt Oliver was going through. Still, he continued to stand up for Wally. "Wally was friends with Roy, too. His death and everyone else's will eat at him for the rest of his life. The last thing Wally needs is us making him feel worst."
Diana gently spoke. "This is a trying time for everyone. The last thing we need is fighting among us. We've all we got."
Hal pointed to Oliver, Dinah and Bruce. "They need to be reminded of that, Diana. Not me." They were his friends but at this moment, Hal didn't want to look at them. He rose from his seat and left the room.
Diana looked around the room. The air was thick of anger and distrust. Looking at J'onn, she didn't need to read minds to know what he was thinking. The Justice League was on the verge of breaking away from each other. They weren't the united force they were two years ago. He might not have lived to see it, but Darkseid's plan to end the Justice League may come to fruition.
Diana knew of one way to make sure that didn't happen.
It was Krypto, Jonathan and Martha Kent who greeted Diana when she entered the Fortress. When she helped Kal to the Fortress, she didn't stay behind to speak to the Kents. Now that she was here, she gave them her immediate attention knowing how they worried for her over the Darkseid ordeal.
They were in the kitchen finishing a lunch prepared by Martha. Martha sipped her tea casually as she gazed at Diana. She had grown close to the Amazon that she now saw the young woman as her own daughter. "I'm glad you're well. Jonathan and I have been worried about you and Kal. Being on Apokolips with that monster Darkseid had to be harrowing."
"But seeing Kal eased some of our worries," Jonathan added. "Martha and I saw your meeting with the Senate." He shook his head disappointed. "The Senate is directing their anger at the wrong people."
Diana lowered her glass of water. "Emotions are high for everyone. It'll be a while before tempers cool."
Martha chuckled. "You certainly gave two of those Senators a taste of their own medicine. They can easily dish it out but can't take it."
Jonathan agreed. "It'll blow over when the world realize they need the Justice League. Unfortunately, it might take another disaster to happen. In the meantime, Martha and I are gonna resume some normalcy in our lives."
At Diana's questioning gaze, Martha explained. "Jonathan and I are moving back to the farm."
"Is it safe to go back?"
"Given the state of the world, we don't think anyone will be giving us attention anymore." While Martha was slightly concern, Jonathan had a different view of their situation. "Darkseid's defeated and the Injustice League is in prison. Lex Luthor is out there but he won't bother us. If anything happens to us, he'll be the first person looked at and he knows that. I don't think he wants that kind of attention now he's trying to get back in the world's good graces."
The points were valid but Diana was still concerned. "Kal…"
Martha refilled her tea. "He wasn't pleased with the idea but after thinking about it, he realized we're right. It won't stop him from sending a robot hired hand with us."
"Besides, as nice as it has been living here, Martha and I miss our farm. This place is kind of sterile. We can't go outside without freezing to death. I miss the fresh air of the farm and my animals."
"When are you leaving?"
"In two days. I want to look the farm over and give it a few updates in security." Diana turned to the doorway to see Kal leaning upon it. She rose to greet Kal with a hug and kiss. Securing an arm around Diana, Kal turned to the Kents, "Mind if I borrow Diana for a moment?"
"Go ahead," Martha smiled warmly. "We'll see each other again before she leaves."
The two left the room, quietly walking down a hall when Diana asked, "Feeling better?"
"Yep. I can fly on my own this morning. If I had enough strength yesterday, I would've flown to D.C. and kick the zhuut out of Lex Luthor on T.V."
While the image was entertaining, she knew it wouldn't be right. Besides, she was a little annoyed at Kal for keeping her in the dark. "If you told me about Luthor, I could've handled the situation better."
"I didn't think he was that important." It was the truth in Kal's eyes. What Lex did wasn't a huge deal. "I have to wonder about this planet if they are so quick to buy into what Lex Luthor's say and turn on the Justice after they just saved their lives." Kal shook his head. "Probably just as well Urvashi's Federation didn't accept Earth."
To ease Diana, Kal went over his conversation with Urvashi. He surmised with, "It's probably best. Earth has a lot to deal with right now. We can always try again when Earth is really ready for it. Right now it's skittish dealing with anyone outside their planet."
"I know," Diana agreed though being part of the Federation would've been nice now. "Earth needs a moment to regroup and it's not just Earth. Wally has resigned from the Justice League. He's staying in Central City for the time being."
Kal was silent. He thought about Wally and what led to his decision. "It's not entirely his fault."
"Kal, he didn't know!"
"I know that. I wouldn't have treated him as the others have but I'll be a fool to not acknowledge he had a hand in what happened just like us. I blame myself more than Wally for what happened. Difference is I'm not ridden with guilt to leave like he is. Honestly, I'm surprised hasn't blamed you and me."
"Excuse me?" Diana was almost speechless. Where was this coming from?
"Sweetness, we did leave Earth at a critical time. I knew it was risky for us to leave when we did and you were too angry at your mother to think clearly. When you wanted to go, my lower head took over but I had some sense of reasoning left. That's why I left Krypto here and checked in with him when we were away. When I didn't check in, Krypto knew we were in trouble."
"So you were prepared and I wasn't." Kal was right and she didn't have an argument to counter his words. Diana sighed, "I guess I did make the right decision with the Justice League."
"I've given everyone personally affected by what happened six months leave. Some of them argued but I told them it was an order and not a request. There's so much tension among us now. In the meeting today, Oliver, Dinah and Bruce didn't want to be in the same room as Wally. Time apart will give everyone a chance to heal and refocus. The Green Lanterns will keep us abreast of what's going on in space and any threats to Earth. Oliver is off the roster for six months but he will be working with Bruce to rebuild a new Watchtower. Officially, the Justice League will meet at the Titan Tower monthly until the new Watchtower is built. We'll have a regular roster and go out when needed but unofficially the Justice League has been disbanded. Many of us won't be active unless there is a worldwide disaster or invasion."
Whoa. Kal didn't see that coming. A break could be good for the Justice League but for six months? At this time? "Is that safe?"
"I think now is as good as time as any and everyone will be on Earth."
That was true. Kal had no plans to leave Earth anytime soon. This decision to disband the Justice League suddenly had Kal thinking of his friendly rival. "I assume Bruce isn't taking a break."
Diana smiled, "Only if I broke his legs."
"What about you? Are you leaving for six months?"
"Any upheaval will bring more attention than needed with the public. I'll still be the face of the Justice League but J'onn will be running things behind the scenes."
Kal slipped his hand in hers. Diana's decision was shocking, risky but smart and ultimately what the Justice League needed now. It might work.
Forty Years Later
Something was wrong.
Kal had been very quiet for a month. He spoke when asked but at times his mind was elsewhere. Diana thought to give Kal time to come to her but after a month of waiting she decided it was time to approach him.
Kal was in his spaceship tinkering. Over the years, he would work on it from time to time but now it was becoming a daily hobby. Since giving up the mantle of Superman and run of his company to their son, Kairos Van-El Kent, Kal had more time on his hands. Most of the time he spent it with Diana and their family and other times he spent it with his friends on Earth, in space or his spaceship.
Diana found Kal in a lounge on his ship. He was watching an alien movie from a world he visited years ago. Diana went to Kal, wrapped her arms around his shoulders and dropped a kiss on his temple. Kal reach up, cupping a hand behind Diana's neck and pulling her closer for a long kiss on the lips.
"You've been here a lot lately," Diana said, slipping in a chair besides Kal's. "What's on your mind?"
"I've been on Earth for forty years, Diana."
Diana saw nothing wrong in that. "It's our home."
"Forty years is the longest I've been on any planet. We've made quite a life here, Diana. We've changed the world. We've raised four children together who are following in our crazy footsteps."
Kal sighed. His wife knew him so well. "Diana, I've always been on the move and while I've grown to love this planet, I love traveling to other planets, to other universes. There are so many galaxies out there."
Diana knew that. She's visited many with Kal and their children but she couldn't understand her husband's recent restlessness. "We've seen them."
"A few. We've made family vacations on other planets, weeklong getaways, but it was nothing permanent. We've traveled a lot but there's so much more out there, Diana."
If Kal wanted to travel again, then he would've mentioned it weeks ago. He never hesitated when he wanted to visit a planet in the past. There was more going on here. "What is it you want, Kal?"
Kal knew what he wanted. Always did but settling with a wife and kids, knew it wasn't about him anymore and his dreams and desires might not fit with his family's, especially Diana's. Now that Diana noticed he was struggling with something, he decided to not keep it a secret anymore. "There are so many unexplored planet and universes out there, Diana. I want to explore them with you."
Oh. No wonder he's been quiet. "This isn't another vacation. You're talking of living in space for months….maybe years."
Confliction. He could hear it in Diana's voice. "At the most years but not forever."
"What about Earth? It's been my home my whole life, yours for forty years. It's our children's home."
"I know but our children are adults. Kairos is thirty. Lara is twenty-seven and the twins Jonathan and Martha are twenty-four. They have lives of their own. We're not as needed in their lives anymore."
That was true. Both Kairos and Lara were on the Justice League roster and have led many missions. Jonathan and Martha helped out if needed but Jonathan spent most of his time on the Kent farm while Martha took part in many humanitarian missions as the Themysciran Ambassador.
"As for Earth," Kal went on, "well she has been taking care of herself for years now."
In the last ten years at least. Forty years ago, Lex Luthor convinced many in the world the Justice League wasn't needed; that humans should rely on themselves and their technology. For years, people supported Lex Luthor and built weapons they felt will protect them from any aliens. To avoid conflict, the Justice League built a space station that served as the new Watchtower and though relations were strained between the United States, the Justice League was approved to purchase Alcatraz and use it as a proper prison and rehabilitation facility for the Injustice League members they captured. The Justice League was rarely called on but helped when felt they were needed only to be turned away from citizens blindly following Lex Luthor's rhetoric towards the Justice League. Given the Injustice League was no more, the Justice League for the most part watched over their cities and reunited for monthly meetings. Some members permanently left to start families of their own.
It wasn't until ten years after Darkseid's attack, relations between the world and the Justice League changed. Mongul invaded Earth. Earth's governments still influenced by Lex Luthor, wanted to deal with Mongul on their own and spurned the Justice League's offer to help. The people of Earth soon found themselves overwhelmed by Mongul's forces and Lex Luthor killed by Mongul's hands. During this time, Kal had leadership duties of the Justice League and decided the Justice League will not act until Earth forces ran in defeat. Diana was not active on roster as she was pregnant but she was among many who argued with Kal on his decision. It almost ended their relationship but Kal's gamble paid off.
When Earth forces failed, the Justice League retaliated and won against Mongul. Relations between Earth and the Justice League became more civil and the relations eventually open to Earth's acceptance in the Federation of other planets that included Kal's friend Urvashi and Almerac. Earth open trade and their world with other planets. Some Earthlings, traveled and even colonized themselves on other planets like Urvashi's home world and in turn some of her people settled on Earth, sharing their culture and science.
As more time passed, a new generation of an Injustice League rose but always ran in defeat. Even though it has been more than two years since Kal and Diana took part in a mission, it's been longer since they've led one. That job fell onto their children and the next generation of the Justice League.
The last battle Kal and Diana took a major part in occurred six years ago when Vandal Savage unleashed his horrors on Earth. Kal and Kairos dealt with him permanently dropping the immortal being on
Pluto. While Diana wasn't supportive of the idea and thought a more humane way could've been done to handle Vandal, there were satellites surrounding the dwarf planet that kept close eyes on Vandal and his activities.
With sciences of other worlds, humans were living longer, more people were surviving cancer, heart diseases and fighting off the first stages of dementia. The life expectancy of humans were no longer seventy but eighty-five with more people living to one hundred. It was slowly becoming common for people to live to one hundred and fifteen with their sharp mind and mobile body intact.
"So," Diana had a clear understanding of what Kal wanted. "You've been spending your time here, modifying the ship and planning to leave Earth."
"Not alone. I want you to come with me, Diana. Earth is home but it's not home for me like it is to you. I guess for me, home is space and I want to share it with you like you've shared Earth with me all these years."
"Why not, Mother? It sounds like a wonderful opportunity." Lara sat across from her mother as they enjoyed lunch at an established restaurant in New York City. It amazed many Wonder Woman had an adult child and had not aged a day since she arrived in the world. Instead of mother and daughter, the two looked like sisters hanging out at a trendy restaurant with many patrons trying to get their attention. Even though the world knew of Diana's relationship with Superman, it didn't stop bold males from making passes at her. "Don't you think it's time you and Father retire?"
"Father has stepped down as leader of the Justice League after you shoehorned him into that position years ago. You've passed the mantle of Wonder Woman to me. Martha is Ambassador to Themyscira. You're only Princess of Themyscira now."
That was true. Years ago, Diana thought it was best she spent more time on Themyscira as the heir to the throne. With her daughters proving themselves, Diana passed the mantle of Wonder Woman and Themysciran Ambassador to them and divided her time on Themyscira with her mother and sisters and the Fortress with Kal.
"You've done so much for this world. You and Father have. Why not retire and enjoy each other? Be selfish and do what you want."
"Last time I was selfish, we lost the Watchtower, many members of the Justice League died and Darkseid invaded Earth leading to Washington, D.C. being decimated, many people dying including the U.S. President."
"Mother, that was forty years ago. You have to stop feeling guilty for what happened. Besides, the world didn't have Kairos, Jonathan, Martha or me."
"That arrogance." Diana shook her head amused. "You are most certainly your father's daughter."
Lara smiled with pride. "I'm honored by that comment. So, will you do it?"
"Your father's desire to leave Earth came out of nowhere."
"Do you really think that, Mother?" Lara couldn't believe her mother missed the signs she and her siblings picked up a while ago. "You hadn't noticed a change in Father?"
Diana did but she didn't give it much thought until now. "You mean when the Kents died." Jonathan died two years ago at eighty-eight and Martha six months afterwards. It wasn't cancer or anything Kal could cure. It was Jonathan's time and he lived a long and fulfilling life on Earth and in space when he traveled with Kal's family. As for Martha, there is no cure for a broken heart.
"After Grandpa and Grandma Kent died, Father started making changes." Kal stepped down as head of the Justice League, passing the title to Kairos with the senior members acting as advisors to the young man.
"Your Father did start spending more time at the Fortress," Diana casually remarked.
"And gave Jonathan, Grandpa's farm," Lara added.
Diana knew that, too. "I assume he was making necessary changes. Kairos has been more than ready to be Superman and Jonathan loves the Kent Farm as much as his namesake. Kal didn't grow up here so he doesn't have as strong connection to Earth as I. Earth is my home, Lara, but more importantly I'm heir to the throne on Themyscira. I can't leave Earth for years at a time."
"Grandmother will live forever," Lara was confident of that. "And I'm sure if Grandmother did die, Father will bring you back home to rule Themyscira. If you want, you can abdicate the throne to me. You and grandmother have been grooming me since I was born."
Diana frowned at the insinuation. "You're not ready to lead a nation, Daughter, and I will not shirk my responsibilities as Princess of Themyscira."
Lara grinned. Her mother was so serious at times. She sometimes missed what was in front of her. "I think until that time comes for you to rule Themyscira, Father wants to spend time with you. He knows you will be Queen one day and when you are, you won't be able to leave Themyscira as you do now. He won't leave you but until then, he wants to travel the universes with you."
Lara certainly inherited Diana's wisdom. Diana was full of pride for her eldest daughter. "You are very wise."
"I am your daughter." Lara could feel the reluctance from her mother. She gently told her, "Kairos, the twins and I will look out for each other and Earth. Go with Father. Don't you want to?"
"You know I'll go anywhere with your Father but leaving Earth is a big deal. We'll be gone for months, maybe several years."
"And we'll be here when you come back," Lara assured her. "I know how protective Father is of Earth and Father wouldn't leave Earth if he didn't think Kairos, Jonathan, Martha and I were capable of handling Earth in his absence."
Diana knew her daughter was right. Kal wouldn't leave if he thought their children couldn't handle Earth on their own but could she really leave Earth?
"I agree with Lara. What's holding you back?"
Diana gazed at her sister across the couch the two sat on. "Why am I not surprised you would be for this?"
Donna smirked, "Because I'm your sister and I know what's best for you. If Wally was still alive and we got this opportunity, we'd go for it."
Wally was a sore spot for Donna. Wally lost his life in Vandal Savage's last attempt to rule the world. He was forgiven and welcome back into the Justice League family within the first ten years of the Justice League's sabbatical but Wally still carried the guilt the rest of his life and used it to be a power member of the team and a mentor to all the new members.
"Is it Mother?" Donna asked. "Do you think she will forbid you?"
Diana sighed. Her mother's reaction was part of the reason but not solely. Diana rose from the plush couch. "Mother hasn't forbidden me from anything for years and even if she did, she knows that wouldn't work on me." She walked to the window and gazed at the entertainment in the large backyard. Donna's son was chasing his three year old daughter. "I'll miss so much."
Donna joined her sister, her eyes softening at her son and granddaughter in the backyard. "There will be things you will miss but you will regret not going even more."
Bruce Wayne sat on expensive soft carpet playing with his twin grandchildren Adam and Julie. It was one of many images Diana had hope she'd see of her oldest friend. Even with Gotham cleaned up to where it didn't need Batman, Bruce Wayne had an active life. He and Zatanna dated for a time until a split sent him into retired Catwoman Selina Kyle's arms that produced a son, Christian, who was living up to his father's once renowned playboy reputation. At thirty-five Christian Wayne had yet to settle down with a child. It didn't matter if the oldest Wayne child ever produced a grandchild for Bruce. He already had two with a third on the way. After his relationship with Selina ended, Bruce and Zatanna found their way back to each other. That union produced a marriage and daughter, Anne Wayne. While Anne was a free spirit in some ways, she wasn't as wild and adventurous as her half-brother Christian. Unlike Christian, Anne had settled down, marrying a civilian from Urvashi's home world. The union produced grandchildren Adam and Julie and a third growing in Anne's body.
Seeing Bruce Wayne play with his grandchildren, one would not think he was the famed Batman who last streaked the night skies of Gotham thirty years ago.
"Diana," Bruce rose from the carpet. He kissed Diana's cheek. "What brings you here?"
Diana greeted Adam and Julie with hugs and kisses and a bag of toys for them. Bruce moved from the floor to the sofa with Diana sitting beside him. The twins returned to the floor exploring their new gifts.
"I came to visit a friend. Where are Zatanna and Anne?"
"Shopping in London."
"Alone?" Diana highly doubted that. "Jorlan went with them, didn't he?"
"He is Anne's husband," Bruce reminded Diana.
"He's from Urvashi's world and he's very protective of his wife and children."
"Another reason I think he's a good son-in-law for my daughter."
Diana laughed. "You didn't think so when you learned Jorlan was from a nymph world. You thought he would turn your daughter into a…." she paused seeing children present… "a loving maniac or add her to his harem." Diana shook her head amused. "Harem. That scientist?"
Bruce saw no fault in his reasoning. "He's a nymph. It's expected. You would think the same if Lara or Martha date one."
"Don't think they haven't tried, Bruce, but with Kal as their father, it hasn't been happening." Of course if she and Kal left, Diana knew her daughters will take the opportunity to pursue a relationship with one of the nymph people. "So they left you to watch the twins by yourself?"
Bruce was amused and not insulted at Diana's surprise at him babysitting. "Diana, I was Batman. Watching my grandchildren is a piece of cake."
"I'm happy for you, Bruce. I'm happy you have found peace in yourself to move on and have children, be a father and grandfather."
Bruce stared at his grandchildren. They were showing each other the new toys they received from Diana. His heart swell of the happiness on his grandchildren faces. "I hate to admit it but I wouldn't have this life if it wasn't for Kal. Him disabling the Joker, taking down the Injustice League, helped created the life I have now. It helped me find peace. I will never forget my parents murder, Diana, but it's no longer at a point where I can't move on and have a life of my own. Being Batman isn't something my parents would want for me. I know it wasn't what Alfred wanted. They'd want me doing this; playing on the floor with my grandchildren, proud of how my own children have turned out."
"So you don't miss being Batman?"
Bruce exhaled. Sadness weren't in his eyes for the life he used to lead. He had a face of a man at peace. "For a while. Those last five years I was Batman, I was going through the motions. There weren't any Jokers or Penguins. Gotham didn't need Batman and I didn't want to admit that but when Christian arrived on my doorstep at five, I had a purpose. It was time to hang up being Batman and be a father to my son."
"It's been years since I've hung up the suit but it doesn't mean I still don't think like a detective." Bruce was looking at Diana now. His eyes swept over hers suspiciously. "What's on your mind, Diana?"
Always a detective to the end. Diana didn't expect less from Bruce. "I've come to a decision and I wanted to tell you before you hear it through the grapevine. I'm leaving Earth."
Diana can count on her hand the number of times Bruce has been surprised. Her reveal brought her closer to five. "What?"
"Kal wants me to travel the universes with him," Diana explained. "While he's happy of the life he's made here, he's ready to move on to the next adventure. He wants me to come along and I am."
"Is that what this visit is about? You're saying goodbye forever?"
Bruce was never one to hold back. Diana knew he would understand the meaning of her visit when she told him. "Not forever but there isn't a timetable for our return, Bruce. We will be gone from Earth for months, maybe even years. We'll keep in contact but we'll be off world for a while and though I am practically immortal, I am at a point in my life where I am saying goodbye to my friends." Diana suddenly became silent. Two years ago, Dinah buried Oliver Queen. Julie died seven years ago. Everyone who was there for Diana at the start of her Embassy were gone. "I want to see my friends before I leave if when I return you're not here."
Bruce smiled touched. The news of Diana's departure was shocking but he understood. He placed his older weathered hand over Diana's eternally youthful hand. "The Earth is in safe hands with your children and the next generation of the Justice League. If you're not back when I pass, know I'm happy at the end and I leave with no regrets."
Diana embraced Bruce. They hugged but somehow they both knew when she returned, Bruce will be here.
Diana knew telling her mother of her decision would not be an easy one. Diana was the heir. Leaving Themyscira periods of time was one thing but now she was leaving Earth for possibly years. When announcing the news to their children, they were excited for their parents. Diana knew her mother wouldn't share the same joy as her children.
Mother and daughter sat on the divan on the balcony of Hippolyta's apartment. While Hippolyta was always pleased to see her daughter, she had a feeling this wasn't a jovial visit. "Judging by your expression, it isn't good news."
"I'm pleased with my decision but I don't think you will like it."
"It's not another grandchild because I would love that." Hippolyta prepared herself. "This involves your husband I'm sure."
"Yes, it does." Diana inhaled and exhaled slowly. Get it over with and prepare yourself for a fight, Diana told herself. "Mother, Kal and I have decided to leave the Earth. It's not a vacation. It's a new adventure," she said with a smile. "We are going to explore different worlds, different universes. We'll keep in contact but it'll be months or years before we return."
Hippolyta silently took this news in. Diana tried to read her mother's expression but there was none. Her mother had cleverly hidden any facial or body reaction from her. Three long minutes passed before the Queen of Themyscira spoke, "I know this wasn't your idea."
"It's Kal's but I want to go with him. I have not forgotten my duty as princess. If there should come a time I become Queen of Themyscira, I will fulfill that role but until then, I would like to take this time I have and travel with Kal."
Hippolyta drummed her fingers on the divan's cushions. "I should abdicate the throne so you stay."
Hippolyta raised her hand. "But I won't. I made a mistake interfering in your life and I almost lost you. I won't do that again. If something happens to me, I know you will return to take your place as queen. However, I want it to be your choice and not some duty you think you must fulfill."
"It took me many years and mistakes to realize I can't plan your life for you, Diana. Yes, I have my own ideas and dreams for you but they are mine and not yours. If being queen is not what you wish to do, you can abdicate the throne to Lara or Martha. I won't hate you and I won't be disappointed in you. I want it to be your choice."
Diana was touched by her mother's words. She had changed over the years. While her mother came around to accept Kal, Diana think it was the birth of Kairos that softened her mother's tough exterior and until Lara's birth had even contemplated naming Kairos as heir after Diana. "It is, Mother. I want to be queen. It is my duty as your daughter but also as Princess of Themyscira. I owe it to you, my people and myself to be Queen. If you're concerned about Kal, he knows that, he understands and supports it. It's why he wants us to go on this journey now. This opportunity to travel will not happen when I'm Queen."
A sly smile curved her face as she thought of her son-in-law. "Nice to know you have your priorities in order. Now where is the one who plans to take you from me for years at a time? Was he afraid to come with you in fear I would castrate him?"
Kal is off world. He's visiting someone."
Hippolyta gauge her daughter. Something about her tone. "You don't seem please. Who is he seeing?"
"So you're finally getting off that planet." Lobo swallowed his drink. "I thought you were stuck on Earth for good with the missus and kids."
"I was never stuck, Lobo. I was happily raising my kids with my wife. My kids are grown and they have their own lives. Now I'm beginning a new chapter with my wife."
Lobo finished his drink and ordered another. He laughed, "I still can't believe you played hero all these years. Now your own kids are doing it." Lobo thought back to his last visit to Kal's children. They were children; his girls hadn't developed their shapes yet but now… "Your daughters are still unattached, eh?"
Kal's eyes glowed red. "Flirt with my daughters and I'll kick your sorry zhuuthole after they finish kicking yours."
Kal didn't believe him. He knew Lobo long enough to know he'd flirt and pursue his daughters if given the chance. "Speaking of kids, how are yours? Are you in contact with them? Do you have anymore?" Last Kal knew, Lobo had five with three different women and he wasn't in close contact with them. "You blew it with Maxima."
"Nah. She got too serious after Darkseid attacked her planet all those years ago. She married one of her own. Got a kid, too. Her daughter is sexy as hell. Of course I'm not allowed to go near her." Lobo shook his head. "You both lost your sense of humor since you settled down. Me?" He raised his glass. "I'm living the good life."
The good life. While Lobo thought his bounty hunting, hookups, blowing up and destroying what he pleased for fun or a job a good life, Kal thought his life was pretty good, too. He married Diana. They had four adult children they were proud of, more friends he ever thought possible, and a good loyal dog. It was all he needed.
Lobo swallowed a mouthful of his drink and promptly spat it out. "What the frag is this?!" He grabbed the bartender's shirt and yank him over the bar. "Why you frag my drink?"
The bartender pointed to an approaching woman. "She told me to give it to you."
"She?" Lobo dropped the bartender. Looking at Kal who could see the woman, Lobo asked, "Is she hot?" Kal nodded. Lobo fixed his shirt and jacket and prepared himself to face a beautiful woman. He turned, his smile dropping immediately when he recognized the woman.
She was beautiful Kal noted as he drunk his beer. Beautiful and pregnant. Judging how quickly Lobo ran out the bar, Kal suspected Lobo and the woman who was chasing after him knew each other very well. Kal was going to follow after his friend but the heartbeat he was waiting to hear finally touched his ears.
Kal left his seat and followed the sound of the heartbeat as it went into a private room upstairs. The private bouncer knew to expect Kal so he stepped aside so Kal could enter the private room, he's entered every ten years.
The heartbeat, Steppenwolf sat on the lounge watching the female entertainment dance before him.
Kal sat on the end of the lounge and helped himself to a drink, "We have to agree to stop seeing each other."
Steppenwolf sipped his drink as he watched the show. "You keep showing up here every ten years. This is my one night to get away from it all."
A woman approached Kal wanting to give him a show. He shook his head waving her away. "The first time was a coincidence. I merely came to meet up with an old friend. I never expected to cross paths with you again."
"Same here." Steppenwolf held his empty drink up as a servant refilled it.
"So….how's your nephew?"
"The same place he's been the last forty years."
That was good to know. He didn't like these meetings but knew it was necessary to be aware of Apokolips activity. "Rumor has it you have an heir."
Steppenwolf lowered his glass from his lips. "So? Rumor has it you've sired four children with the Amazon."
It wasn't surprising Steppenwolf kept tabs on him, too. "Just make sure you train your heir Earth and all the planets within it's Federation are off limits or you'll cross path with me and my heirs."
Steppenwolf taunted Kal, "As ruler of Apokolips, it's my responsibility to spread fear however and wherever I see fit."
Acting tough, Kal thought. He heard the quicken beats of Steppenwolf's heart. "I don't care what you do in your dimension but it does concern me you've gone outside that. I'm not going to interfere in your dealings but any planet that goes under my Federation that you want to conquer will be my concern."
"Then it's pleasing to me it's not your sole decision on which planet goes under your Federation. There are other planets and leaders who must agree as well." Steppenwolf talked big and like Kal has kept an eye on what he's been doing. He knew about Earth joining the Federation and how it put a hindrance on his plans for expansion in certain territories. If it was only Kal, Steppenwolf would take the chance for war but unfortunately he had four strong and capable children. Steppenwolf chances didn't look good but he would never let Kal know that. "You shouldn't worry. I've no plans to expand."
Kal finished his drink. He rose from his seat. That was all he wanted to hear. Steppenwolf couldn't be trusted but he was a man of his word. If he wasn't going to expand his operations near Kal, he wouldn't. At least for now.
"Same time in ten years?" Steppenwolf asked.
"Yeah, but I'll bring an heir next time."
"So shall I," Steppenwolf finished.
A farewell party was thrown for Kal and Diana by their children. The Justice League young and old, current and retired attended with their families. For the retired and even older members they knew this was possibly a goodbye from their oldest friends. The party lasted from early afternoon to well into the night and hours of the early morning as stories were shared by many of Kal and Diana's first meeting to the Kal and Diana working together in the Justice League. Some stories were funny, some were embarrassing but all full of love for their friends.
The morning of the departure Diana walked through her new home for the next several years. The ship was packed and well stocked with food, supplies and weapons. Her children weren't coming with her this time but Diana could feel their presence. Everywhere she went, Diana recalled memories of her children in the ship. She recalled Jonathan and Martha riding on Krypto down this hall. Kairos flew for the first time in this ship. Lara forged her first sword.
Diana entered the cockpit. From the window, she could see her children outside. After a family dinner last night, the children stayed over as they wanted to see their parents off. When they saw their mother, they waved. Diana returned the wave. They said their goodbyes last night during their family dinner and this morning before she, Kal and Krypto entered the ship. Diana was happy for this trip but she knew she was going to miss her children dearly.
"We're ready to go," Kal said coming into the cockpit. Krypto followed on Kal's heels before settling in his doggie bed. Kal wrapped his arms around Diana, holding her close as they smiled at their children.
When Diana said yes, Kal was a little surprise. He knew Diana loved Earth and harbored guilt over what happened forty years ago. Things were much better now but he wasn't sure Diana would want to leave. She made her decision in two days and though Diana was very enthused about this journey, Kal wondered if she really wanted to do this and only said yes to please him.
He had to know.
"Diana, if you don't want to do this, I'll understand." Diana's body stilled in his arms. "Don't do this to make me happy. I want to do this for us and I want you to feel the same way."
Diana turned around in his arms. Hers locked around his neck while Kal kept his arms at her waist. Diana gaze at Kal amused. "After all these years, do you really see me doing this to only make you happy? You think I'm not doing this for us and I that I want to do this?"
Kal thought for a moment and chuckled. "I guess I did forget the type of woman I married. Forgive me for my foolishness."
Diana kissed Kal. "Well, you weren't completely wrong. I was initially reluctant to do this but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. When I left Themyscira for the first time, I was excited and nervous about the people I will meet, the things I will experience, the challenges I will face. I didn't realize until you brought up this idea, I was restless myself. I fell into a routine. I passed my mantles of Wonder Woman and ambassador to our daughters. Presented with this opportunity to travel to different planets and different universes is exciting. It brings me back to where I was when I left Themyscira. I hadn't felt this type of excitement in a long time and I can't wait to experience this adventure with you."
Kal was glad to hear that but he couldn't help asking, "So you're not worried about leaving Earth?"
"I think I'll always worry but Earth is in good hands with our children and the Justice League. This is the best time for us to do this. So," she smiled, "let's go."
Kal slipped in his pilot seat while Diana settled in the co-pilot seat. Flipping switches, the engines of his ship came to life. He settled in his seat as the ship warmed up. Outside, Kal could see his children seeing him and Diana off proudly. Amazing how a simple meeting changed his life forever. Kal hated Darkseid with everything in him but he will always be grateful for that first meeting with him since that put him on the path to Diana. He couldn't imagine his life without her or doing this with any other woman.
With the ship ready to go, Kal looked over at Diana. "Ready?"
Diana placed a hand over Kal's. She was ready for this moment the day she set eyes on him. "Ready."