Superman handed the steaming mug to Diana. She took it in both hands and cradled it, the coffee’s aroma filling her senses and relaxing her. She stared down into the swirling brown liquid, then brought it up to her lips, taking a sip. Normally, they tried to keep food and drinks out of the Watchtower Conference room, but Clark decided this could easily be one of those "Understandable Exceptions". After their confrontation on the roof of the Daily Planet, the Watchtower seemed like the safest and best place to come to try and return some normalcy to the situation.
Plus, Clark secretly hoped that it would keep Diana in a much more "professional" mode.
"About two months ago."
"You've been without the lasso for two months? Wha…"
"Don’t ask it, Kal!" Diana interrupted. "Don’t ask that ridiculous 'Where’s the last place you had it?' question. If I knew that…"
"Actually," Clark returned the interruption-favor, "I was going to ask 'What does Hippolyta think?'"
Diana silently stared back down into her coffee, a slight blush sprinkling across her chest. She mumbled a response, too low for even Kryptonian ears to understand.
"I said… 'she doesn’t know,'" Diana replied, dejected.
"You haven’t told her? You haven’t told anyone on Themyscira?!" Superman was dumbfounded.
Her eyes suddenly shot up to his, the uncharacteristic ire rising in her voice again. "No, Kal. I haven’t! I didn’t see the need in involving them! I mean, it’s not like I haven’t… misplaced things like this before. It’s just never been this… long."
Clark walked over and sat in the chair next to her, trying to calm her down. He placed a gentle hand on her bare shoulder, attempting to keep his own face calm. She stared at him, a combination of loss, confusion and hurt filling her eyes.
"I… I just don’t understand it!" she spat, turning her head away from his. "I mean, there were times when I’d lost the lasso before—it got dropped or ripped from my hands in battle, or it fell down behind my costume armoire—but normally, when I call to it, it returns to me! It’s always returned…"
"But not this time?" he asked, now trying desperately not to sound like an overbearing parent.
"No…" she admitted. "I've called and called, but nothing! It’s like it’s just gone! I don’t unders…"
"Stolen?" Clark prompted, Diana’s head spinning back around and staring at him.
"I thought of that possibility, but now, I don’t know… If it was stolen for some ulterior purpose, why hasn’t the thief tried to use it yet? I figured that, had it been stolen, we would have seen something by now…"
"With all of the enemies the League has made over the years, you never know, Diana…"
"Oh Kal," she gushed, placing her hands on his shoulders, her eyes filling with tears. "I just don’t know anymore. It’s like the entire world has completely changed…"
"Diana," he replied reassuringly, "we'll get the League together on this. Between the eight of us we can scour the globe and find it…"
"That won’t be necessary." J'onn’s voice boomed as he strolled into the meeting room, the ornate Atlantian box in his hands. Both sets of eyes locked on him as he walked over to the table, setting it down. Before either of the two heroes could start asking what he meant, he lifted the cover of the chest, the warm golden light spilling out.
Diana’s eyes went wide, a look of relief washing over her face. She stared intently at the Golden Lasso coiled up inside the box. She stood slowly and leaned over the table to get a better look. "Wh… where…?"
"Atlantis" Clark replied, now also standing and examining the carvings on the side of the box.
"Correct," J'onn confirmed.
"Wha… wait!" Diana exclaimed, the anger once again creeping in. "Y-you mean Arthur had it this whole time?!"
J'onn held up his hands in a calming gesture. "Slow down, Princess," he soothed. "Arthur didn’t know. No one did. An aide came by his chambers just five minutes ago with it. He said one of the caretakers had found it while cleaning one of the… guest bedrooms."
Superman turned a questioning eye to Diana, who seemed to be focussing her attention a little too much on the lasso at that moment. She risked a quick glance out of the corner of her eye, seeing the incredulous look on Kal’s face that she expected to see. "B-but if it was in that chest… I mean, I've never seen that…"
"No," J'onn explained. "The caretaker placed it in there. The magic emanating from the lasso was so powerful, they got frightened and placed it in this magically-protected chest. But that was only about half an hour ago…"
"So if it wasn’t locked up in that chest, why didn’t respond to her summons…" Clark wondered aloud.
"Actually, I think I can explain that as well," J'onn replied, suddenly looking a bit… nervous? No, more like anxious. His eyes shot back and forth between Clark and Diana as he cleared his throat. "*ahem* Well, it seems that when the caretaker found it… uh… it was… still tied to one of the bedposts…"
"Oh?" Diana asked, confusion on her face for a second before her eyes widened in sudden realization. "Oh!" she gasped, her chest, upper arms and face suddenly matching the red background of her breastplate. She meekly sat back down, taking up her coffee cup and staring down into it again.
To his credit, most of Superman’s sputtering disbelief was kept inside, only a few stuttered grunts escaping his lips as he stared at the now beet-red woman sitting before him. J'onn stepped around her and clasped Superman on the shoulder, pulling him away from the table.
"Well, at least now we have some answers," J'onn prompted, finally pulling Clark’s eyes from Diana and his mind from the inevitable myriad of questions.
"To her behavior," J'onn clarified.
"Well, some of it. I- I still don’t understand why she would be…"
"Look at it this way," J'onn attempted to explain, "All her adult life, she has been physically incapable of lying. The lasso actually prevented her from telling even the smallest, little-white variety fib…"
"J'onn, some of us don’t have a 'Lasso of Truth' but we still manage to stay truthful."
J'onn stared at him for a second, raising an eyebrow. Suddenly, J'onn shifted into a perfect replica of Lois Lane, dressed in an exquisite evening gown. He/she turned sideways, revealing an over-abundant, rather exaggerated posterior. He coughed lightly, his voice shifting into Lois’s.
"Honey, does this dress make my ass look fat?" Lois/J'onn questioned.
Clark sputtered and coughed as J'onn reverted back to his normal form. "Ok, point taken… but that still doesn’t explain…"
"Clark, imagine that you've never been able to lie for the total of your adult life. Then, suddenly, you find that you are capable of not only lying to your family, your friends, and even complete strangers, but to yourself as well…"
"Denial," Superman concluded after a moment’s consideration.
"It ain’t just a river in Egypt," J'onn quoted. "Add on top of that an Amazonian-Island sized mountain of guilt…"
"And you've got one seriously confused and upset woman," Superman finished.
"All things she’s never had to deal with before," J'onn confirmed.
Out of the corner of his eye, J'onn caught movement in Diana’s direction. He suddenly turned away from Clark, and moved over toward her. "NO! Diana, Don’t… "
She stood and reached into the box, grabbing the lasso and pulling it out. She looked at J'onn approaching, her questioning stare turning into one that bordered on disdain. "J'onn, please. It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with…" Her eyes suddenly widened and a look of supreme horror distorted her features. Her mouth opened wide but only the faintest of sounds came out.
"by… the… gods…"
She collapsed. J'onn rushed to her side and caught her before she fell over completely. He gently guided her into a sitting position on the floor, her face still locked in a frightened visage. Clark rushed over to help, but stopped as J'onn’s hand shot up, motioning for him to halt. Clark stared in wide-eyed horror and Diana’s eyes started jumping around wildly as if she were searching for something she knew she would never find. Tears started to form and roll down her cheeks.
J'onn laid a gentle hand on her head, pulling her in against his shoulder. He spoke in a calm, reassuring voice.
"Diana… let go, sweetheart… Let go of the lasso…"
Diana sputtered a bit, still gripping the lasso tightly. "Wha… ah… *gasp*… wh…"
"Diana," J'onn soothed again. "Let go…" He took a deep breath, then reached out and grabbed the lasso. As soon as his fingers curled around it, his body shifted into its natural Martian form, with the pulled-up, pointed head and angular features. He tugged on the lasso, Diana’s grip never loosening. His other hand caressed her head as he slowly continued to sooth her. "Diana… it’s okay. Let go…"
Over the countless times that Clark had been in the field with Diana, he had never been scared or frightened for her. He always knew that should could handle herself in situations that would make most men faint. But at that precise moment, as her saucer-like eyes locked onto his, so full of fear, anxiety and horror, his stomach knotted and twisted with the overwhelming thought that she was in the kind of trouble that no one can escape. Following J'onn’s cue, he spoke, his voice croaking out around the huge lump in his throat.
"Diana… please… let go of the lasso…"
J'onn felt Diana’s grip lighten ever so slightly, and he yanked as hard as he could, ripping the golden rope from her hand. He immediately tossed it up onto the table, the rope landing in a crumpled, tangled heap in the box. Immediately, J'onn reverted back to his normal human-like form that he assumed around his friends. With lightning speed, Superman rushed to the box and closed the lid.
Diana’s hand fell limply into her lap, her eyes still wide, though now staring seemingly out into nothingness. Her body convulsed lightly, a small squeak-ish sob escaping her lips. Tears rolled down her cheeks and her mouth moved, as if she was trying to talk. Finally, her voice creaked out lightly.
"W-wha… what have… what have I done…?" Suddenly, her body convulsed as she began sobbing uncontrollably. J'onn cradled her in his arms, rocking her gently back and forth as she sobbed into his shoulder.
"Shhhh… It’s Okay, Diana. It'll all be okay…"
"N-NO!" she wailed, her cries muffled in J'onn’s shoulder. "H-how… did I…"
"Shhhh…" J'onn soothed again, his hand gently caressing her head. Clark looked on in stunned amazement, unable to grasp the true weight of what he was witnessing: Diana, Princess of Thymiscira, Goddess of Truth, probably the most courageous and fearless woman on the planet… sobbing like a terrified little girl. His heart ached for her as his mind tried to enclose around the meaning of this… breakdown.
J'onn obviously noticed the confusion on Clark’s face. He lifted his head slightly, then spoke directly into Clark’s mind as he continued to sooth Diana.
::I was afraid of this, Clark. As soon as she "rejoined" with the lasso, the total and complete truth of all that she has done over the last two months came crashing down around her. All the lies, all the deceit, all of the outbursts suddenly and instantly flashed into her mind all at once. That’s a lot to take.::
::Holy God.:: Clark muttered the mental response, now unable to comprehend what she must be feeling.
Diana continued to sob and wail, her body heaving with every sob. J'onn tried the best that he could to sooth her, but nothing seemed to be working. He locked eyes with Clark and suddenly, not even mental words were exchanged. Without saying a word, they both simultaneously agreed on the answer. J'onn pleaded Clark with his eyes for a split second, then seemed to accept some unspoken decision. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, raising the hand that was gently stroking her hair. The hand phased into a incorporeal state. Gently, he slid the hand into the back of her head and lightly nudged the cerebellum, instantly forcing her into unconsciousness. Without a word, she collapsed into his lap. He removed his hand, phased it back whole, then stood, lifting her limp body without a word. He looked to Clark one last time, a world of shared emotions and thoughts coursing between them, then he carried her off toward the sick bay.
Once they left, Clark bowed his head slightly and exhaled slowly. After a minute of two, he raised his head and looked around the room, his eyes suddenly scanning the area. His gaze stopped at the far doorway for a second, then a small, relaxed smile crossed his face. He wandered around the room, righting all of the chairs and removing Diana’s coffee mug from the table. He strolled over to the far door, stopping just to the right of the doorway. He turned and leaned with his back against the wall, tilting his head up slightly. Seemingly to no one, he replied: "She'll be okay. J'onn will work with her; bring her back to some sense of normalcy. It will take some time, but she will be okay."
"I know," was all Arthur said, before turning and heading back toward the teleport tubes, a single tear streaming down his cheek.