Note this story is set in the DCAU ten years after Divided We Fall. Basically the last season of JLU with the Legion of Doom and return of Darkseid never happened in this continuity. However not long after the Justice League defeated the Luthor-Brainiac hybrid, the Joker kidnapped and tortured Tim as seen in Batman Beyond. Our story is set about a decade later...
"Do your worst child. I'm immortal, I can't be killed," Vandal Savage taunted as he flashed an evil grin.
Audrey smiled wickedly at the challenge.
"We'll see," she assured as her men dragged their prisoner away while she followed them.
Diana and Batman stood side by side to watch the scene that just unfolded before them. Neither wanted to say anything and instead just stared off into the distance as the sun began to rise. Diana suddenly grinned and turned to her comrade.
"You know," she said with a knowing tone as her hair billowed in the wind. "We never did get to finish our dance."
Batman looked back at her coldly. Neither his posture nor his facial expression had changed at all.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he denied calmly.
"If you say so," Diana shot back before looping her arm under his. "But you're still taking me dancing."
"…which is why Diana of Themyscira will be honored tonight by us!" the announcer spoke.
Diana smiled professionally as she sat with her hands in her lap. She wore a nice pantsuit with a skirt and her hair tied in a bun.
"A woman of extraordinary talents," the speaker continued. "She is a woman of many colors."
Diana scanned the crowd and caught eyes with a violet-eyed woman in the press corps. The woman winked at Diana, causing the Amazon to blush a little.
"A warrior. An ambassador. A member of the Justice League," the speaker listed Diana's accomplishments. "But most importantly of all, a peacemaker. Because of her efforts nearly a decade ago, the Fourth Kasnian Civil War ended, rushing a period what many have called 'the Era of Peace.' Since the end of that terrible war, the entire world has seen prosperity and lack of conflict thanks to this wonderful woman."
Many in the crowd gave some small, polite chuckles.
"So tonight we honor Diana of Themyscira with the Presidential Medal of Freedom!"
Diana nodded and smiled as the events went on throughout the night. She shook many hands and accepted many well wishes and even answered a few questions for the press corps. She really just wanted to get out though. The Amazon didn't like having to constantly watch what she said around people. After CADMUS, she and the League had learned the importance of public relations.
"Mind if I do an interview?" a voice teased.
Diana smiled and turned to a woman who was over forty years old but still looked like she was in her early thirties.
"Well I don't know, Mrs. Lane-Kent. Doesn't your husband usually work with you?" Diana shot back. Lois smiled and took a seat at Diana's table.
"He's busy taking care of other things," Lois hinted at.
"They're throwing a surprise party for me at the Metro aren't they?" Diana noted sharply.
"I didn't say anything," Lois replied while giving a wink. "Nothing escapes you, Goddess of Truth?"
Diana laughed at that jab.
"So," Lois asked and leaned in closer so she could whisper. "How are you and Mr. Dreamy?"
"Fine," Diana assured. "He's in Europe right now."
"Hmmm," Lois mused. "He couldn't make it huh?"
"He's busy with his job," Diana defended.
"Oh believe me, I've had to tell myself that all the time," Lois said sympathetically. "So how serious are you two right now?"
"Honestly I don't know but I'm in no rush."
"Easy for you to say," Lois joked. "Being granted with eternal youth makes you not have to worry about attracting a man."
"You're still beautiful Lois," Diana assured.
"I knew there was a reason why I have you as a friend," Lois quipped. "You help my ego when I'm feeling down."
Diana smiled softly as she took a sip of wine.
"How's the adoption coming?" she asked with uncertainty. Clark and Lois's inability to have kids together was a source of problems for them. They tried adopting but so far had met bureaucratic resistance.
"Still in limbo. The fact we both work full time worries them. Also I do have a reputation of always being in danger."
"They'll eventually realize you two will be great parents," Diana promised. "You'll have your own child one day."
Few Hours Later-Metro Tower
Diana shook off the feeling of her particles being torn apart and put back together as she found herself now standing inside the Metro Tower. She had received a call from Mister Terrific that told her an "emergency meeting" was to take place at the Metro Tower. The Amazon knew what the emergency meeting really was.
"SURPRISE!" voices shouted as Diana saw Wally, Shayera, and Clark all standing at the table out of uniform. There was a bunch of confetti and a large cake sitting in the middle of the table.
"You guys!" Diana said happily, pretending to be surprised.
"Lois told you didn't she?" Shayera said shrewdly with a little disappointment in her face.
Diana shook her head in defeat with a smile.
"I can't tell a lie," she admitted.
"Who cares?" Wally complained as he shifted slightly, his eyes darting to the cake. "It's the thought that counts!"
Clark stepped forward and pulled Diana into an embrace.
"Congratulations Di!" he greeted. "We're so proud of you!"
"Don't give me all the credit," Diana responded humbly while holding up the medal. "The way I see it, every medal I win is for all of us!"
"Yes but it was you who spearheaded the intervention into Kasnia," Shayera pointed out. "We just showed up to break things. And let's not forget your tough as nails ambassadorial skills in those closed diplomatic meetings. Face it Di, you're the star tonight. The rest of us were just the clean up crew."
Diana smiled at her friends. Their approval meant more than any medal or award she had received in the past decade. To hear her close friends acknowledge all her hard work was something she would never trade for anything else.
"Can you guys believe it?" Wally pointed out. "Decade ago we were dealing with supervillains trying to take over the world and now all we do is show up to ceremonies and help out in disaster relief."
"I still have to fight some villains in Metropolis," Clark shot back.
"Yeah but never on a global scale like the good ole' days," Wally mused with nostalgia. "After taking out that Brainiac-Luthor hybrid, life has been pretty easy for us. Clark and Lois are married, Shayera and John got hitched and are on kid number five-"
"Six," Shayera corrected, pointing to her belly.
"Linda and I are on our way to kid number two. J'onn's on Mars helping start that colony with NASA," Wally continued. "And now Di's dating one of the biggest rock stars in the world!"
"Ever heard of karma Wally?" Shayera asked. "Maybe the world decided to reward us for our efforts. These are the best of times after all. No villains, no invasions, and no major international conflicts going on. If we can somehow find a way to stop national disasters, we're going to have sixty plus heroes out of a job soon!"
Diana gave a yawn as she entered the Themyscira Embassy located in Metropolis. Even Amazons would need rest and it had been a long night for her. She was half-surprised to find a light was still on upstairs but then she remembered Etta liked to work late. Quietly Diana walked up the stairs and entered the room to find her secretary typing frantically at the computer.
"Working late Etta?" Diana asked. Etta squeaked in surprise and accidentally knocked the papers on her desk to the ground.
"Oh my!" Etta said as she awkwardly got out of her chair to try to pick them up. "I'm so sorry Madame Ambassador-oh and congratulations! I'm sorry I forgot-"
"It's alright Etta," Diana assured her nervous secretary. "And I told you to call me Diana."
"Sorry Ma'am," Etta apologized as she gathered up the files and put them neatly on the desk. "Duty first."
Diana smiled proudly. Although Etta was something of a nervous klutz, Diana liked her. She was a sweet woman. Etta was a thin, short woman about forty years old who had curly brown hair and thick glasses but a sweet smile. The only thing that bothered Diana about Etta besides her scatterbrained nature was the fact she wore way too much makeup. Nonetheless Etta was one of those people you could look at and trust immediately. That was why Diana hired her. She wanted someone not only she could trust working with but someone she could let her guard down in front of.
"Well Etta I know you like to work late but get some rest. If there's anyone who deserves the weekend off, it's you."
"T-thank you," Etta stuttered gratefully. "Also reminder on Christmas I'm still taking a few days off to see my father."
According to Etta, her father had suffered a medical condition and was on life support in a hospital in another state. Because of that, Etta had a habit of taking time off a lot to visit him which Diana didn't mind. She could always count on Etta to come back and catch up on her work even if she had to go without sleep for an entire week. The secretary was already half-way out the door before she turned around.
"Oh I almost forgot! You-know-who called by the way! You left your cell phone here."
"Thanks Etta," Diana replied and entered her own room. She quietly shut the door and took a deep breath. It had been a long day. She took off her heels in one hand while she undid her bun with the other. Rolling her neck around to loosen her muscles, she walked over to her cell phone which sat idly on her desk and picked it up. Quietly she dialed a number she had memorized by heart. The phone only rang once before it was picked up.
"Hello?" a heavily Nordic accent asked.
"I thought you had a concert?" Diana teased.
"Not until tonight," he assured. "I managed to watch you on the news. You looked beautiful today."
"Thank you Erik," she replied.
"Listen," Erik explained over the phone. "I might be able to catch a flight back to America tomorrow morning. I'll take you somewhere nice, away from the paparazzi so we can celebrate your accomplishment together."
"That would be nice," Diana agreed. "I hate to hang up on you right now but I really need to get some rest and you got to get ready for all your fans."
"Understood," Erik agreed. "I'll call you later. Love you."
"Love you too," Diana said as she hung up her phone. She then took a deep breath and let herself fall in her bed. It was like what Wally had said earlier. Life was good. For once, it seemed okay to be happy and there were no problems in the world.
"But most importantly of all, a peacemaker. Because of her efforts nearly a decade ago, the Fourth Kasnian Civil War ended, rushing a period what many have called 'the Era of Peace.' Since the end of that terrible war, the entire world has seen prosperity and lack of conflict thanks to this wonderful woman."
"World peace my ass," Gianni muttered sarcastically as he heard the late night broadcast replay of the news. "Clearly the Prez hasn't been to Gotham."
"Yea," Tony laughed with him as he drove the truck down an abandoned alley in the middle of the night. "If only they knew all the goodies we were smugglin' into Gotham right now."
Tony hit the brakes at the sound of something hitting the roof of the truck. Gianni flew forward before being forced back by his seat belt, spilling his hot coffee on his lap.
"OWW! What the hell?" the thug complained.
"Somethin' just jumped on us!" Tony cried nervously as he looked up. Cautiously he pulled out a pistol from his waist.
"Well then we gotta check out," Gianni complained as he lifted up a shotgun and stepped out.
The two criminals slowly got out of the truck with their guns pointed in the air. The snow falling on them stung a little but they ignored it. Slowly on opposite sides they crept to the back of the truck, still keeping their guns pointed up ready to shoot anything.
"There's no way," Tony muttered. "This was kept secret!"
"Shut up!" Gianni called from the other side. "Stop being-ugh!"
"Gianni?" Tony called nervously as he spun around in a circle. Something was wrong.
"Answer me!" the thug ordered when he didn't hear from his partner.
"He won't be able to for a while," a voice explained.
Tony frantically turned around and saw perched above him was a shadowy figure hunched over.
"Batgirl!" Tony replied angrily as he aimed his gun to shoot. Something flew out of the shadow's hand and hit him in the wrist. He cried as the battarang painfully knocked the gun from his hands.
"Girl?" the figured asked and stepped into the light so Tony could see her better. She was about five-six in height and wore a batsuit that was mostly grey and black although there were hints of purple around it. Her blonde hair hung out of her cowl, and her blue eyes flared menacingly.
"Girl?" she asked again. "I'm Bat-woman! Not girl!"
The thug lunged at her. Batwoman easily dodged it.
"Seriously?" she asked in amazement. "I just took your friend out and beat you in a draw and you still think you can take me?"
Tony tried to punch at her again. This time she caught it and slowly twisted his arm as he tried to struggle to break free.
"Suit yourself," she said with defeat and hit him with her free hand square in the face.
James Gordon coughed as he took a seat in his couch. Like the rest of his apartment, it was small and covered in mold. He coughed again as he stirred his tea. He felt his back stiffen up as well and tried to ignore the pain. The arthritis had gotten worse.
"You know I retired six years ago," Gordon replied dryly when he felt a breeze behind him, indicating someone had entered through the window. "Bullock's the commissioner now."
"Yeah but he's not as good as a conversationalist as you," Batwoman retorted. "Besides, I think he keeps checking out my ass when I'm not looking."
"I hand-picked Harvey to replace me. He's a good cop."
"Not as good as you," Batwoman noted. "I can never get the drop on you."
"Well when you have Batman sneaking up and disappearing on you for twenty something years, your senses begin to sharpen," Gordon admitted. "How did it go tonight Stephanie?"
Batwoman took off her mask to show a young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes.
"I whipped them," she explained. "Looks like Maroni Jr. won't be getting his Christmas gift any time soon."
"They'll find another way," Gordon assured. "The Maronis always love to smuggle weapons here. Hopefully you can figure out who the seller is."
"How are Babs and Dick?" she asked politely hoping to make small talk. She had come to Gordon to talk about something else but she wasn't ready to get on that subject yet.
"They're doing good," Gordon said happily. "Just got their Christmas card. Barbara told me she sent Bruce one as well."
"I'll make sure to check the mail," Stephanie said awkwardly. For awhile the two sat in an uncomfortable silence. The only sound was the hissing of the old radiator in the apartment. Finally Gordon cleared his throat.
"Why are you really here?"
"Why are you here Stephanie?"
"You were the one who gave me the tip. I'm just here to tell you it worked out."
"But you could've just called," Gordon noted. "Why are you really here?"
Stephanie racked her brain to try to find another excuse but gave up. She might as well bring up what she wanted to talk to Gordon about in person.
"It's Bruce," she admitted. "He's been getting worse."
"Stephanie the man is over fifty years old. The human body can only take so much."
"I'm not talking about that," Stephanie assured. "I'm talking about his habits."
"He's still drinking?" Gordon grimly asked with a frown.
"Not only that but he's popping more pills like they're candy. He's becoming an addict."
"You know his leg gives him chronic pain," Gordon offered as an attempted justification.
"That doesn't give him the excuse to almost OD himself every night!" Stephanie complained. "When he first took me in six years ago it wasn't that bad. I mean he was always grumpy and moody and would spend a couple of hours drinking after patrol but now it has gone too far. He hardly goes out on patrol anymore and half the time he doesn't have the radio on to communicate with me while I'm out."
"Maybe he's just growing to trust you more and has decided to give you more leash," Gordon offered although deep down he knew it was a poor excuse.
"Since when does the Dark Knight ever give someone carte blanche in his own city?" Stephanie countered.
Gordon didn't respond to that right away. He remained in deep thought for awhile before looking back at Stephanie.
"Why tell me this then?"
"You're the only one he'll listen to! He barely talks to Dick and Barbara and we all know how much he loves to keep in touch with the Justice League. You're the only one he still has somewhat of a normal relationship with."
Gordon stiffly got up and placed both of his hands on the young woman.
"Stephanie," Gordon whispered softly. "Bruce has gotten old. All the physical and mental pain he has endured his entire life has finally caught up to him. Sooner or later there will come a time when he can't do this any-"
"That doesn't mean he should just kill himself!"
"Let me finish," Gordon cut in sternly. "There will come a time when he will retire completely."
"He almost has," Stephanie complained. "You should see him. He doesn't seem to care for anything anymore except for his booze and narcotics. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to mix them."
"He still cares for you," Gordon pointed out. "Did you ever consider that maybe he's stepping back because he realizes his legacy is in good hands?"
Stephanie looked at the old man, feeling unsure on whether to accept the compliment.
"In the last ten years, you are the best thing that has ever happened to that man. It's because of you he hasn't completely given up on this world yet."
Gordon then reached out a shaky hand and stroked her face.
"You want me to try to reach him Honey, I can't do that. But you can. You're the only one who makes him still find some sort of happiness in his life."
"Then he has a funny way of showing it," Stephanie replied bitterly. "It's getting late Gordon and I need to get some sleep. Good night."
Before Gordon could say anything, Stephanie had put her cowl back on and jumped out of the open window, taking off into the early morning sky.
"Bruce loves you Stephanie," Gordon whispered to himself. "You're the only one he has left."
"I can still see him!" Tim cried while waving the gun.
"Tim it's okay!" Leslie pleaded, tears falling from her eyes.
"Tim listen to me!" Bruce begged. "It's okay! He's gone! He won't hurt you again!"
Tim rubbed his other hand on his face. The scars from the Joker's surgery still framed his lips, giving him a permanent grin.
"Don't you get it?" Tim laughed eerily. "I am him now! I am Joker Junior! I am the next Clown Prince of Crime!"
"No you're not!" Bruce denied. "You're Tim Drake! You're my son!"
"Son?" Tim snapped. "Son?!"
"Tim please put the gun down!" Leslie demanded.
"You call me a son?!" Tim asked angrily. "You failed to save me!"
"I know I'm sorry! It was my fault!" Bruce apologized in desperation.
"You failed to avenge what he did to me! You failed to kill him! I had to do it for you!"
"Tim please don't."
"I see how you look at me!" Tim said angrily. "You're disgusted with me! I saw it in your eyes when I killed the Joker! You're ashamed of me! You're afraid of what I've become!"
"Tim that's not true!" Bruce cried in desperation.
"I'm doing you a favor Bruce!" Tim offered sarcastically. "By blowing my own brains out I'll solve your problem. You won't have to be ashamed or embarrassed by me any longer! I'm releasing you of your burden!"
"Tim!" Leslie cried as the teenager turned the gun on his temple.
"NO!" Bruce called as Tim pulled the trigger.
"NO!" Bruce cried and jerked awake. He had fallen asleep at the Batcomputer. Right away he noticed pain in his leg as his body began to shake. Frantically he moved his hand around the dashboard and found to his disappointment an empty prescription bottle.
"Where is it?" he called madly as he sifted through more empty bottles that littered the desk.
His whole body now felt like it was in pain. Bruce continued to search around until he found one bottle that still had some pills in it. Joyfully he popped three in his hand and downed them. He closed his eyes and sighed in relief. It would kick in soon and he would feel a lot better. Hearing the sound of the Batpod coming in, he turned around and saw Batwoman speeding into the cave. Slowly, using his cane he got out of his chair but he had to put his free hand on the dashboard for support for a second. He had gotten up to fast and he could feel the blood laced with the chemicals rushing around his body. Closing his eyes to recollect his thoughts, he opened them to find Batwoman walking up to him.
"How was patrol?" Bruce asked coldly.
Stephanie looked at him as she took off the cowl. As usual Bruce's long hair and bushy beard were a mess. The hints of grey glistened in the low illumination of the cave along with his tired blue eyes. She knew he used to be a lot handsomer when he was younger and believed he still would be if he cleaned himself up. But instead she just saw an aging bitter man who could've easily passed for a junkie living on the streets standing in front of her.
"Fine," she said angrily. "Could've used your advice though. You were quiet on the comm tonight."
"I was busy," he muttered.
"Sure you were. I'm going to bed."
She only made it to the bottom of the stairs when she felt the need to call back at him with one final retort.
"You might want to shower too," she advised. "I can still smell bourbon on you."
"So you will take the job?" the woman sitting in the chair asked. Behind her she had a large man standing guard and ready to protect her if needed. Across the table sat another man who ignored her question as he flicked his knife lazily in his hands. He wore a double patterned color armor of orange and black with an iron mask that only allowed his left eye to be visible.
"Answer Madame Zara!" the big man demanded.
"I'll take it," the armored man assured.
"You didn't even hear how much we would pay you," the woman, called Zara, noted. She had dark black hair and tinted skin that hinted to Mediterranean and Turkish origins. She wore a strange necklace and jewelry around her arms while wearing a skimpy silk dress. She looked like some sort of belly dancer or oriental priestess.
"Let's just say, what you're asking me to do actually aligns with the interests of other parties I'm acquainted with," the armored man assured. "But I still expect to get paid."
"Then we have a deal Mr. Wilson."
"Deathstroke," the armored man corrected. "Now if you excuse me, I have an assassination to plan."
The assassin got up and left the room. The woman then turned to her bodyguard.
"Tell the others the time has come," the woman ordered. "The Crimson Flame has been lit. Kasnia, Wonder Woman, and the world will all burn for their sins!"