It goes without saying that I do not own the characters used within (something which I'm sure we're all grateful for.)
8 - Case Closed
"Welcome back, Miss Starr," Alfred Pennyworth greeted her as she flew in through the secret entrance of Miagani Falls. The butler stood next to a silver pot of tea – the same one he served when she was there the night before, from the smell of it. A brand she complimented him for owning long ago when Bruce helped her out following the Max Lord debacle.
She would offer him a job immediately if she weren't so sure he'd turn her down. Plus, she knew there was a world of difference between her messy apartment and the stately Wayne Manor.
"Well, now I know how it feels to follow a detective along," Power Girl hummed, her boots touching base beside him. "I have to admit, though – I was disappointed that there was no parlour scene with suspects and red herrings."
"If I've learnt anything, Miss Starr, it's that life is never as exciting as fiction makes it out to be."
"Well, I did meet a deranged cult leader and hijacked a train," she mused. "And lost some of my clothes for the effort… So, yeah, this might just be a typical Thursday for me, I suppose." Who needed extra excitement on top of all that?
"And I find myself pouring tea for heroes – so of that, I can agree with you. In the meantime…" Alfred smiled and gestured towards the same chair she sat on the previous evening before he stepped towards a nearby terminal. He returned a moment later with a suit hanger, which he promptly unzipped and opened. Inside lay a red cape, longer than her regular one and complete with the scalloped hem of Bruce's bat suits.
"Alfred, I couldn't," she began, but he merely smiled and offered it to her.
"I insist. It wouldn't be right for a lady to have to travel home with fewer clothes than she came with. Master Bruce used this design for a time many years ago. The reason now escapes me, I'm afraid. I could modify it for you before you leave – "
"No, no," she said, accepting it. "It's fine just the way it is. Besides – I'll hang it up when I get home. Maybe have my own little trophy to remember this adventure." Power Girl removed the cape and swung it over her shoulders, feeling it flutter around the backs of her legs. It was much longer than she was used to, and the way it fell over her shoulders and enveloped her figure felt somewhat exhilarating. Sneaky, even, like she was hiding her potential from the world. 'No wonder Bruce doesn't think twice about rushing into danger,' though she knew it ran deeper than just that.
"It's not as much fun as having a dinosaur," she smiled, jerking her head towards the animatronic Tyrannosaur. "But I have an apartment – not a cave."
"Less is more, Miss Starr," Alfred smiled. He folded the suit bag over his arm and adjusted his tie. "If you'll excuse me, some duties need attention. I'm certain Master Bruce won't be far away, now."
"Of course. And thank you again, Alfred." She sat on her seat, smoothing her newly gifted cape out and pouring herself a cup of tea. "Spoil me like this, and I may just become a regular guest."
"Oh, dear," he murmured, and she grinned and shook her head as Alfred's tone slipped into his dry British wit. "A charming, intelligent woman of taste visiting us. However shall we cope..."
And soon, she was left alone in the infamous Batcave. Far from her first time, and she was starting to think it would be far from her last, too. The entire ordeal with a bomb going off in her office was stressful, but it was good to know she had a friend like Bruce to come and help when called upon.
Not that she doubted it. After all – he was one of the world's finest. Even if he was just a man in a suit and fancy car –
"Oh, hello, there." Power Girl set her teacup down, flashing her eyes around the Batcave with her x-ray vision. The only witnesses were the colony of bats hanging upside down nearby, and she couldn't resist hopping out of her seat and floating over to one of the older Batmobile's parked nearby. A classic model, with red trimming and fins, and a retro bat logo on the doors. The whole design seemed to scream like it was made in the 60's and inspired by The Grey Ghost.
Karen's new cape fluttered around her as she hopped up and into the driver's seat, settling back and running a hand over the wheel. She didn't need to drive. Hell – in Manhattan, Karen Starr used the subway when she wanted to keep a low profile. But that didn't mean she couldn't appreciate a well-built machine when she saw one.
What was it Simon Trent's character used to say in that old show…? "Atomic batteries to power and turbines to speed," she hummed, taking the wheel and pretending to give it a turn.
"Rao!" Karen's eyes flew wide, her heart jumping and her cheeks heating up as she turned and found Batman standing nearby, with his cowl down and a thick eyebrow arched. He'd slipped in without her noticing once again. "How do you do that?"
"It's a trade secret," he said.
She cleared her throat and pretended to wipe some dust off the steering wheel as if she were scrutinising it. Just inspecting it. That's all.
And then, after spending twenty-four hours working with him, and confident she knew when the unflappable Bruce Wayne was amused, she crossed her arms and sat back in the seat. "I'm keeping her," she announced. "I'm calling her the Powermobile, and I'm her mom, now."
The playful smile he gave her was worth more than the car, and she grinned as he rolled his shoulders.
"I know when I'm beaten," he simply said, and Power Girl floated out of the driver's seat to take her chair once again. Bruce poured himself a cup of tea and looked her up and down. "It's yours so long as you keep wearing that cape."
"Ah, I can't," she smiled. "It's going under glass when I get home. Decided I'll start collecting more than just snow globes."
"It's a slippery slope," he warned her. And she knew it - the trophy room of the Batcave was more like a museum.
Bruce tapped a few keys on a nearby terminal, and the massive monitor nearby began shifting through screens. Karen recognised the docks they had visited earlier, along with a mugshot of Deacon Blackfire and a growing list of names beside him.
"Blackfire's already been through processing. He'll be transferred back to Arkham Asylum come morning," Bruce explained. "His 'children,' after realising how much trouble they were in, have already begun turning on one another, hoping to cut a deal. They've surrendered everything. Employees who were able to steal components. People with the skills to make the explosives. Everyone."
"Who's this creep?" she asked as a new photo appeared on the Batcomputer monitor. A weathered-looking man with stringy hair and bags under his eyes stared balefully out at them.
"Marcus Whitby," Bruce answered. "Priors include assault, shoplifting, public intoxication and resisting arrest. Treated for mild schizophrenia, but he's had difficulty keeping with his appointments. Just the kind of person that people like Blackfire target and exploit."
Bruce changed the photo to footage of Whitby struggling on the ground, kicking half-heartedly as a police officer handcuffed him. "Thirty minutes ago, he pleaded guilty to delivering an explosive to your office and leaving it on top of another parcel. He's currently in a cell in the upper Manhattan precinct."
Power Girl glared at the video. Part of her wanted to be the one to grab him. Another part of her wanted to throttle him. But he was just one of many, between Banks positioning the trigger, and someone else assembling the device. She sniffed. It didn't make her feel any better, but at least it was over.
"Justice served," she answered instead. It was just as well she didn't get her hands on him first, she decided. Otherwise, she would have gone through with her promise of giving him as many breaks and fractures as Charlotte suffered.
"I told Jim who was responsible for stopping a train of explosives from crashing into Wayne Tower tonight," Bruce continued as the monitor shifted back to the glowing bat symbol. "He was concerned that Gotham might attract greater threats if they thought we had a new metahuman in town, but he expresses his gratitude. As do I."
Bruce put his cup down and paused for a moment, before giving her his full attention. Something in Power Girl did a little flip which she ignored. It was easy to forget just how intense the man behind the cowl could be, and she wasn't sure she had ever seen such a look of gratitude on the dark knight before.
"It's true what most of the League say – I'm protective of Gotham. I see it as my city, and I hesitate before I involve anyone else in its protection. But, I knew I could count on you. You really are one of the best, Kara. So, thank you."
For the first time in a very long time, Kara felt bashful. From seeing the emotion in Bruce's eyes. From hearing it in his voice. From being told how highly he thought of her. From him using her actual name.
"I was happy to help, Bruce," she admitted. "And thank you, too. For… well, everything."
"Just remember," he said, picking his cup back up. "You're always welcome in this city and this home. Don't feel like you have to wait for a bomb to go off to pay a visit. Plus, Alfred loves serving this tea and refuses to do it for just anybody.
Karen laughed, draining the rest of her cup and nodding back towards the red-trimmed Batmobile. "Oh, I'll be sure to visit more often. I have to check up on my Powermobile, after all."
Karen Starr frowned as a fresh stack of insurance forms crossed the desk in her temporary office. She tucked a strand of long red hair behind her ear, glanced about with her x-ray vision, and ensured that the coast was clear. The pages became a blur of white across the table. Her pen could barely keep up with her, but she dotted every i and crossed every t. Within seconds she stacked them together and banged them on her desk, lining the pile up before dropping them into her Outbox.
"I miss my office," she moaned to herself, resting her cheek on her palm. She barely looked up as a gentle knock sounded through the door. "Come in."
"Miss Starr?" A clerk from down the hall entered holding a square box, and she held her hand up, glaring at it.
"That's cleared security, right?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, miss," he urged, walking in and setting it on the desk. Immediately she felt his eyes drawn to her bust and she pursed her lips. "Also, you've got a phone call on line one."
"Thank you," she said, dropping her pen and picking up the phone. But the clerk hovered, his eyes glued to her cleavage, and she spun her chair around the other way. "That'll be all, Reggie," she called over her shoulder and waited until he nervously cleared his throat and left.
Twenty-four hours with Bruce Wayne as a partner was all it took to forget that most men stared at her chest instead of her eyes, she realised morosely. Karen grabbed her parcel and pressed one on her phone. "Hello?"
"Miss Starr?" She recognised the voice on the other end immediately.
"Charlotte! How are you feeling?"
"Much better, thank you. The doctors tell me I'll be able to go home tomorrow."
"You just say when and I'll organise to have you picked up and taken anywhere you want," Karen promised. "And no but's!"
"I don't want to be a bother, Miss Starr. I mean, you've got the company to run, and after all this, you must be wanting to spend more time with Franklin…"
"Trust me," Karen said, setting her parcel on her lap and leaning back in her chair. "There's… nothing to worry about there." There wasn't much of anything there. Period. "So, don't fret. Besides, I miss seeing your cheery face around here."
"Isn't Mister Wayne helping you out in the office, though?"
"Bruce?" She blinked. "Oh, Bruce was just helping out with some security arrangements," Karen said. "I mean, he's Gotham's golden boy. Over there, you'd need a black belt for all things security. That's why I called him over."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear," Charlotte said, and Karen frowned.
"Well, it's silly but… the pair of you seemed rather cute together."
"Charlotte…" Unseen, Karen rolled her eyes. "Bruce is… he's a friend. It's not like that." So what if he was the definition of tall, dark and handsome? Or intelligent. Dedicated. Athletic. Driven. Heroic. Admirable.
She pinched the bridge of her nose and willed those thoughts away. It was just loneliness talking, she reasoned. Loneliness coupled with spending a day with a man who looked at her instead of her breasts.
"Besides – sometimes he can really annoy me." She still couldn't explain that sudden flash of irritation at the hospital. Only that she really, really wanted to flick him upside the head. Which for her was every bit as good as an uppercut.
"I guess it's just as well – he has such a sordid reputation after all!" Charlotte said, and Karen felt herself laugh.
"Okay, promise you can keep a secret? Those stories are all made up," Karen smiled. "Bruce Wayne is perhaps the least sociable man you'll ever meet."
And that was the other reason she told herself not to wander into those thoughts – he had the mission. The calling. And it wasn't just part of his life – it was Bruce Wayne's life.
"So, it's all just an act? I would never have guessed!"
The smile slipped from Karen's face. Her mouth hung open as her mind made a connection. 'All an act.' It was why she never minded when, in the past, when the façade of Bruce Wayne slipped, and he became the Batman. Even without his cowl and behind closed doors, it was a noticeable change. The way his voice became calm and even. His emotions seemed to cool. It was like she had explained to Atlee - Karen knew that he respected her enough not to pretend to be somebody he wasn't.
And that's what happened in the hospital hallway on their way to see Charlotte. She was treated with more playfulness, more emotion than Batman displayed. It was the playboy Bruce Wayne persona. The act he gave to strangers and people he wasn't interested in. And without even realising it, it frustrated and upset the hell out of her.
'Well – that's a revelation,' she thought, wetting her lips.
"That's just Bruce Wayne," she continued, turning her parcel over in her hands. With nobody around, she deftly tore the reinforced tape and cardboard open with a flick of her hand. "He'll always manage to surprise you…"
Once again, Karen felt herself trailing off as she lifted out a sparkling snow globe from the box. Inside was a perfect model of the leaning tower of Pisa. She turned it over a few times before reaching the bottom of the cardboard and pulling out a small, handwritten note:
For your new office. Don't be a stranger. – B
"Charlotte? I've gotta go. There's something I need to clear up."
"Oh, of course, Miss Starr. Problems?"
"Not if I can help it."
Power Girl streaked through the cloud cover that stretched over the Hudson, entering Gotham airspace a second later. But she avoided the "back entrance" through Miagani, opting instead to dive below the dense tree cover behind Wayne Manor. She zipped in and out between the redwoods before neatly jumping the fence into the grounds proper. She stopped just long enough to duck behind an equipment shed, pulling on her sweats and shoes before jogging around the front to ring the doorbell.
She waited with her blonde bob of hair down. No red wig or glasses. She wasn't Karen Starr or Power Girl. She was Kara Zor-L – a daughter of Earth 2. And when the door opened to reveal not Alfred, but a similarly dressed down Bruce, she held her breath.
"Your note said not to be a stranger," she said with a shrug. Bruce offered her an easy smile and stepped aside.
"So it did. Would you like to come in for coffee…?"
"No. Yes. That is – " Kara bit her lip. "I've got one…" She held her hand up, a single finger extended before she added another beside it. "Two very quick questions to ask first."
"Alright." Bruce's eyebrow arched upwards, and for a moment she was distracted merely by how handsome he looked while doing it. Seriously. It should be outlawed.
"First, yesterday in the hospital…? I wanted to hurt you." Kara didn't know why she said it or what she was expecting. But Bruce simply nodded.
"So I noticed." Of course, he noticed, she thought. He was the world's greatest detective.
"I was annoyed at you because I couldn't tell if you were you, or that pretend-drunk playboy you masquerade as. And I realise how dumb that sounds but, well, there it is."
"Was this before we walked inside when we were talking about liking one another?" There was a gentle tone of teasing in his voice. That hint of amusement she had become accustomed to over the last day.
"Yeah, that was it," she confessed. There was no going back now. Besides – if Batman was justice, then Power Girl was sheer stubbornness. Indomitable will. And she didn't fly to Gotham at the drop of a pin on just a whim.
"I wouldn't insult you by giving you an act, Kara," Bruce said, and she felt something inside her flip and jump once again. It had been doing a lot of that, lately. She nodded, wetting her lips once again.
"Okay. So, secondly… do you remember when we were discussing Diana and Steve? And what you said about them…?"
He nodded. "That if someone's worth it, they'll find a way to make it work."
"Just checking." Kara bit the inside of her cheek. She guessed she actually had three questions to ask, because if anyone wondered who was stubborn and bold enough to knock on Batman's door and ask him for a date, they'd probably answer "Power Girl." She inhaled, steeled herself, and –
"Kara, would you consider going out to dinner tonight?" Bruce Wayne asked her.
"Yes," she answered immediately. And then, not to be beaten, added: "Would you consider joining me for a night out tomorrow?"
He smiled at her, keeping contact with her eyes, and Kara decided then and there that she wanted to get used to it. "I'd like that," he said.
The first time Power Girl met the Batman, she wasn't terribly impressed. How could she be? It wasn't so much that he was a mere mortal standing shoulder-to-supposed-shoulder with gods and aliens. It was his… well, everything. His seriousness. His paranoia. His winged-rodent motif. And he insisted on putting her through a horde of tests in his infamous cave, where she giggled at his equipment and poked fun at everything. When she started giving the circling bats above them names, and he remarked "That's not their names, Power Girl," Kara almost wet herself with laughter.
And then she started to hear the legends. Kal – well, Clark, as he preferred to be called there – called him the "most dangerous man alive." It was hard to believe when the Justice League was founded by people like an Amazon and a Green Lantern. But while some members called him creepy, and some called him idyllic, they all had a story of Batman beating the odds. Where he would triumph over murderers and aliens and warlords using just sheer determination and ingenuity and skill.
Karen was smart. Much smarter than most bad guys gave her credit for. A leggy blonde with big boobs and an hourglass figure? You wouldn't think she had a photographic memory and a high IQ. But she did, and by the time she founded her own company, she knew a bit about everyone.
"Just be careful of that Bruce Wayne guy," someone said once, nodding outside her office window at the tall tower over in Gotham. "He must have a pickled liver and every STD known to man by now." And Karen almost wet herself laughing again, because the Bruce Wayne she knew was the most dedicated, charitable and heroic man she met.
And soon, he was gone. Sacrificed to Darkseid. It didn't surprise her to hear it – she didn't doubt that Batman would perish while saving someone else. But it still hurt. For a time, she found herself working with Dick Grayson as he wore the mantle. A little more personable and sociable, but just… not Bruce. He had the dedication, but not the mind. The focus. Karen almost pulled her hair out trying to explain what happened between Ted Kord and Maxwell Lord.
And like a prayer answered from Rao, Bruce Wayne appeared. New suit. New life. And with a few clear commands, he began putting everything right again. He even took time from his insane new public schedule to help her get her own alter ego back on track. Because he was Batman, and nothing was too great for him.
Afterwards, when the dust settled, she admitted just how badly it hurt to think that he was lost for a time. She was almost bashful to say it, but she powered through. Because she was Power Girl, and nothing was too difficult for her.
Until Bruce called her Kara and reminded her she was one of the best. Until she spent more time with the man in civvies than his uniform and got to know him better than most did.
Until they started dating and she found herself thinking of future plans. Living arrangements. Working arrangements. Having a partner, she could accidentally break in her sleep. Sex.
… oh, the sex was phenomenal. More than enough to make some of her concerns vanish.
But most of all, Batman himself was a challenge. Because he was cool and calm. A professional. A symbol. Most women would struggle to balance a relationship with him.
But she was Power Girl, dammit, and she was up for the challenge. Besides, it was no different than Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. If someone was worth it, difficulties or not, you made it work. And as far as she was concerned, Bruce was worth it in spades.