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the labour of our love

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Years and years later, Bruce will ask Diana with clear hesitance in his voice, what she remembers of that day. And here is what she will respond with, voice carefully wiped of all emotion because after all this time, she must make sure her heart is surrounded by a steel trap, never to be breached again by eyes as blue as the ocean.

 

That she remembers three things.

 

(a)  The metal encasing her body like an enclosure, caging her like a beast. The horses on Themyscira were free and wild, tamed only to submit to the will of the Amazonians and nothing else and in that moment, Diana is not a horse but a trapped insect, trampled beneath the boot of a larger being, a larger terror(Ares).

 

(b) The fire in her blood. It’s the ferocity in her anger that runs through her Amazonian and God-like veins that stays with her for years and years and reminds her that she is not of mankind but of the beings that reside in heaven and hell. It’s waiting to burst out, a coiled, living, angry thing. It’s been waiting to burst out ever since Ares had dumped on her the realization that mankind was not the inherently good, kind and loving creatures her mother had her believe in that little cot back in Themyscira.

 

(c)  The plane that her Steve was in, exploding into flames like a huge angry supernova, orange juxtaposed against the black of the night sky rather like an abstract painting. The scream torn from her throat rakes at her insides and shoots up straight into her own skull, scratching at the insides of it with clawed fingers but for all the pain that it deals it does nothing to take away the sight of the angry explosion in the sky- the casualty of war that was never meant to be, the direct result of mankind’s cruelty.

 

Bruce’s face, when she answers with this, will twist with something that is a strange mix between sorrow and sympathy. He is no stranger to loss, being a weathered, war-torn man himself and so he knows better than to display the pity he is probably feeling for her inside of him and for this, Diana is thankful. When he opens and closes his mouth, clearly not knowing what to say, Diana clears her throat and turns back to the ever vexing matter of getting Arthur Curry to join the Justice League, closing the lid on the box of emotions that is Steve Trevor.

 

*

 

Steve’s body was never recovered. With the explosion he and the plane erupted into bits of grey ashes that gently floated down to the ground like wisps of snow. They bury an empty casket, the flag of the States folded on top as though that flag alone can encapsulate all that was Steve.

 

Etta is pale during the whole funeral. Her cheeks are streaked with tears that shine like a beacon in the sunlight, a reminder that like Diana, Etta has lost as well. Sameer lowers his hat and closes his eyes, his actor’s face momentarily so unrestrained in a portrait of abject grief that Diana has to look away, biting the inside of her own cheek. Chief is stoic, but his hands clench into white knuckled fists and Charlie’s face is just- blank, robbed of all expression like a clear, blank slate. Steve’s commanding officer goes up on the podium and reads out a speech that sympathetically but clinically and emotionlessly outlines each of Steve’s traits as a captain and spy working for British Intelligence in stark detail and that’s when Diana breaks, getting up from her chair and abruptly leaving. None of the men follow her and Etta simply gives her an understanding nod. The commanding officer drones on.

 

Years and years later, she’ll stand beside Bruce and look at the grave of the Man of Steel, the rumoured god who once lived amongst mankind, who gave his life for the very species that did their best to utterly desecrate his, and say, “They don’t know how to honour him- except as a soldier.”

 

Because it is the truth- that martyrs who die in the heat of battle go down in the footnote of history not as living, breathing people with dreams and hopes and wishes but as soldiers who peaked at the height of patriotism.

 

*

 

Years and years later, Diana will become embroiled in a conflict between man and god. She will roll her eyes and try to stay the hell out of the way because now she knows better than to meddle with the sensitivities of men- their delicate egos are simply too fragile for an Amazonian warrior like her to handle. It will all change, however, when she rifles through her belongings and finds the second last vestige of Steve missing from her suitcase and her heart will skyrocket through the roof. She will set a course for metropolis to take back what was hers but on the way ends up protecting a man who dresses up as a creature of the night and witnessing the death of a god at the hands of a monster.

 

Superman dies, his eyes staring sightlessly up at the sky. Lois Lane collapses over his body, a heap of tears and sorrow as she whispers his name. Diana, princess of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, looks up at the sky and thinks of Steve, of a bright supernova lighting up amongst the clouds, and of not even getting to hold him in her arms before he decided to sacrifice himself for the sake of her.

 

Bruce begs her to help him start the justice league. “Men are still good,” he says, eyes dark but alight with a renewed purpose that wasn’t there at that exhibition. They both stare at the gravestone of Clark Kent, normal human reporter who just got himself caught in the crossfire of the Doomsday battle, poor soul.

 

Diana thinks of Steve, of his too-bright blue eyes and his smile, of his flustered red cheeks and of his determined glint, of his funeral and the bland commanding officer stepping on the podium to give and impersonal eulogy for a man who deserved much better, and decides that maybe, Bruce has a point in starting on this foolhardy mission to create a team of superheroes.

 

Two years later, the man of steel descends from the heavens themselves like an avenging angel and manages to swing the fight against the mother boxes towards their side. Bruce’s face is twisted in a mosaic of shock, guilt and gratitude while Arthur’s jaw drops and Barry and Victor heave out simultaneous sighs of relief. Two weeks later at a celebratory party in the Kent house, Diana is equal parts thankful, and resentful.

 

Why should a god be allowed to return, when a man is prevented from doing so? Kal Zor-El and Steve Trevor both gave their lives for the continued survival of mankind, and for the women they were in love with. Why should Kal be allowed to descend from the heavens, but Steve be forever out of Diana’s reach?

 

I wish we had more time, says Steve a lifetime ago, an entrancing lullaby whispered into her ears as his hands fall away from hers forever.

 

Clark Kent holds a glass of champagne and laughing, presses a kiss to a beaming Lois Lane’s mouth.

 

Diana swallows, and turns away.

 

*

 

Years and years later, Diana becomes a superhero in her own right. She helps Bruce lead the Justice League, she helps put criminals behind bars, she helps maintain a façade of order in a chaotic world- something she swore off on after the second world war, when she realized mankind could be heinously persistent when focused on something and when that something was digging their own grave, Diana would be unable to do anything about it but watch, helplessly. She gets called a name- “Wonder Woman” is what the Daily Planet dubs her when she relocates to Metropolis from Paris. The article is full of a certain awe that reeks of misogyny, extolling on how rare it is to see female metas handle the mantle of guarding the world from the forces of evil. When heading into her office, Diana throws the newspaper into the trash.

 

The phone rings, and Diana picks up. It’s Clark, and he’s profusely apologizing for the article, saying he’s pulling whatever strings he can to get the article revoked but he’s just returned from the dead so Perry White’s still suspicious and Jenny refuses to do anything but tear up in his presence, it’s really annoying, but he’ll get it done with Lois’s help, he swears-

 

“It’s okay, Clark,” Diana sighs, cutting in. “I don’t care what they have to say about me.” The only man, she neglects to mention, whose opinion she actually cared about, is long dead.

 

There’s a silence. Diana thinks about what she just said, and grimaces- she really is bad at social cues. She may have steel armour around her heart and her head that makes her just sniff at puff pieces about the audacity of a woman fighting to defend a world of men, but Clark has always been soft at heart and after that fiasco with Luthor and Doomsday, even more so. Diana considers saying something- but what can she say, really, that Clark doesn’t already know?

 

“Anyway,” Clark coughs, to perhaps cover up the suddenly tense air between them present over a phone line, “I didn’t only call for the article- I called because Lois wants you and Bruce to meet the league’s new government liaison. He’s a Lieutenant, works under Lieutenant General Swanwick. I’ve met him- he’s smart, knows a hell of a lot about the first world war.”

 

“Hm,” Diana says. “We’ll be there.”

 

“You’ll like him,” Clark says, eager as a puppy. “He’s respectful as hell.”

 

It’s only after the line is cut that Diana thinks to ask for his name.

 

*

 

Every year, Diana makes it a habit to visit Steve’s grave. It’s in a cemetery in America and she books one expensive flight each year specifically to lay flowers down on the brown dirt that surrounds the pale granite stone. It’s a testament to the weather that the words are faded now, but she can still faintly read what they say-

 

Captain Steve Trevor

1886-1918

It’s about what we choose to believe in

 

Every year, Diana will lay a bouquet of flowers on the dirt. 1936 was roses. 1940 was periwinkles. 1956 was begonias. Every year, she will kneel on her knees and stare at Steve’s name and think, we could have had more time. Every year, she will let a few tears slip from her eyes and fall on the dirt and think, Steve, my darling, why?

 

Of course, every year she knows the inevitable answer- that Steve believed so much in her that he was willing to stake his own life on it- and he did exactly that.

 

She’s forgotten the number of ways she’s played the scenario in her head- in one, she stops Steve, kisses him and then knocks him out with one punch, goes into the plane herself and after shooting out the gas canisters, jumps down from the plane with flames still licking at her skin. In another, the lightning redirection from her bracelets kills Ares a whole lot faster and she jumps on the plane, witnesses Steve shoo out the gas canisters, snatches him from his seat at the very last second and shields the flames with her body. In yet another, someone else gets on the plane first before Steve so she kills Ares, launches herself off a building and jumping on the plane, cuts the engines so that the plane spirals and crashes, Steve perfectly safe behind sheltered debris.

 

Once, Barry Allen tells her the possibilities of multiple alternate universes. He’s a scientist at heart and so inevitably, he gets very passionate about sharing his work with others. “In one, my mother may still be alive,” he tells her, rueful grin morphing his face into something sad. “In another, I may be evil. In another, Bruce may actually be happy.”

 

Maybe these scenarios played out in those universes. Maybe in another universe, she had a child with Steve- she likes to imagine a tiny girl with blue eyes impossibly bright like Steve’s and brown hair cascading like a fountain, with her mother’s chin and her own nose. Maybe in another universe, Steve lived and they got married and they got to do the things people do when a war is not going on- the things Diana never got to do with Steve. Maybe in another universe, the only remnant of a man Diana is left with, the only remnant of a man Diana loved fiercely with all her heart, is not a faded photograph and a broken watch forever stuck at 9:05pm.

 

But this isn’t another universe. This is the here and the now, and in the here and in the now- Steve is dead.

 

*

 

Diana and Bruce arrive together. The last government liaison assigned by Swanwick that Lois introduced them to ended up fleeing because of the sheer intimidating presence Bruce as Batman had, so this time round Clark has expressly forbidden Bruce and Diana from turning up in full battle armour. It’s a restriction that annoys Bruce to no end, but all Clark has to do is give Bruce a pointed look and place a hand on his own cheek and it shuts Bruce up. Diana always has to bite her own cheek to keep from laughing when that happens.

 

Diana pushes open the door, Bruce a sullen presence beside her. Voices waft in from the kitchen- Clark’s laughter is belly deep while Lois says, a trace of indignation in her voice, “Oh, shut up, I never did that!”

 

“She did, I shit you not- stormed right up to Swanwick and demanded to be respected-”

 

Diana’s heart stops. It’s a voice she’s heard in her sleep and in her head for more than a century- a voice that she’d never dreamt to hear again. Low, but musical-

 

It is impossible.

 

“What is impossible?” Bruce asks, frowning. He must have seen Diana pale, for he already has a batarang in his hand regardless of the fact that he’s in his Bruce Wayne suit. If Diana had been feeling herself , she would have knocked it out of his hands by now.

 

She isn’t feeling like herself, though- no one would, if they’d heard a ghost.

 

Clark comes in from the kitchen. Diana’s heart doesn’t restart again- it flounders, like a bird whose wings have been caught in a cage. Behind Clark arrives Lois and a man clad in a simple black shirt and jeans, hair and skin golden like the sand on Themyscira and eyes as blue as the ocean there.

 

“Well, you took your time getting in,” Clark snorts. “This is Lieutenant Steve Trevor- he’ll be our government liaison from now on.” He levels a fairly impressive glare at Bruce, asking him to behave through his eyes.

 

Diana would normally find Clark’s micro-managing funny. Diana, however, cannot breathe and instead, just stares at Steve’s face. Steve, who looks even more beautiful than she can remember. Steve, blissfully alive and blissfully healthy, Steve who is somehow here, in front of Diana in this modern day and age-

 

There’s a faint hint of confusion and shock in Steve’s eyes but he holds out his hand nevertheless, clasping Diana’s hand with his. His skin and voice is warm as he says, “Pleased to meet you, I’m assuming you’re Diana Prince.”

 

“Yes,” Diana croaks. Lois shoots her a wary, concerned glance and Clark, for the first time, notices that something is amiss. Bruce has stowed his batarang inside his jacket but tights his grip on it, eyes narrowing. “I am Diana- Steve.”

 

Maybe it is a happy coincidence- but as Diana says his name, his fingers brush against her watch- the watch that he left in her hands that day- and there’s an abrupt flash of lightning, as well as thunder. Diana’s heart skips a beat and she thinks, in her head, Zeus.

 

Several things happen at once:

 

Clark spins around, looking for a rogue criminal, eyes alert and sharp as he pushes Lois behind him-

 

Bruce takes out the batarang and prepares to throw it at Steve, snarling, “Get away from her, you’re harming her-”

 

Lois shrieks, a startled sound of confusion and fear because who wouldn’t be scared of a sudden flash of lightning and thunder-

 

Steve’s eyes widen in sudden sharp clarity and the name Diana falls from his lips rather like absolution and it feels a lot like coming home-

 

And finally, Diana opens her mouth on a sob and lunges forward, grasping Steve and burying her head in the warm space between his jaw and shoulder, breathing in his woodsy scent and thinking, finally.

 

*

 

Years and years later, Diana will almost gain back all she lost during the day of the battle with Ares. She will not think to question it but will simply accept because after that flash of lightning, she knows that somehow this is her father’s doing and she must have pleased him somehow, having protected his creations from Doomsday and the motherboxes and Steppenwolf and what have you. Her heart will beat frantically to the rhythm of Steve, Steve, Steve, after it had beat for so long to the rhythm of live, live, live, let his sacrifice not be in vain.

 

Right now, Steve lies on his side facing her, naked as that day in the Amazonian pools and in the room above the pub in that village in Germany, hair a mess over his closed eyes as he traces idle shapes over her right shoulder blade. Their legs are entangled- twisted up in the sheets after a bout of fierce lovemaking that had made her, a hardened demigoddess warrior, blush just thinking about it.

 

“I didn’t- I didn’t want to die,” Steve says suddenly into the air between them, heavy with the weight of their love built up from over a century. “I wanted to show you the world. Take you dancing, bring you to meet my mum, visit landmarks all over the world.”

 

Diana’s heart breaks for him all over again. For herself, too- for all the lost chances they had.

 

“But I had to die,” Steve says, opening his eyes, and staring at her earnestly, desperately. “You get that, don’t you?’

 

For nearly every day after that battle Diana had turned over, dissected and analysed one of Steve’s last words to her- “I can save today, but you can save the world.” She has dug into the core of that sentence, tried to find its meaning and so now she knows what he’s about to say. Instead of answering, she leans over and brushes a kiss over his brow.

 

“The world,” Steve continues, gazing at her with a sort of rueful sadness that tugs at Diana, “needed you more than it needed me.”

 

“I needed you, Steve,” Diana says softly, tracing the ridges of his right cheekbone with her fingertips.

 

Steve’s gaze is still sad. “I know,” he whispers, hand brushing over her hair, smoothing down the tangles.

 

He doesn’t need to say what she already knows- that it wasn’t enough. That the world will always come first. That Diana has a duty, now, had taken on an obligation from the second she climbed that tower in Themyscira- and Steve? Steve comes second to that, will always come second to that.

 

It's a truth of this universe that has lodged itself painfully beneath Diana’s gut- that their love could have saved either Steve or the world that day and Steve made the choice before Diana could. Maybe in another universe, this isn’t the case- but in this one, lying on their bed and drowning in Steve’s eyes, Diana knows in a heartbeat that when it comes down to it- Steve will make that choice again, and Diana will let him. And Diana will grieve, again, for the one man in the world who understood her inside out.

 

Then again, Diana thinks, this isn’t the future, when that happens. This is the here, and the now, and in the here and in the now, Steve is alive.

 

She traces the shape of his lips, and leans in to kiss him.

 

*

 

Diana is still sobbing when Clark and Bruce lead them both to a sofa, departing from the room with Clark forcefully leading a questioning Bruce away and preventing Lois from asking anything with a well-pointed look. “How, how-”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve says, as Diana crawls into his lap, cradles his face with her hands. His eyes are bluer than she remembers and his face fits perfectly in the seat of her palms, his tears wetting them. “Just- I was born with these memories but I always dissed them as dreams because Ares and Zeus and an island called Themyscira full of strong female warriors? Thought I was dropped on my head as a kid-”

 

Her cynical Steve. She presses a kiss to his forehead as he breathes in her scent. Her right palm drops to the side of his neck where a familiar pulse beats frantically to a rhythm she recognizes and remembers- that day, in the room above the pub in a tiny village called Veld, a slice of her own paradise before it all went to hell in a handbasket. He presses a soft kiss to the side of her own neck and she thinks she must smell terrible- there’s sweat pooling in the small of her back and in the crook of her neck but his eyes look at her with such adoration that she feels nothing but beautiful.

 

“When I touched the watch,” Steve says, “I remembered everything.”

 

This is an intervention from the gods, clear as day. Diana doesn’t really know why- her father has never contacted her and the only god she has ever actually met is Ares. She has never cared for the motivation of the gods because living the life she had led, she had very little reason to.

 

Now, however, she’s thinking that maybe she should visit that temple in Greece again.

 

One hand of Steve’s is in her hair, the other one on her back. She kisses him and he’s just as warm and sweet as she remembers- their lips moving against each other in a dance long forgotten in a tiny village in Germany.

 

“Officially,” Steve says, pulling away and twisting a lock of her hair around his index finger, “I’m Steve Trevor Jr, named after my great granduncle who worked as an American spy for British Intelligence. Unofficially, I’m Steve Trevor, guy who blew himself up and has now led two lives. Diana,” he pauses and takes a moment to clear his throat, unable to look at her, “I’ve led two lives. I- I’m not the same guy who left you that day. I get night terrors, sometimes- some missions I’ve gone on have ended badly. If you don’t- I’d understand, you know, if you don’t-”

 

His mouth twists in agony, and he doesn’t finish the sentence. Diana smiles very gently, and cards her hands through his hair, enjoying the soft texture. She leans in to kiss him again, before saying, “You forget, Steve Trevor- that I know this heart. It is this heart that I’ve fallen in love with. I would understand, of course, if you aren’t in love with me anymore- I’ve changed a lot too-”

 

Steve starts to shake his head, looking horrified and anguished. “No, Diana- I can never imagine not being in love with you.” It is the fervent love in his declaration that makes Diana feel as though a thousand suns have nestled within her heart and she blinks back tears at the mere thought of how this man can make her feel hope and warmth again, in indescribable proportions. His mouth against hers curves in a small smile, one of relief.

 

“I’m happy,” he says suddenly, pulling his lips away again and ignoring her whine of protest with a slight smile, “that you kept my watch for me. Keep it,” he adds when Diana moves to remove it, “it suits you.” The look in his eyes is sympathetic and soft and Diana swallows because how is it that after a century, this man still understands her?

 

“I’m so sorry,” Steve says softly, smoothing a hand over her cheek. “But- I had to do it. Wouldn’t have been fair, otherwise.”

 

“Don’t apologise,” Diana says, equally as softly. “You made me believe again.”

 

Diana watches as Steve’s eyes widen, and watches as the acknowledgement sets in- as Steve realizes that even in the depths of her own self-loathing and misery, Diana has always listened to Steve.

 

“You made me believe,” Diana repeats, “in love.” In mankind, she doesn’t answer, in humanity and in compassion and in all that is good in the world. It was not Ares and Steve’s death that had destroyed her hope in mankind for she had emerged from that battle more compassionate than ever- it was the absence of Steve, and what mankind did after with nuclear power and atomic bombs and the slow degradation of the world they lived in that had managed that particular feat. She doesn’t say all of this, but these things that were left unsaid must have been heard anyway for Steve’s eyes soften to blue crystals as he pulls Diana in for a deep, soul-rending kiss that she’s able to feel in the core of her heart. And slowly, Diana’s misaligned world starts to re-align itself again- with Steve as the axis.

 

Unbeknownst to her, the watch on her wrist starts ticking again.

 

*

 

Years and years later, a reporter will ask Diana as she brushes the blood of an alien invader off from her armour, what exactly motivates her to keep on defending the world. The reporter will look exhausted, downtrodden and unlike with other reporters who just level their gazes hungrily at her chest and make her feel this close to letting her wrath go wreak havoc on them, she will think carefully before answering.

 

“Love,” she says. “There are people who choose to love and people who choose not to. And for those who choose to love, I will fight those who choose not to- for all eternity, if I must.”

 

The battlefield has gone entirely silent. The reporter looks stunned, her eyes wide in awe and admiration. “Thank you, Wonder Woman,” she whispers.

 

Diana looks up to the sky, thinks of Steve waiting at home with a plate of Thai takeout because the last time he tried to cook he nearly burnt the whole building to the ground - and takes flight.