When Steve cracks an eye open to a blindingly harsh sun and the gentle crash of waves, he has the fleeting feeling of déjà vu. That he's been here before.
Then the rest of his senses come flooding back in, and he realizes every inch of his body is on fire, a kind of pain he could've never imagined before this moment. It's so intense that he immediately forgets what he'd been thinking about.
As he falls unconscious again, he thinks he hears a series of voices arguing, but he can't be sure.
When he comes to again, he has an overwhelming sense of déjà vu for a second time, because he's been propped up in a stunning, familiar pool that's bubbling merrily and dulling the pain he feels substantially.
It is at this moment that his lagging memory also catches up. He was on the airfield. He took off in the plane. He remembers pulling the trigger.
He should be dead.
Steve isn't (wasn't?) particularly religious, but he goes through a mental assessment anyways: if this was Heaven, he can't imagine it hurting this much . But if it was Hell, he doesn't know why it looks so much like Paradise Island, why the pain in his body has dulled.
He is pulled from his musings by the arrival of a woman he recognizes but cannot name, the healer that treated him last time. (If this is Hell, his brain has recreated Diana's homeland with remarkable accuracy.)
"Excellent, you are awake," she says.
"Sorry, uh, where am I?"
She looks extremely unimpressed. "Themyscira."
"Am I dead?"
"No, although with the number of wounds you have, I would not be surprised if you wished you were."
Fair enough . She isn't entirely wrong.
His brain—or maybe logic—catches up with him at that moment. If he's here, in Themyscira, that means Diana brought him here. It means she's okay, it means they won , it means she's safe and he can see her. As soon as it comes to his mind, he has to voice it. Has to see her.
"Where's Diana? Can I see her? Is she alright?" He tries to stand but finds his body can't support him.
He almost misses the concern that flashes across the healer's face.
But before either of them can say anything, Hippolyta and one of her senators sweep into the room.
"Where is my daughter?" she demands. "You return to our shores without her. I must know why."
Steve's first emotion is disbelief, before a deep fear sets in.
"Didn't she bring me here?"
Hippolyta's eyes flash. "You arrived alone, washed up on the beach two days ago with a clap of thunder and little else."
Steve feels the little blood in his face drain, because that means that Diana's fate is unknown. She could be hurt, or—he almost can't think of the worst. Cannot imagine her dead. He leans out of the pool just enough to retch up the little still in his stomach, and then dry heaves a few times.
When he finally catches his breath, he sees Hippolyta looks stricken too.
"Apollonia, help him."
The healer has already brought forth a cool rag and a tonic. He accepts it gratefully.
"When I last saw Diana, she was engaged in battle with Ares," he says, and though Hippolyta does not gasp, he can see her grip on her staff tighten. "The Germans, they developed a horrible new gas. They were going to send a plane to London and drop the gas. It would kill everyone, millions of innocents, women and children. I—I had to stop it. I made it onto the plane, got it as high as I could and as far from everyone as possible and"—here, he has to pause, steel himself—"I shot the gas. I blew the plane up. I remember the explosion, the heat...I should be dead."
"The man's internal damage is consistent with the concussive power of an explosion and his burns could have come from the blast," Apollonia interjects, giving Steve a moment to collect himself.
"But I was thousands of feet in the air. The fall would've killed me, and Diana...I don't think she would have had time to save me."
"So then how did this man make it to our island again ?" spits the senator. She looks as though she's about to add something else, when Hippolyta releases a soft, "oh ".
"We will heal him, and provide him courtesy. He is not to be disturbed," declares Hippolyta just as suddenly.
"My Queen!" begins the senator, but she is cut off by Hippolyta.
"He is under my protection," she says in a voice that brooks no argument, and then she sweeps out of the room.
Everyone else in the room is collectively perplexed for a beat, and then the senator hurries after the queen. Steve lets his head fall back, and Apollonia steps away with the promise of medicine soon.
The last thought before Steve falls asleep again is of Diana, and the fervent hope that she is safe.
Steve wakes in the depths of night, the lights low and flickering in the cave. He is no longer in the pools, and he can feel it acutely in every joint of his body. For a moment he thinks it is nothing, that his instincts have woken him up for naught, but then a shadow makes a dry cough, and the queen materializes.
"What are your intentions with my daughter?" Hippolyta asks.
Of all the possible things she could have asked him in that moment, he would never have guessed this.
"To find her. To make sure she's safe," he croaks out, and then feels stupid, because there's absolutely nothing he could do to protect her that she couldn't do at least a thousand times better. But he's ever so desperate, because she's not here, and he has no idea if she won, no idea if she's safe, and it terrifies him.
The queen must see this, his unspoken words, in his eyes. "You love her," she says.
It's not a question. Her expression is unreadable. Still, he feels the need to answer. "More than anything." It feels strange to admit it to her mother when he's convinced Diana never heard it herself.
"You've only known her three weeks yesterday."
Again, it's a statement, not a question. Not necessarily a challenge to his answer, but it still seems like a test.
"She defies logic. She's incandescent." He wishes he had more words, better words. A way to describe the hope she gives him, how extraordinary she truly is. But again, it seems Hippolyta can read his eyes, even in the low light.
"You are not who I would choose to love my daughter," is what Hippolyta finally says. "You are not worthy of her."
"I know," says Steve immediately. "All I can do is try to be."
"Zeus does not share my opinions. It is just like him, to think a man is an appropriate reward."
"I'm not sure I follow," says Steve, genuinely baffled.
Hippolyta sighs. "Whatever happened in that battle, I am sure Diana is alive. You are proof of that."
"I am?" Steve says reflexively, having thought they'd established Diana couldn't have saved him.
"You were deposited on our shores by Zeus himself. I should've seen it sooner. The flash of lightening, the clap of thunder. He always did have a flare for the dramatic. He saved you as a gift for his daughter, for battling Ares."
"That Diana was sculpted from clay was a bedtime story. She was begotten in the traditional way, and Zeus is her father. I expect he had not the strength to battle Ares himself, but managed to muster up something to save you, for her. I can see no other reason that he would send you to us."
"You think she's alright," Steve repeats slowly.
"I have to find her."
"You will be going nowhere until Apollonia clears you medically. The only reason you are alive now are our pools. You are still half-dead. Apollonia says it's a miracle you didn't die the first hour on the island. And," she adds, softening just a little, "you'll be no use to Diana dead. It would rather negate every sacrifice involved, don't you think?"
That shuts Steve up.
The visit doesn't last much longer, although when the queen leaves, Steve feels as though, perhaps, they've arrived at a tentative detente.
Steve's recovery is slow, even with the wonders of Paradise Island's—er, Themyscira's—medical advances. Steve learns that he had four broken ribs, a punctured lung, a host of internal bleeding, a broken leg, a broken collar bone, several lacerations, and burns on 40% of his body. It takes three weeks before he can so much as walk on his own, and another two to go through his whole day unaided.
It is six weeks after his arrival on Themyscira that Apollonia clears him to travel to London, though she still advises against it. Steve is ready to go in search of Diana immediately, when he discovers his next problem: he cannot physically leave the island. Whenever he gets more than about a dozen meters offshore of the island, he is pushed back by some invisible force. No matter where he tries to leave from, he cannot leave the island.
"If it was Zeus's power that brought you here, it is likely binding you to the island," says Kalliope, the closest thing he's made to a friend since arriving. She's one of the archivists for the Amazons, works at preserving the vast library of the island and the annals of its history, and someone Steve quickly became familiar with, because he needed something to do while recovering, and learning about Amazon history seemed a decent way to pass the time. Kalliope, like most of the Amazons, still doesn't really trust Steve, but she's not outwardly hostile.
"Well that's neat," says Steve morosely.
Kalliope hums, and if Steve didn't know any better, he'd say it was sympathetic.
"Perhaps you could tell me about some of the history we've missed."
Steve sighs. He has no interest in talking about the Great War, which is clearly what she wants to know about, so instead begins to speak about the French revolution.
Steve's days pass much in this fashion: every day, without fail, he tries to leave the island. Every day, he is unable. He then passes his mornings with Kalliope, with whom he exchanges lessons on history and politics. Eventually, she starts teaching him Greek. (He speaks French and German fluently, but it's still exceedingly difficult.)
In the afternoons, Kalliope has enlisted her partner, Aristomache, to train with Steve.
Like Kalliope, she begins wary of Steve, but her disdain is minimal, and perhaps even nonexistent after a few weeks. While she is not Antiope or Diana, she is a formidable warrior, and she has enough patience that after just a few months, Steve is more conditioned than he was when his plane exploded in the sky. He still can't win against her—or any Amazon, probably—in a physical fight, but he thinks he wouldn't totally embarrass himself, at least.
It is not a bad life, per se, but Steve is restless, and his dreams of Diana have been growing more vivid and aching. And although the queen's word still holds—that he is under her protection—he knows there is a faction that is angry at his presence. Indeed, he feels more out of place and restless than he has ever felt before. He knows he has nothing to offer here, and he hates feeling useless.
And then there is the fact that Diana does not return. In his worst moments, he cannot help but worry that she is dead. In better times, he tries to take heart that Hippolyta believes her daughter to be alive. He wishes she would come.
By his estimates, he has been on the island about eight months—it is likely July, although the Amazons don't follow the Gregorian calendar, and Steve has only been better able to keep track since the Solstice celebrations—when Diana finally returns.
It goes like this:
Steve is up before dawn, as usual, to go for a run and then make his way down to the small quay. These days, he makes his attempts to leave before there is the possibility of any sort of audience. He is almost to the quay when he notices there is another boat, one that he has never seen before, and in that moment, he is filled with such intense hope that he feels almost giddy. A quick check reveals that the boat is empty, and then he is tearing up the beach, running faster than he's ever run before.
It's as if he knows where he'll find her before he gets there, this strange certainty that she'll be there on the beach where they fought the Germans, where she saved him, where her people died. And there, as he rounds the edge of the cliffs at full sprint, as the first rays of dawn burst over the ocean's horizon, he sees her, standing illuminated against the soft crash of the waves.
She is angelic. The first light of the sun sets her dark hair on fire and gives her bronzed skin a golden glow, and he has never seen anything more beautiful, ever, in his life.
She is so lost in her own reflections that she doesn't hear his approach, and so when he stops, only a few meters away, he is allowed another moment to soak in her presence before her name drops, unbidden, from his lips.
She whips around, and her eyes go wide. For several heart-stuttering moments, she freezes. He sees so many emotions flit across her face that he can't name them all, and just as he's considering trying, she speaks.
The "Steve?" is so confused and so hopeful that it tugs at his heart, and then, "are you really here?"
A grin breaks out on Steve's face, because the answer is right there— "Do I not look like I am?"
And suddenly he has his arms full of Diana, who has launched herself at him, thrown her arms around him, lifted him up with the force of her hug. His feet are back on the ground after a moment, but he never wants to let go of this feeling, the way she's solid and in his arms and shit , he feels a relief so intense it's like he can breathe for the first time in months. Years. Maybe ever.
He feels her shaking in his arms and realizes distantly she's crying, but maybe it's not quite that simple because his cheeks are wet too. He's not sure quite how long they stay like that, clinging to each other, her face tucked into his neck and then their foreheads pressed together and breath mingled and hands cupping faces, but it's messy and beautiful and perfect. It's Diana who finally breaks the silence, careful as if he might evaporate before her eyes.
Her voice is low with grief and disuse when she manages, "How?" and then before he can answer, "You died. I saw you die and I couldn't save you."
And so he does his best to tell her the whole, sordid tale.
Later, when the sun is fully risen, copper morning instead of golden dawn, they make their way back up to the city to find her mother. She can't seem to stop touching him, and he can't say he's complaining; their hands are currently linked, and he wonders how he ever denied her this back in London.
There is much rejoicing among the Amazons that Diana is back and has defeated Ares. Though she stays close, they inevitably get separated during the festivities, but Steve finds he's so joyful, he doesn't even mind. Kalliope is a proper friend now, and with Aristomache came another small group of almost-friends. They while the time away, chatting in Steve's still-imperfect Greek about the industrial revolution back in Europe.
Later, when it's just the two of them again, Diana leans into him. "Did you mean what you said on the airfield?"
Her voice is soft, and he's surprised by the vulnerability he hears. She's an immortal goddess, the kindest, bravest, most beautiful being he's ever met. He's not sure there's any world, any scenario where he wouldn't love her, fully and completely.
Before he can voice this, she continues. "I know you thought you were going to die, and people say things they don't always mean when they think they're going to die."
"Diana, no. I meant every single word. I love you." He isn't even frightened of saying it this time.
"Oh." An enormous grin splits her face. "I love you, too, Steve Trevor."
There's nothing left to do but kiss her.
It's better than he remembers.
As it turns out, when Diana learns of his predicament, she has an astonishing simple solution. She builds a small fire, drops in an offering to Zeus, and then says, "By the power of Zeus, I release you from this island." It's possible someone else should have thought of this, but it's also possible that as the only one with powers descended from Zeus, she's the only one who could achieve this.
Sure enough, when they depart later that week for London, he passes off the island without any trouble.
They're on the boat, looking at the stars, and he can't help but remember their first conversations from the last time they set sail together.
"Diana," he says, "remember how you asked what people do when there isn't war?"
"Of course," she answers. "You told me you didn't know. You thought maybe breakfasts and newspapers."
"Yeah, I did." There was more, but he's lost for a moment, in the memory of dancing with her. "It's just. I'd like to find out. I was wondering if you'd like to find out with me."
Her smile is brighter than the stars. "Yes."