Chapter 33: At Bat's End

"What more can we do to address this?" Superman asked as he looked around the conference table, searching for anyone with even some semblance of a suggestion. "Obviously our involvement so far hasn't done enough to deter the uptick in crime. Reports continue to show that it's climbing each day, and not just marginally."

"But we've already doubled the amount of time we patrol there." Flash said. "I've spent more time there in the last week than I have in Central City."

"Our increased presence doesn't seem to matter." J'onn added. "They've appear to have become even more brazen as they continue to gain confidence that Batman will not intervene."

"It seems like they have no respect for us." Shayera said. "We're already doing way more there than we'd normally do when it comes to the more routine crimes, but we haven't even made a dent in that level of criminal activity."

"They don't fear us." Diana pointed out as she leaned forward, resting her forearms onto the conference table before her. "Fear is the main tool that Batman utilized to keep the evil of Gotham at bay, and it appears that some of his tactics may be the only real way to establish better control around this crime wave."

"The Justice League doesn't operate in the ways that Batman did when it came to Gotham." Superman stated somewhat defiantly. "In fact, the way Batman chose to operate within Gotham was part of the reason behind his never becoming a full time member of the team. He wasn't willing to comply to the standards that were set for ourselves as heroes when it came to how he operated in Gotham."

"Wait, I don't get it." Flash said as he scratched the back of his head in confusion. "Didn't he basically write the League standards and mandates that we abide by?"

"He knew then that the Justice League had to stand for something where being Batman couldn't." Diana explained. "And we've seen for ourselves that criminal element within Gotham is unique. How we respond to crime there just isn't going to work no matter how much time we spend there. We have to take a different approach. One that will actually force criminals think twice about risking their freedoms."

"I'm not willing to go to those lengths." Superman argued. "We're not a bunch of vigilantes here. We have standards, rules, and a moral obligation that we simply can't bend just because things are a little more difficult in one area of the world. If they need some intimidation then maybe seeing Superman more than the Flash might curb their decisions."

"That won't work Kal." Diana said, slumping into her seat.

Superman looked over at her with a wide-eyed expression that seemed to indicate he'd thought her head had just fallen off. "What makes you say that?"

"I...I just know." Diana responded in a defeated voice as her shoulders slumped even further. She didn't like coming across as being pessimistic, but unless they were willing to go to the lengths necessary to grab the attention of Gotham's criminals, there'd be nothing they could do to curb what was happening.

There were still psychopaths and demented criminals such as the Joker to contend with, but it seemed that all of the criminals who resided there had become desensitized toward the consequences of being caught breaking the law. Now it made sense why Bruce went to such extreme lengths in order to plant that seed of fear into the low life criminals.

Looking throughout the history of Gotham, it seemed is if the city eventually took all of the good people and leave them completely broken or kill them. There were the Harvey Dents, Harleen Quinzels, and Viktor Fries' that were consumed by the darkness surrounding Gotham. Somehow Bruce had managed to keep from falling into that chasm of darkness. Even so, there had to be some points in time where he would'be had to become frustrated throughout his time in the cape and cowl, but he'd always persevered. And now he'd given it all up.

Even though it was from an alternate timeline, Diana had witnessed firsthand how Gotham would be without Batman's presence. She'd seen what that city had done to Kal, and that knowledge was what convinced her that Kal's extreme confidence wouldn't be enough. He'd fallen to the point of giving up entirely in the alternate timeline as a result of the Joker's creation.

The conference room had grown incredibly quiet as Diana had been lost in her thoughts. As she realized this, she spared a glance over to the Man of Steel, and saw that she'd been on the receiving end of quite the angry glower. It was almost to the level of one of Bruce's. Almost.

"I expect everyone to come up with something to do about Gotham that doesn't involve Batman returning or using his tactics." Superman growled at everyone. "We'll reconvene first thing tomorrow to decide what approach to take going forward. For now, everyone but Diana is dismissed. I'd like to have a word with you Di before you leave."

Flash was quickest to bolt from the area. He'd rarely seen Superman in such an aggravated state before. In fact, only Darkseid had seemed to be able to cause his ire to rise to such levels, and Diana had obviously just joined that exclusive list. John and Shayera were the next to make their exits, more than happy to just be out of the excruciatingly boring meeting while also knowing it was best to steer clear of the potential confrontation.

J'onn was the last to exit. He'd paused momentarily before realizing that Superman only had the intention of discovering what had convinced Diana that his added presence in Gotham wouldn't make a difference with the increasing violence. Superman hadn't yet met a foe he couldn't defeat before, and that held especially true for non-meta enhanced villains. He'd also never been doubted in such a fashion by one of his best friends before either. J'onn could sense that Diana hadn't meant to offend Superman with her proclamation, but egos had still been bruised, and there was nothing he could say to help alleviate that.

Meanwhile, Superman remained seated with his hands clasped before him on top of the table. He kept silent until J'onn finally exited the room and the door had slid shut behind him. "I'm going to need more information from you than 'you just know' Diana." Superman said. "My presence alone caused the crime rate to plummet when I first started helping out in Metropolis. I'll be the first to admit that Gotham is a different monster than most cities, but I just can't see how my being there wouldn't at least get things back to the way they were when Bruce was still patrolling the streets at night."

"I wish I could just tell you Kal." Diana said. "Really, I do. But I believe the League has certain protocols in place for a reason, and it would be best not to tempt creating a paradox just because of your opinion that you need to know something in greater detail."

"What are you talking about Di?" Clark asked, suddenly curious.

"The mission I was originally set upon before my...before I was sent away from the League for an extended period of time." Diana explained.

"The one where you came back pregnant?" Superman questioned, looking for and receiving confirmation from his friend. She'd offered him as much of an explanation as she could, but he was more confused than before as a result of it. He knew from the mission report that she'd traveled into an alternate timeline, and somehow returned carrying child. But what else had happened in that timeline that she couldn't share? Had Batman failed or given up there too? Had the League failed to save Gotham? Had he?

"I'm sorry Di, but I can't just sit back and do nothing." He eventually concluded. "Where ever you traveled to, things still could turn out differently here. I have to try."

"I need you to think about something for me Kal." Diana said as she tried to give Superman pertinent information without taking the risk of creating a paradox. "As you've indicated, you've made a vastly positive difference for Metropolis. But has anything you've done to date honestly put a stop to or even deterred Lex Luthor from going after his own selfish wants and desires?"

Superman frowned at the question, but ultimatelycouldn't argue that there was really anything he'd done to deter Luthor from his current course of actions. "No." He finally admitted. "But what does that have to..."

"Then imagine nearly every criminal in Gotham having that same mindset." Diana interrupted, already knowing what he was going to ask. "Your presence would certainly increase the number of people who are thrown into jail, but there is a corruption in the system there Kal."

"Luthor uses his financial backing and influence to expedite the process to gain his freedom just as the criminals of Gotham use that corruption to get back out onto the streets." Diana explained. "The criminals there know that the members of the Justice League will see to it that they all go to jail, but they would only be off the streets for a few days."

"I know that Batman's methods for Gotham's underbelly aren't acceptable by the League's standards, but they're the only means to actually garner anything from the criminals of Gotham." She continued. "Bruce didn't go to such means because it was what he wanted to do or because he doesn't have any meta powers to rely on. He resorted to them because they seem to be the only thing those criminals understand. Good people that represented the moral code of the rest of the world all ended up becoming Two-Faces or Harley Quinns there. Bruce is one of the very few who hadn't fallen to the darkness that city seems to permeate."

"And you have reason to believe we'd fall to that darkness?" Superman asked.

"Not necessarily fall to the path of becoming a criminal, but in a manner, yes." Diana confirmed. "Gotham City needs Batman."

"Well, these days he barely speaks to anyone aside from you." Superman pointed out. "Why don't you see if you can't change his mind."

"Don't you think I already have Kal?" Diana asked in frustration.

"You're early Princess." Bruce said as he met Diana at the front door of the Manor. "I didn't think I was supposed to see Alessa again until tomorrow."

"Actually Bruce, I came to see you myself if that's alright." Diana explained.

Bruce's facial expression became serious for a moment, but soon enough years of training in maintaining proper etiquette took over as he stepped aside to allow Diana entrance into the Manor. He became content with his decision after noticing that while Diana had come for her own agenda, she'd still brought Alessa with her. He'd grown quite the soft spot whenever Alessa was concerned, and Diana was grateful for that. It was what Alessa deserved.

"No Alfred?" Diana asked as she shed her light jacket to hang up. "I think this might be the first time I've actually gotten to put away my own coat."

"He's out getting groceries for the weekend." Bruce explained. "The old man lives to spoil our little girl with different cuisine every chance he gets."

"I'm glad to see that our daughter has made such an impact on him." Diana confessed as she handed Alessa to her father before walking in the direction of the study.

"Well, he always wanted the Wayne family legacy to live on past my generation." Bruce said as he turned to follow his guest. "It was a not so quietly kept secret of his."

As they entered the study, Diana headed over toward the grandfather clock hiding the main entrance to the infamous batcave before pausing and turning more toward the fire place. She stood there for a moment, almost transfixed by the painting of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and thought back to a moment from the alternate timeline where that painting never existed. So much pain had come from their deaths, and she silently hoped that she wasn't about to add to that pain for their son.

Bruce had paused at the entrance of the study when he saw Diana headed toward the clock entrance, and then stopped in his tracks completely once he saw her focusing onto the portrait of his parents. He studied her as she stood there silently looking at it. If felt to him like somehow she was having a silent conversation with them. She seemed as if she somehow missed them.

At the very least, she knew what they'd represented for him all this time until when he'd reluctantly gone back on his vow. Just the thought of that choice instantly caused a pang of regret to cross him, but he wanted to be happy. He'd made his decision. After all, he was still trying to do what he still could for the city just as he'd vowed. He'd already begun to aggressively donate money as a means to help create more jobs and housing.

"Bruce?" Diana asked, causing him to shake his head and come back to the present.

"Huh?" He asked. "I'm sorry. Were you saying something?"

"Well, it's good to see your retirement from hero work hasn't hindered your affinity for brooding." Diana teased upon garnering Bruce's attention from wherever his mind had drifted off to.

"Funny." Bruce dryly commented before getting back on task. "But I'm sure you didn't come hear just to make fun of me."

"You're right." Diana confirmed. "I actually came here hoping to talk you out of retirement."

"Then you wasted your time." Bruce replied succinctly.

"I know that you're aware of the spike in Gotham's crime rates." Diana said, ignoring his quick response. She wasn't going to let that deter her yet, and she watched him for any kind of reaction to what she was about to say. "Even with the League becoming involved, there's been virtually no curbing the increase of crime in Gotham over the month since you've left Batman behind, and I don't believe there will be. Gotham needs Batman to keep the villains from running rampant. You should already know by now that there's no amount of money that can simply be thrown at a problem in order to fix it."

"It's still too early to tell." Bruce argued as he began to pace around the room. "The criminals are just now starting to realize that Batman isn't coming after them anymore, and a spike should've been expected as a result. Things will settle again once the Justice League has better established itself as a constant presence."

"You're lying to yourself if you truly believe that Bruce." Diana retorted. "Why would you have so vehemently argued for the League to refrain from even setting foot inside the city limits before if you honestly believed we could so easily establish ourselves as a deterrent? The criminals here are different than from any other place in the world. I think you knew that from the very beginning. Even if you refuse to admit it now."

Bruce halted in his pacing to glare at Diana. She watched every flinch, every tick of his jaw as he stood there. He'd have to admit that he was wrong in one fashion or another, and he rarely, if ever painted himself into such a corner. He'd become angry. The question was, why? Was he angry with her for confronting him, or was there another reason behind it that had yet to be revealed?

Bruce moved over to the large grandfather clock, and Diana watched him from behind as he stopped before it. His shoulders were heaving up and down as he fought to control his breathing. Had he not still had his daughter in his arms, he may very well have punched a hole through a wall out of frustration. "I can't be happy if 'he' remains a part of my life." Bruce nearly whispered after he looked back over his shoulder in Diana's direction.

"That's not true Bruce." Diana said in a comforting tone, walking up to him and laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"Being Batman is the result of a coping mechanism born from my childhood trauma." Bruce half-heartedly argued. "I can't let go of the past if I keep going down the same path."

"You'd be forgetting a very important part of yourself if you give up what you've fought for all this time." Diana replied. "What you've trained most of your life for. Being Batman is a part of who you are. At my just mentioning what's recently changed with the criminal element, its already grating away at you. Deep down you know that you've made a significant mark on this city. You've helped to heal it in a way that your parents fought to as best they could..."

"Don't speak of them like you know them!" Bruce angrily said as he quickly spun around to face Diana.

"I did know them Bruce!" Diana fired right back at him just as angrily.

"You could only know of a version of them that was at best perverted by an altered timeline." Batman retorted vehemently while the two of them were now standing almost nose to nose as they continued their heated argument. "You have no way of knowing what the changes in that timeline might've done to affect them or how they lived their lives."

"And you have no way of proving that they weren't the same loving and compassionate parents that raised you as a child." Diana continued to press onward. "Events in life change each and every person Bruce, altered timeline or not. But to think that their core values and beliefs would somehow have changed or be tainted? Your actions and accomplishments as Batman speak so very highly of their own character in this timeline. That only leads me to believe that I truly did know your parents as they would've been had they not been so cruelly taken from the world."

"Why would a person make such a vow, and see it through if the ones he dedicated every accomplishment to as a hero weren't truly magnificent people?" She asked.

Bruce's eyes widened for an instant, and Diana knew that she'd made a valid point in which he couldn't really argue. So she took that opportunity and moved around Bruce to the grandfather clock, and quickly manipulated it until the entrance to the batcave opened. She didn't wait for Bruce as she walked into the secret entrance, but sure enough, and just as she'd anticipated, Bruce did follow.

It seemed like it'd been ages since Diana had heard the soft screeching of the bats hanging from above as she continued down the steps. Once she reached the bottom, all the lights automatically began flickering to life when the motion sensors were tripped. Soon, the tarp covered Batmobile and Batwing were revealed, the trophies of past conquests came into view, and then the computer area started coming to life. It was all the same as she remembered it.

"Look at what you've done here Bruce." Diana said, gesturing around her as he came to a stop next to her. "All of this in the name of two people that you love with all your heart. Just think about all of the lives you've saved along the way in their name."

"Nothing I've done as Batman couldn't have been accomplished by someone else." Bruce tried to point out.

"That's not true Bruce." Diana stated. "Without Batman, none of this would've been possible. And at the very least, without Batman, that beautiful little girl in your arms wouldn't be either. I wouldn't have sought you out in the other timeline if you hadn't already been a trusted friend in this one. I wouldn't have so easily fal..."

Bruce looked down at his daughter as Diana abruptly stopped mid sentence. She'd slipped and was about to confirm that she'd fallen in love with the alternate Bruce, and he couldn't help the slight stab of jealousy that coursed through him. Not even the notion that it was technically him that she'd still fallen for helped. But despite that feeling, he couldn't imagine life without Alessa.

His daughter had immediately etched her way into his heart, and she didn't have to do anything to accomplish such a feat that many before her had tried and failed to do. She already meant the world to him, and was most definitely a source of utter happiness for him. He knew that he'd go through 100 times the torment and pain he'd already experienced if it meant that he could still have Alessa be a part of his life. That meant admitting internally at least, that Diana had made a valid point.

Diana saw how Bruce had become fixated on their daughter, and knew that she'd at least forced him to think over his decision, of what he was giving up. She slowly stepped closer to him, and when she'd moved close enough he spoke in a soft tone that was still barely audible. "I still regret that my anger toward you and your gods caused me to miss so much time with her."

"It wasn't your fault Bruce." Diana said as she again offered comfort to him. "It was a choice that I made, and a consequence that I was sentenced to as a result of my choices. You were innocent in all of this. But with her here and a part of both our lives, I can't say that I have any regrets about those choices I made."

"Even though I wasn't technically a part of it, I'm glad you did what you did." Bruce admitted, but then a look of cold determination graced his features. "But Alessa is part of the reason I chose to give up being Batman. I won't risk her losing her father because I was too stubborn to think that only I could make a difference for Gotham. The League can and will handle this once things settle."

His sudden change in direction took Diana by surprise. She thought that she'd finally convinced Bruce that he shouldn't give up such a crucial part of himself, but obviously he was still resolute in his decision. Whatever it was that had successfully swayed his view had already sunk its claws into him, and wasn't about to let go.

"What if you're wrong Bruce?" She asked. "What if things only continue to get worse? The League can't go to the extremes that you did in order to make the psychopaths of Gotham think twice about their actions."

"Then we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it." Bruce said.

Diana's eyes swept around the large ballroom once again, scanningfor any signs of the event's host. The event was slated to both promote an official sponsorship for the Justice League while also raise funding for a local housing project. She would've rather been at home with her little girl, or even perhaps serving a shift of Monitor Duty, but she had to be there to see the host. She'd never been one to really enjoy attending these types of social outings. In spite of them being held under the guise of a good cause, she truly believed it was more of an excuse for fake people to clamor for attention and good publicity.

If she ever had her way, she would've declined every invitation after her initial experience, but once again felt obligated to help with the good causes. During such events, she'd sooner or later be approached by a number of vapid men who first had to reach a certain level of drunkenness before they could attain the amount of bravery necessary to even approach her. She was certain that they only had one thing in mind when they did finally approach. She was just some form of a trophy to them, out on display to gawk at as if she were a piece of meat in front of a starving dog.

At times like that, she wished that she could respond as Batman would. A fear inducing glare would be most beneficial to her, but as a representative of her people and the Justice League, she couldn't allow herself to act in such a manner. Instead she had to take all of the lewd behavior and lame pickup lines in stride with a gracious smile on top of it. She did however find ways to slip in a clever and well placed snarky comment here and there to help pass the time whenever she could.

She took solace in the fact that least she wasn't going to suffer alone on this night. Kal was also there with her to serve as the official representatives of the Justice League when it came time to accept the oversized check from Wayne Enterprises. Kal was also hoping they would find a moment to pull Bruce aside. He hoped to make another attempt at reasoning with Bruce about his retirement from vigilantism. Diana knew better, but Kal was still hopeful.

Things had only gotten worse in Gotham City as time had continued to pass. Each day seemed to increase the level of confidence and defiance from the criminals. Even some of the heavy hitters had begun making more plays for power over Gotham's streets. Even the Joker had gotten somewhat involved. Although for the most part his antics still seemed more like an attempt at convincing his favorite antagonist to make one more appearance than anything else.

Initially, Joker had started off with simple and random smash and grabs, but when he still didn't gain Batman's personal attention, he quickly became more direct in his approach. The last instance, he'd somehow managed to steal the Bat-signal from the GCPD rooftop. Then he fired it up after sufficiently defacing it at an abandoned factory. Unfortunately for him, that only put too large of a target on his back to miss, and he ended up running into the Justice League.

What surprised them though was how little of a fight he actually put up when they caught up to him. Joker was only repeatedly asking where Batman was as he was being dragged away. There was a sort of desperation in his voice that Diana could recall hearing as she watched him being taken away. He almost seemed to be heartbroken as the realization that Batman might actually be gone for good finally began to sink in.

"There he is." Superman whispered into Diana's ear, causing her to snap back from her line of thoughts. She looked over in the direction Kal had gestured toward, and sure enough there Bruce stood. He was glad-handing people with handshakes and pleasantries as he slowly but methodically maneuvered into the ballroom.

Diana still had serious doubts about Kal's plan to attempt confronting Bruce. He hadn't spoken with any members of the Justice League since his resignation aside from her, and he'd basically cut off that contact as well ever since their last conversation in the Batcave. She truly believed that if it hadn't been for Alessa, he very well might've tried ending all forms of communication with her as well.

There was also the issue of the woman currently attached to his side. Hannah was most definitely in favor of the Batman remaining absent from Bruce's life, and if they couldn't pull him away from her as well as the crowd, there'd be no chance that she wouldn't try to dissuade any attempts they made at talking Bruce into making a return.

There was also the fact that Bruce would surely balk at any attempt to persuade him that his intentions, while understandable, wouldn't actually give him what he was hoping for or wanting in the end. Even though he'd likely never admit to it, he couldn't be completely happy after giving up his quest to protect the city. Diana believed this to be wholeheartedly true.

She'd witnessed firsthand the level of effort he'd put into being the vigilante hero that he'd been. She'd seen the heights he'd reached for and attained. Many heights that as a mere mortal human, he shouldn't have even been able to aspire to. And yet each time he was able to. He'd simply refused to accept any limitations that being a non-meta human should have. No one could be the man that he'd become except for him, and of that she was certain of.

As she watched him continuing to slowly progress into the ballroom, she tried to push any potentially lingering doubts from her mind. While Bruce deserved to be happy, he also deserved to be complete at the same time. That was something Hannah missed in her diagnosis of what was best for him, and he needed to see that whether he wanted to or not.

"I think it's time we thanked Mr. Wayne for his generous sponsorship, don't you Superman?" Diana asked pointedly as she suddenly began marching through the mass of people toward her intended target.

Superman was initially surprised by the quick change in his partner's demeanor, but he soon caught back up to her as she pressed onward. He was briefly concerned about just what she might have planned, but soon concluded that any entrance she chose to make would be calmer than that of his romantic interest. Lois would've been walking just as fast and determined, but she'd also be yelling out Bruce's name to gain his immediate attention away from anyone else. When Lois had a plan of action, there wasn't much of anything that could stop her, and that was one of the many things he loved about her.

Almost as if he'd been anticipating it, Bruce turned just as Diana and Superman were within arm's reach. "Diana, Superman!" Bruce cheerily and loudly exclaimed as he stuck out a hand toward the heroes. "I never would've imagined that the Justice League would send out the two most powerful heroes just for a sponsorship acceptance. I hope this doesn't mean things are slow enough where such fund gathering isn't actually warranted."

"No, I'm afraid not Mr. Wayne." Superman said through a forced smile as he firmly grabbed Bruce's hand. He knew that Bruce wouldn't be happy about both Diana and him being there in person, but some lines still shouldn't be crossed. Even if they were partially in jest. And questioning the necessity of funding for the League was one of them.

"Unfortunately Mr. Wayne, we're where the majority of the trouble for the world seems to be coming from." Diana jabbed right back as she took her turn shaking the billionaire's hand.

Bruce frowned upon hearing her words, but his demeanor quickly changed to a more hurtful look. "And I thought our friendship had moved so far past formal pleasantries." He said.

"I'm sorry Bruce." Diana conceded upon realization of her apparent mistake in etiquette. "I didn't mean to offend."

"No apologies necessary." Bruce said, the smile returning instantly as he quickly encircled her for a friendly hug. "I'm just happy that my company is going to be able to support the Justice League as well as host the charity event tonight."

"And we certainly appreciate your financial aid." Superman added. "Every donation and sponsorship helps to keep the Justice League operating more efficiently in order to better protect the world from any threats."

"Not to mention the charity event that was set up as a result of this sponsorship." Hannah chimed in as she stuck her hand out for Superman to take. "We're hoping to raise a large enough sum of money to make some real positive change in Gotham."

"It's a very noble endeavor." Superman said as he took her hand in greeting.

"Bruce is willing to do whatever he can to help give the children here something productive." Hannah said as she only glanced in Diana's direction for a moment before tightening her hold on Bruce's arm ever so slightly. "He's always wanted to do what's best for Gotham, and we can only hope that the program these donations are slated for will be able to help provide housing and opportunities for the underprivileged. With enough help, perhaps it can also help to alleviate some of the trouble you're referring to."

"Well, I certainly hope that it will." Superman replied as he couldn't hope but to notice the slight glare Hannah had briefly shot in Diana's direction. He also saw from Diana's miniscule change in posture, that she'd picked up on it too.

The small talk didn't last much longer from that point, and the couple soon continued on, making the usual rounds that Bruce had been accustomed to after years of practice. Diana and Superman did their best to maintain a professional and friendly stance, but soon enough the intrigue of being near superheroes did begin to dissipate.

As the event continued on, some couples chose to take advantage of the background music, starting to dance and have a generally good time. As per the usual, as the night wore on, the inevitable flocking of more and more "potential suitors" began coming up to Diana in the hopes of garnering her undivided attention. By the time she'd received advances from well over ten different drunk debutants for dances, dinner requests, or other forms of physical pursuit, she finally managed to slip away, excusing herself for the ladies room. She even walked in the direction of the rest rooms before eventually veering off to an open and uninhabited balcony.

The cool night air was refreshing. She hadn't realized just how stuffy and warm the large ballroom had become with all the people inside it. She just needed a few moments away to herself before she'd return so that the next man waiting for their moment with Wonder Woman could attempt their unoriginal advance toward her. Little breaks like this helped to maintain her patience with all the unwanted attention that came her way. If not for some moments away, she may very well have smacked some of the men who approached her.

Unfortunately, she soon realized that the break she'd managed to steal away wasn't going to last long at all. She could hear someone approaching from behind, and by the sound of their shoes contacting the floor, it was a safe bet that the person approaching her was a man. Diana sighed and took a deep, cleansing breath, trying to quell the remaining frustration before this person was close enough to toss out yet another lame pickup line.

"I almost forgot how much of a hassle it can be for you to attend events like this." Came the baritone voice behind her.

Realization of who'd approached caused the tension in her features to instantly melt away, and she turned her head just to be sure it was really him and not her imagination playing tricks on her. "The price of fame, I suppose." She said simply. "But it's still for a good cause."

"True." Bruce agreed as he leaned up beside her against the railing, and looked out over the city. "Doesn't make the experience any more enjoyable though."

"What brings you out here?" Diana asked curiously, but still wanting to just get to the point. "I wouldn't want the any tabloids to see you talking to another woman. It could be construed as flirting."

"I saw the way Hannah looked at you earlier." Bruce explained. "She thinks you might be a threat to my relationship with her."

"What do you think?" Diana asked.

"I know that you'd never do something like that." He answered without hesitation. "Besides, I still can't quite wrap my mind around why you'd have any romantic feelings toward me anyway."

"You're wouldn't be fishing for compliments to inflate that well documented ego that is Bruce Wayne would you?" Diana teased trying to lighten the mood a little as she turned to lean more against the balcony railing so she could face him directly.

Bruce smiled in response as he finally looked over at her. "Believe everything the tabloids have to say about me, Wonder Woman?" He playfully shot back.

"I have other well placed sources." She continued before finally turning serious. "I'm happy you realize that I'm not a threat Bruce. I'd never want to trample on a chance for you to be truly happy. I'm just concerned that the path you've chosen to take isn't going to provide what you're looking for when it concerns giving up such a large part of what makes you who you are."

Bruce briefly glanced back in through the fluttering curtains that offered some separation from the party for them before focusing back on her eyes. To her surprise, he sighed as he revealed a look that she'd never seen before from him. "I've shared the same doubts." He admitted.

However, Diana was the next to surprise him as she suddenly placed the back of her hand onto his forehead. He watched her for a moment as she displayed a look of searching for something, and was about to say something when she spoke up. "Well, you're not running a fever, so there's only one possible explanation."

"And what's that?" He asked as he playfully smacked her hand away from his head.

"You've been replaced by some experimental clone or an alien." She said while trying to keep a straight face, but failing miserably.

Bruce allowed a quiet bark of laughter to escape from the joke she'd said at his expense. He opened his mouth, formulating a witty comeback of his own when the sound of glass shattering followed by gunshots and screaming from the ballroom suddenly interrupted their conversation.

Both of them jumped into action, alert and ready to pounce as they moved toward the entrance. They peered into the ballroom, and Bruce instantly became rigid in his stance as his hands clenched into tight fists. He ground his teeth together as an angry growl finally managed to escape. "Penguin."

AN: I need to send a shout out to LOTSlover. She was instrumental in helping me with the female perspective of the previous chapter as well as by bouncing ideas off of for this one. Although I'm keeping our favorite couple too far apart for her liking ;)

Also want to thank Zenness, DDLo18, , ZhukovCGD, CrazyPhenom, KNINTN, Ni Castle, Estefany B, and the guests for your reviews. I know its slower pacing than what I used to do, but I'll never quit on a fic until I've seen it all the way through to its end. That goes for my other currently active fic, Struggle Within. Rest assured, I'm still working on it, and hopefully can get everything hashed out for the next chapter of it sometime sooner rather than later.