TITLE: To Catch a Thief
CHARACTERS: Batman / Wonder Woman
WARNINGS: Author Chooses Not to Use Warnings
DISCLAIMER: I love Justice League, but especially Batman and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, I do not own the characters and if I did things would be much different for them.
SUMMARY: Set after the events of "The Once and Future Thing, Part II", Bruce struggles to come to terms with a revelation that he'd learned from his future self, but his self-imposed isolation is interrupted when he and Diana are forced to go undercover as a couple in order to break up a heist and stop a thief. BMWW.
New York City; September 10th, 02:32 EST
He stood before the now empty display case, a sly smirk forming on his lips as he ran his fingers over the small, black velvet bag that held his newest acquisition. The rush of adrenaline that came with every single heist he pulled off was still pumping wildly through his veins and making his pulse race.
It had been a little trickier than he had originally planned, but he'd done his research, studied and mapped out every single detail down to the letter. He knew every feature of the security system that had been installed in order to protect, but had come across a secondary system that he hadn't been aware of. He had still been able to disable it within seconds. His patience and diligence had paid off in spades and now he held his reward firmly in his hand.
He carefully placed his personal business card in the empty display case where it would be found far too late to ever catch up to him. Of course, no one had been able to apprehend him in the last three years. Now would be no different. He was untouchable…invincible.
He silently slipped through the condo like a living shadow that no one could get their hands on, passing by Ming vases and priceless artwork. None of them interested him in the least. He had come for what he had wanted. Nothing else here mattered.
He paused at the balcony doors, his leather clad fingers wrapping around the brass handle. He peered back over his shoulder at the tranquil setting he was leaving behind. The owners would be quite surprised when they returned home from their European vacation tomorrow evening.
Opening the doors, he crept out onto the balcony, escaping into the darkness. The chaotic sounds of traffic filled the air, the brilliance of the city that never slept swallowing him up as he shot his grappling line. He allowed it to carry him into the night and away from the crime scene. He leapt from one rooftop to the next, staying out of sight.
After several blocks, he scaled down the side of a building and slipped into a nearby alley, stopping behind a row of dumpsters overflowing with trash. He quickly glanced around, ensuring his privacy before slipping his mask off as well as his gloves and utility belt. He grabbed the satchel that he'd left there over an hour ago, stuffing his prize deep inside for safe keeping.
He pulled his black fitted shirt that fit like a second skin over his head, changing back into his dress shirt and tailored suit jacket. Pulling on his dress shoes, he grabbed his satchel, slipping the handle over his shoulder. Drawing a deep breath to calm his still hammering heart, he ran his fingers back through his hair before adjusting the sleeves of his jacket.
It was never anxiety or the fear of being caught that caused his heart to flutter like the frantic wings of a hummingbird after the quest was finally over. It was the sheer excitement of the moment, the thrill of the hunt and the reward of a job accomplished, knowing all along that no one would ever be intelligent enough to catch him.
With a confident smile on his lips, he stepped out into the street, pride filling him with the knowledge that this had been his biggest heist to date, one worth twenty million dollars. Such a small object and yet it was far more valuable than anything he'd stolen up until now. It wasn't just about the money, though. It was the significance behind the item itself.
He leisurely wandered the streets of New York, taking in the various sights, sounds and smells, the energy that literally vibrated around him. It was only his third trip here and already he found it addicting compared to the serenity of his home.
He kept a firm grip on the handle of his leather satchel that hung from his shoulder as he made his way back towards his hotel on the Upper East End. The air was mildly humid, but not particularly uncomfortable. A faint breeze brushed against his face, causing his eyes to fall closed as the scent of food assaulted him. It reminded him that he had yet to eat dinner. He would rectify that as soon as he returned to his room and his stash was safely stored away.
Approaching The Lowell, he was met by the doorman who gave him a pleasant smile. "Welcome back, sir," he greeted him with a nod of his head. "I hope your night was enjoyable."
"It was very pleasant…thank you," he replied with a responding nod as he passed through the door.
He walked through the empty front lobby of the luxurious hotel, making his way to the elevators with the self-assurance that coursed through him. Reaching the penthouse suite, he inserted his key card before entering, closing and locking the door behind him.
It was done.
Watchtower; September 15th, 18:56 EST
Superman swept through the doors of the founders' conference room to find Diana already in her seat as usual, Flash leaning against the edge of the table talking to her with his arms folded against his chest and a playful smirk on his face. John was sitting on the other side of the table, lost in conversation with J'onn. The only other person missing was Batman.
It wasn't that out of the ordinary for Batman to be the last member to arrive or to not show up at all, especially since he and John had returned from their mission to stop Chronos. He'd been acting more elusive, far more distant even for him. He had seen very little of his best friend since that mission over six weeks ago, making him wonder what had actually happened during that time that Batman wasn't willing to talk about let alone face.
Clark had thought about talking to John about what had happened that hadn't appeared in the mission reports they had both filed, but had hoped that with time Batman would just eventually fall back into his usual patterns. So far, though, that hadn't happened.
He'd traded monitor duty shifts, missed the last five founders' meetings, and had been missing in general on the Watchtower. He'd tried contacting him last week just to check on him, but had been completely shut down with a clipped growl of "I'm busy" followed by a dead communication line.
Slipping into his seat at the head of the table, Superman couldn't help but wonder if he should make a personal visit. He decided if he didn't show up for the meeting this afternoon, he was going to have to make a trip to Gotham to find out what was going on with his complicated friend.
"So is Bats a no-show again?" Flash asked. "This will make…what? Five meetings in a row now? Okay, who ticked off the Bat this time? I demand answers!"
"Well, let's see…" John thought fully replied, pausing for dramatic effect. "It was more than likely you since you're the one who gets under his cowl all the time with your stupid pranks."
"Hey!" Flash cried in indignation as he straightened up. "I haven't done anything to make him mad in a long time."
"Nobody ticked Batman off," Superman interrupted them. "I've been in contact with him and he is very busy with Gotham right now."
"Riiight," Flash drawled with a smirk. "Fifty bucks says something happened when he and John went to the future that freaked him out and now he's in hiding."
"Let's just get started with the meeting," Superman suggested, sensing that Flash was closer to the truth than any of them had probably known, but didn't want to elaborate on it until he knew more about what was going on with him. "We have a lot on the agenda to discuss today."
Flash leaned down towards Diana, wiggling his eyebrows beneath his red mask. "Well, it doesn't look like our dark and freaky friend is coming. Mind if I sit by you, gorgeous?"
"Take your seat, Flash," Superman sternly told him. He wasn't in the mood for Wally's sassy rejoinders today or his flirting with Diana. "We have a lot to discuss and we need to get started."
"Is there something going on?" John asked with a frown, picking up on the edge in the Man of Steel's voice.
"We have a lot on the agenda to discuss, but I'm concerned about a new criminal that is starting to make quite a name for himself," Clark revealed.
"Who is this individual?" J'onn asked.
"As of now, he has no name that we know of," Clark replied.
"No name?" Flash repeated in disbelief. "How can he have no name?"
"What's going on, Kal?" Diana questioned him, sitting forward in her chair with a sudden sense of urgency.
"Thefts began all over England a little over three years ago, starting out with minor robberies that have gradually progressed in degree of difficulty," Clark explained. "Over the last year, he's expanded his activity to Europe and the United States, targeting higher valued items. Last week, he stole a rare diamond in New York City estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. Two weeks before that, he stole an ancient Egyptian dagger from a wealthy family in Metropolis."
It was John's turn to question the Man of Steel as his folded hands came to rest on top of the conference table. "Do you have any more information on this guy?"
"He leaves a calling card behind that is completely blank," Superman told them. "That's the only thing that ties all of these robberies together."
"There has to be more to this thief," Flash pressed. "Has he ever been caught on security or surveillance cameras?"
"No, he's never been seen and no other clues have been left behind," Superman said with a shake of his head. "We're going on very little here."
"It appears the higher the risk and the danger, the greater the attraction for this thief," Diana interjected. "The article stolen is just a bonus….a reward for being able to breech the strongest security measures and escape detection."
"I agree with Diana," J'onn commented. "It appears he finds greatest pleasure in the degree of jeopardy involved, not just in the item he is seeking to steal."
"Are we even certain that it is a man?" Diana asked. "This could be a woman or someone with Meta abilities that we don't know about yet."
"I guess it could be a woman," Clark decided with a frown. "At this point, the police have been going under the assumption that this is a man. We have nothing to confirm that this is a Meta, but it's always a possibility that needs to be considered."
"This is all very fascinating, but what does this have to do with the Justice League?" Flash finally raised the question that had been lingering in his mind since Superman began the meeting.
"We need to be on the lookout for him," Superman stated. "His activities have been escalating in recent months. He's turning his attention from jewelry store heists to some very rare artifacts that will be lost to the world unless we can stop him."
"There's also no predicting how dangerous this person truly is," Diana added. "If he isn't able to get what he wants, there's no telling what he might resort to or what his end game actually is by collecting all these items."
"Agreed," Clark replied. "That's why we need to stay alert."
"We need to bring Batman in on this," Diana decided. "He'd be best able to help figure out who this person is and how to stop him."
"I don't know how much help we're actually going to be able to receive from Batman at this time," Clark hesitantly informed them. "When I contacted him last week, he was pretty heavily involved in a case in Gotham. For the time being, we're going to have to work through this one on our own.
"I'd be happy to head it up and look into these thefts," Diana offered.
"That would be great, Diana," Clark replied. "We'll all help out when we can, but I know things have been pretty busy around here lately for everyone. Now, next item on the agenda—new League memberships. We have several new members that are going to need training and…"
Diana thoughts drifted from the conference room and Superman's discussion to this mysterious new thief. While she was anxious to get involved in the case, she found herself wishing that Batman was here to provide some insight. He was the true detective among them, his skills unparalleled when it came to cases such as these.
She couldn't help wondering what it was that was keeping Bruce away this time. It wasn't unusual for him to disappear from the League for days or weeks on end only to reappear as if nothing had ever happened, but something about it all felt off this time for some reason.
She wished that she could remember all the details of what had happened during that time-travelling mission to stop Chronos. It had to be the key as to why Batman was avoiding them and why he refused to set foot on the Watchtower. Had he really encountered something in the future that had affected him like Wally had suggested?
Her contemplative gaze fell on Green Lantern who was listening intently to Superman, his fingers absentmindedly fiddling with the lid of his coffee mug. She had read the files that both John and Bruce had filed for the mission in hopes of remembering something, but it still hadn't awakened any memories for her. She was going to have to talk to John to see if she could get to the bottom of this and hopefully find out what was wrong with Bruce.
She was growing worried about the Dark Knight of Gotham. She missed seeing him on the Watchtower and going on missions with him. Despite his prickly demeanor at times, she enjoyed the way he always challenged her not only intellectually but physically when she sparred with him in the training room.
It had felt like forever since they'd last trained together. He'd cancelled on her soon after the time-travelling mission and had not returned any of her calls or messages to reschedule. Something was definitely going on with her friend and she intended to find out what it was whether he liked it or not.
Batcave; September 15th, 19:29 EST
Bruce sat before his Cray computer system in his cave reviewing case files, his cowl resting against his back. He frowned as he began to notice an all too familiar pattern developing; one that told him more trouble was brewing in Gotham again.
There had been a string of robberies recently that he had a feeling pointed to one person in particular. At first glance, they were thought to be unrelated, but he was noticing a common thread in the thefts that he didn't like. There was one individual that could be responsible for it and for once it wasn't Selina Kyle.
It had been several months since he'd last seen her. She'd tried to seduce him when he had tried to apprehend her stealing some jewels from a prominent Gothamite. While he couldn't ignore the desire that she had awakened in him when she kissed him breathless, he knew deep down that it would never be more than that—physical desire. She was beautiful and he was lonely. She was unattainable with her penchant for stealing and he couldn't afford to commit to anyone making it a flawed, dysfunctional relationship from the very start.
He sat back in his chair with a sigh, his elbow coming to rest on the armrest as he broodingly rubbed his chin with his forefinger as he pushed thoughts of Selina aside. He needed to focus on the developing case. He was going to have to figure out where the next theft would occur before they could strike again.
"I take it you're not attending the founders' meeting scheduled for this evening?"
Bruce ground his teeth as Alfred's voice invaded his thoughts as well as his private sanctuary that was his second home. "No," he bluntly stated without looking up from his computer screen.
"That's the fifth meeting you've missed since—"
"I realize that," he interrupted with a razor-sharp edge, knowing what he was going to say next.
He didn't want to be reminded, didn't want to think about that last mission he'd been on with the League. He didn't want to be forced to deal with emotions that it had only managed to intensify within him nor did he want to think about the things that he'd learned from his future self. It was why he'd been avoiding the Watchtower…why he'd been evading her.
"You're going to listen whether you like it or not…"
His elder self's words flashed through his mind for the millionth time since his return. He didn't want to deal with it so he'd sequestered himself in Gotham for the last month and a half. Seeing her meant facing his feelings…facing the things that he'd learned in the future. He wasn't prepared to do that. He might never be at this point, but he needed time to think and to figure out what he was going to do about what he had learned in the future.
Shutting out any more thoughts of her, Bruce noticed Alfred was still standing there off to the side, patiently waiting with disapproval clearly written on his face. "What is it, Alfred?" he asked with unmistakable exasperation.
"Might you be intentionally avoiding a particular someone?" he innocently inquired, clasping his hands before him. He already had a feeling that he knew the answer, but he still hoped that some prying might reveal some information and fill in all the missing pieces.
"I'm not avoiding anyone," Bruce bit out, sitting forward in his chair as he began to pull up more files.
"So you wouldn't care if a certain Amazon were to appear at the manor to see you," Alfred coyly mentioned.
Bruce's head snapped up, his eyes narrowing as he stared at his surrogate father. "Diana's here?"
The flash of panic in the younger man's eyes didn't go unnoticed by the British Butler nor did the momentary look of fear that had passed over his face. "No, she's not here," he simply stated with a smile that only grated even further on the Dark Knight's nerves. "Care to talk about what happened with her that has you hiding out here with only the bats for company for the last six weeks?"
Bruce turned his attention back to his computer screen, a fierce scowl forming on his face. "There's nothing to talk about," he snapped. "Nothing happened with Diana and nothing will."
"Something clearly happened or you wouldn't be in such a delightful mood for the last month and a half," Alfred patiently probed. "There has to be a reason that you've confined yourself to this dreadful cave."
"I have a lot of work to do," he evenly stated. "You know that Gotham needs me."
"Well, Gotham is beginning to talk," Alfred revealed. "The tabloids are wondering where the playboy Bruce Wayne has been these last several weeks. You have not been seen outside of the few times that you actually managed to show up for work at Wayne Enterprises and tongues are beginning to wag."
Bruce's chin fell to his chest, the frustration and indecision that he'd been wrestling with for the last few weeks bubbling like lava just beneath the surface and set to erupt. "What events are coming up in the next few weeks?"
"You've received an invitation to a party that is being thrown by Miss Veronica Vreeland in two weeks," he informed him.
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose as he squeezed his eyes closed against the headache that was building, already detesting the thought of attending one of her parties. While Ronnie was a good friend to Bruce Wayne, the people that attended those parties were obnoxious and self-centered in the worst kind of way.
That was the last thing he wanted to deal with right now. Besides, the thought of having to spend the evening with another date that held no interest for him made him internally shudder. "What else is there?"
"Rebecca Connelly has left a couple of messages wondering when the two of you would be going out again," Alfred replied, already knowing what his charge's response would be. He shouldn't have bothered bringing it up.
Releasing an aggravated huff, Bruce sat back, rubbing his face with his hands. "Send her some roses and a note apologizing for my lack of response. Wish her well, but I'll be indisposed for the next few months and unable to see her for the unforeseeable future."
Alfred slowly shook his head, knowing the brush-off line all too well. It was one that he'd had to use in an effort to placate more women over the years than he could begin to count. At least Rebecca would be receiving some flowers with the rejection. Typically, Bruce Wayne failed to respond at all.
"I will be sure to see to it first thing tomorrow," Alfred reassured him.
"What other events are coming up?" Bruce asked.
"You have been invited to attend an exclusive four day event in four weeks," he informed him. "The estate of a Mister Leo Vanover will be selling his entire collection of rare antiques and jewels at his castle in England."
Bruce thoughtfully frowned as he seemed to consider it for a moment, the thought of obtaining some rare antiques for the Gotham Museum almost appealing to him. "I can't be gone from Gotham for that long," he ultimately decided with a definitive shake of his head. "I'll have to make an appearance at the Gotham Museum exhibit gala next week. That will have to do. It should shut everyone up for a while."
Alfred released a weary sigh. "Shall I arrange a date for the event, Master Bruce?"
"I'll take care of it," Bruce mumbled under his breath, barely acknowledging what his butler had said. He was far too engrossed in the string of robberies that had started in Gotham to be thinking about banquets and dates and women.
"As you wish, sir," Alfred dutifully replied. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm just going to dye my hair green and join the Joker's gang."
Bruce's response was a cross between a grunt and a snort, too absorbed in the file he was reading to pay any attention to what was being said to him. He was trying to discover which store was going to be hit next before the thief stuck again, thoughts of being Bruce Wayne being pushed aside as the Bat took over once more.
Alfred shook his head in dismay as he finally turned to leave him to his work. He knew something involving Princess Diana had occurred on that last mission, something that had sent him into a complete tailspin. He had come back from missions somewhat rattled before, but never to this extent.
He had hoped that he would begin to open up a little bit about what had upset him so deeply, but he'd been as tight-lipped as ever. Whatever it involved, he just hoped that he worked through it soon and that it didn't involve shutting the Amazon princess out of his life.
Alfred could always tell when Bruce had been around Miss Diana over the past three years. There was a definite lightness to his demeanor, a sense of peace that had long been absent since Bruce had been a young boy. He would almost call it…dare he say…happiness?
Miss Diana certainly had that affect on people and it appeared that Gotham's vigilante was no different. He was not immune to the charms of the Amazon warrior. He didn't think that Bruce was even aware of the influence that she had on him.
If he was aware of it, he was clearly choosing to ignore it which was why had been holed up in his blasted cave for the last several weeks avoiding her and everyone else at all cost. Something had most definitely hit a nerve with him.
Heading up the stairs into the manor, Alfred just hoped that Bruce would allow himself a small piece of happiness in his life instead of shutting out the only ray of light that had been able to penetrate his self-imposed darkness. For that to happen, he knew they would need a miracle of great proportions.
Gotham; September 16th, 00:43 EST
Batman studied the jewelry store from the dark shadows where he always worked best, where he thrived and where he had been sentenced to exist since he was eight-years-old. Living beyond the reaches of the shadows…being exposed to the light was for other heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman. They were the bright and shiny heroes, the face of the Justice League.
No, he needed to stay in the dark and be a part of the night to do the things that only he could do, the things that terrified criminals and made them give up things that they wouldn't confess to their own mothers. The darkness was secure, comfortable to him like a safe haven. The dark always hid a multitude of sins as well as the repulsive scars that he continuously carried with him both inside and out. If anyone truly knew them…if she truly knew him, she would be repulsed by him.
That was also partly why the others weren't welcome here in Gotham, especially now while he was working. "Get out of my city," he darkly growled without even turning around to face his unwanted visitor, his jaw locking with anger at the blatant interference in his patrol. He didn't have time for a social call right now. He had a thief to stop.
"Good to see you too, Batman," Superman sarcastically replied as he approached him from behind.
"What do you want?" The Caped Crusader bluntly demanded an answer, gritting his teeth in overt irritation. The only solace he found in this little visit from Clark was that she hadn't come with him.
"I wanted to see how you were doing and if everything was all right," he carefully ventured, tiptoeing around the heart of the issue. It was never easy prying information out of Bruce even on a good day. This was obviously not going to be one of those days.
"I'm fine," he rasped with a dark grate, his hands balling into fists of fury. "Now leave before someone sees you."
Superman drew a fortifying breath, knowing he was going to need all the patience that he could possibly muster in order to deal with Bruce when he was in one of these moods. "So that's it?" he pressed, obstinately crossing his arms against his muscular chest and refusing to back down. "You've been missing from the League for over six weeks, trading shifts and missing meetings and this is all the explanation I'm going to get from you?"
"I'm a part-time member, remember?" Batman pointed out. "Besides, I haven't been missing. I've been here in Gotham."
"You know what I mean," Superman said with obvious exasperation, his annoyance rising along with his voice. "We've been worried about you. Whether you like it or not, we're all your friends and everyone has been asking where you've been. Diana has been especially worried—"
Batman instantly bristled with the mention of Diana's name, his breath catching in his throat against his will. "I appreciate everyone's concern, but I just have some things that I need to deal with right now."
Superman stared at Batman's back, silently willing him to turn around and at least face him, to open up even just a little bit. "Did something happen on that last mission with John and Diana that I need to know about? Something that you didn't put in the mission report?"
"No," Batman immediately snapped as he inconspicuously pressed a button on his gauntlet. He realized that he's responded a little too defensively. He needed to do some damage control now, allay his worry lest she started showing up in Gotham as well to find out what was going on with him. He didn't want talk about the things that he learned from his trip to the future. It was causing him nightmares as it was.
"Bruce…" Superman pressed, knowing that using his real name would only further stir his friend's anger. With any luck, though, it would cause him to admit something about whatever was going on with him in order to get him to leave his city.
"There have been a string of robberies in Gotham that I'm investigating," he heatedly growled as he finally spun around to face him, his jaw set like granite. "Nothing more is going on that you, Diana, or anyone else needs to be concerned about."
Clark was not convinced by his admission, but the talk about robberies reminded him of his other reason for being here. "If you say so," he relented with a frown. "I also wanted to talk to you about a thief that Diana and I—"
"This is Batman," Bruce rasped, turning his head slightly as he paused to listen to whatever was filling his earpiece. "Got it. I'm on my way."
"What's going on?" Superman asked, forehead creased with concern.
"None of your business," Batman flatly stated, turning to fire his grappling gun. "You can leave now. I'll be back with the League when I can."
Superman was unable to get another word in as Batman was quickly taken away by his grappling line, leaving the Man of Steel standing there all alone on the rooftop. His fingers curled into his palms, more than annoyed with his friend and his determined refusal to talk to him.
He fought against the overwhelming urge to follow him and force him to talk, but deep down he knew that was a futile endeavor. It would only cause Bruce to shut down and completely shut them all out even more than he already had.
He couldn't help wondering if maybe Diana would have better luck with him. She always had a way with Bruce, able to get through to him in ways that no one else had ever been able to. It was as if the two of them shared some sort of invisible bond with each other, Diana having a way about her that Bruce actually seemed to respond to. It was amazing to witness; especially seeing how no else in this world besides Alfred had been able to accomplish such a miraculous feat in all the years that he'd known Bruce.
Releasing a sigh, Superman finally left, not even aware that Batman was standing on top of a nearby building waiting to see what his friend was going to do. For a moment, Bruce had thought for certain that Clark was going to try to follow him. Thankfully, the Kryptonian had changed his mind and left.
"Did it work?"
"Yes, he left," Batman responded. "Where are you headed now?"
"East End," Batgirl told him.
"Good," he stated, his gaze still fixed on the jewelry store below. "Call if you run into anything you can't handle. Batman out."
Just as he was moving back into position to keep watch, his commlink came alive once again. "Batman, could use some back up over on Twenty-third and Main," Robin notified him, the sounds of a fight in the background. "I've got a gang fight that broke out at a convenience store."
"On my way," he acknowledged.
Firing his grappling gun again, he cursed under his breath. It was bad enough that Clark had shown up in Gotham, but now he was forced to leave the store that was more than likely to be hit next if his thief followed the pattern he'd discovered. He knew it couldn't be helped, though. He'd have to deal with the gang fight first and then circle back here before the thief struck.
Landing near the Batmobile, he unlocked it before climbing in, his thoughts arrested at that moment by the one person that he was trying his hardest not to think about. Knowing that she'd been worried about him over the last month aroused things inside of him that he didn't want to talk about let alone feel especially now.
He needed to steel himself against these unwanted feelings once and for all. The problem was he knew that he couldn't avoid her forever. He had responsibilities on the Watchtower that he needed to tend to, upgrades he was going to have to make soon and computer systems to check.
If he didn't return to the League soon, he had a feeling that it wouldn't be long before the Princess of the Amazons would be paying him a visit too.
A/N: ...and it begins! Hope you're as excited about this one as I am! Thanks for reading! :)