Chapter 6 -- Sunday Afternoon
All characters are the property of DC Comics. No money is being made on this story and no infringement of copyright is intended.
Note: This story takes place before the events in "Graduation Day".
I stood back under the shade of a tree and watched as Bruce laid the roses in front of the tombstone of his parents' grave. It was large and suitably magnificent, made of white marble topped by a beautiful angel, but I was most struck by the simple, heartfelt inscription: 'In Loving Memory of Thomas and Martha Wayne'. Bruce bowed his head and stood there for a minute. Then he stepped back a pace and turned and beckoned me forward. I stepped up next to him and then didn't know what to do. Did he expect me to introduce myself to them? Would he think I was being silly or ridiculous or even irreverent if I did? I didn't want to make a mistake here, where it was likely to matter greatly to him.
Since he gave me no guidance, I chose to follow my instincts. I bowed formally.
"Mister and Missus Wayne, I wish I could have met you in life. You must have been extraordinary people to produce such an extraordinary son. I hope you know all the good he does and the new family he has created for himself." I bowed again and stepped back. Bruce looked solemnly at me; then he turned and we walked through the trees, down the slope and between the headstones to the car.
I wasn't sure that I had handled it properly until we reached the car. Then Bruce shook himself and a weight seemed to lift from his shoulders.
I smiled but felt confused. "You don't seem to enjoy coming here," I remarked.
"Enjoy? No." He seemed to realize that more explanation was needed and added, "But it's important I remember them."
"You're not likely to forget, surely?"
He was silent as he started up the car and backed it out of the parking place. Once we were out of the cemetery and on the road, he said, quietly, "I was only eight when they died. Unlike Alfred, I don't have many memories of them at the Manor and those I do are a child's memories: vague and increasingly overlaid by more recent memories. But at their grave, there are no other memories to compete. It's just me and them."
I thought about that. I could see that, after more than a quarter century filled with many competing memories, he might find it hard to visualize them at the manor; but the primary memory he would have of his parents at the cemetery, I realized, would be of their funeral. Even if he tried to focus on other memories or thoughts, it must still linger in the back of his mind. What a sad and cheerless memory to keep returning to. I shuddered.
Even though his eyes stayed on the road, I knew he noticed.
"Bruce," I said suddenly, "I want to tell my sister, Donna, about us. It's the most important thing in my life right now and I want to be able to talk with someone about it. I know you said I could tell Helena, but I won't tell anyone before I tell my sister. It wouldn't be right."
He sighed. "Just a few more days, Diana, please. Then you can tell her."
"And you'll come with me when I do?"
I saw the panic in his eyes before he suppressed it. "If you wish."
I laughed. "I wouldn't put you through that, Bruce," I told him. "But I don't know why it matters to you if I tell Donna. She's not going to spread it around, nor is she going to come and bother you. If she bothers anyone, it will be Dick and he will patiently explain that the big bad Batman is not so bad, once you get to know him."
"I know that." We drove in silence for a minute then he said, haltingly, "I don't like change. I don't deal well with it. And this is a big change, a very big change for me."
"You don't deal well with change?" I asked incredulously. "I've seen you deal with ambushes, surprise attacks, plans falling apart, rapidly changing situations and general chaos all without breaking a sweat. And you expect me to believe that you don't deal well with change?"
"That's different; that's tactical and temporary and the whole point is to put things back the way they were, to undo the change. But this, this is a REAL change, a permanent change." He glanced briefly at me. "At least, I hope it's permanent."
"So do I."
"And..." he swallowed, "and I don't deal well with that."
He glanced at me again and I saw something in his eyes that I had never seen before. Kal had told me more than once that inside Bruce was a scared child that just wanted his Mommy and Daddy back. I had never really believed him, until now; until I saw that scared child staring at me out of Bruce's eyes. I thought about all that had happened to that child, to his family and to his city. Maybe he had a right to be scared.
"All right," I said. Donna would just have to wait a while longer. "But we will talk about this again the next time we're together."
"About that," he paused and I raised my eyebrows.
"I've been letting things slide a bit and I need to get caught up. I..." he swallowed and continued, "I don't think I'll be able to see you again until next weekend. Either Saturday or Sunday, whichever works best for you."
I looked at him and realized that one of the things he had been letting slide was his sleep. I cursed under my breath. Of course it was. Knowing Bruce, he had every minute of his time planned and he wouldn't give up any of his activities – all of which, no doubt, contributed to his war on crime in one way or another – just because he had a 'girlfriend'.
"Saturday," I told him. Sunday would actually be more convenient, but that would mean waiting an extra day. I could rearrange my schedule to free up Saturday instead.
He nodded and looked relieved. I realized that he had been worried that I would be upset. I smiled at that.
"All day?" I asked, "or just the morning?"
"All morning and maybe part of the afternoon. That will depend on how my week goes."
Abruptly, he asked, "I know you have to leave shortly for your appointment. Will you come back for dinner?"
"Will you be there? You don't have a very good track record with Sunday dinner."
"I know. I should be able to make it this time. Unless some emergency comes up, of course."
"I'll come if you promise to spend the time I'm away sleeping."
He glanced at me. "All right."
He hit the button to open the gates and turned into the long driveway leading up to the manor.
"You know," I mused, "I seem to remember you saying something on our first date about being in love with me."
"I said I WAS in love with you," he corrected me, "when I first met you. I couldn't love you then because I didn't really know you."
"But now you do?" I asked.
"Now I do," he confirmed.
He pulled into the garage and stopped. We got out.
"I still can't believe you drive a minivan," I told him.
"It's anonymous. There are a million just like it on the road and the registration cannot be traced back to Bruce Wayne. Besides, it has plenty of headroom."
I laughed at this.
"When you are 6 foot 2, it matters," he insisted. He looked at me. "When I want to show off, I drive the Ferrari or the 'Vette. I didn't think that sort of display would work with you."
I laughed. "Thank you for that! No, I was just surprised, that's all."
We walked down the passageway from the garage. Bruce opened a door that led into the corner where the breakfast nook joined the main part of the kitchen. I had never been in the kitchen proper before. It was all chrome and cream-colored tile, with a walk-in freezer, multiple ovens and stoves and every laborsaving device I had ever heard of and some I couldn't identify.
This was obviously Alfred's domain. He was already at work preparing dinner. He didn't speak but nodded at us. The pork roast seemed awfully big for just three people but I didn't want to bother him with questions when he was obviously busy so I just nodded back. We squeezed past him and Bruce did something to the wall next to the freezer. It opened up, revealing an elevator. This was evidently how Alfred had beaten us to the Batcave last Sunday. The elevator was deep but narrow.
"Unusual shape for an elevator," I commented. "Just the right size for a gurney."
He looked at me and smiled. "Yes."
"I imagine it has taken a gurney on occasion."
"You think of everything."
"Not everything. I never thought, for instance, that you might love me back."
There was only one possible answer to that.
The elevator opened before we were through. I shifted a foot to hold the door open and continued our 'conversation'. Finally, we broke apart.
"I have to go."
"Get some rest."
"Until this evening."
"Until this evening."
He was waiting for me as I materialized on the transporter pad. There was a look of suppressed panic in his eyes.
"They're all here," he said abruptly. "Barbara invited them without consulting me." All of whom, I wondered?
"Well, not Spoiler or Black Canary. They don't know my identity, so she couldn't invite them. But she invited Robin and Batgirl."
"To dinner?" I hazarded.
His look was the one he gave the Flash or Green Lantern when they couldn't keep up with his explanation of how he knew to cut the red wire and not the green one to disarm the thermonuclear bomb.
"That's just four against two," I teased him, as we started up the stairs to the Manor. "We go up against worse odds all the time."
"You don't understand. They're all detectives...."
"Trained by the best," I murmured.
"I'm regretting that, right about now," he replied grimly. "They're all very curious about us. VERY curious. They'll be analyzing every word, every look, every nuance for special meaning. AND Batgirl reads body language the way you or I read the newspaper."
"Oh." That did sound somewhat daunting. "Well," I said bracingly, "it can't be as bad as going up against Darkseid or the White Martians."
"You might be surprised," he responded gloomily. After a moment, he added, "I'm not very good at this family stuff."
I smiled at this. "You just need more practice," I told him.
He grimaced. We reached the top of the stairs.
"Brace yourself," he warned. Then he pushed the Grandfather clock out of the way and we stepped into the study.
Four pairs of bright, inquisitive eyes swiveled our way. Dick grinned and waved at me but Barbara's gaze seemed somehow predatory, like a bird of prey eyeing a potential meal. The self-possessed teenager in a tee shirt and jeans seated next to Dick on the couch was clearly Robin. His cool gaze reminded me of his mentor and I was sure he missed as little as Bruce did. The young dark-haired woman dressed all in black and gazing at me with unblinking eyes was obviously Batgirl. Perhaps it was only Bruce's pronouncement that made her gaze seem so intimidating. Perhaps. It seemed to me as if even Bruce's parents, staring out of the large portrait over the fireplace, were looking at me in askance.
I squared my shoulders and pasted a smile on my face. "Hello."
Bruce broke it by nodding at the couch and saying, "Diana, this is Robin."
That seemed to break the paralysis and everyone shifted, except Batgirl, who continued to lean against a bookcase and stare at me. Robin stood and crossed to meet me with his hand outstretched.
"Actually, it's Tim Drake," he told me in a quiet voice as we shook hands. "Since Cassie Sandsmark already knows, there's no point in hiding my identity from you."
Bruce shrugged and turned to look at Batgirl. At a slight nod from her, he continued, "And this is Cassandra Cain."
Cassandra straightened and walked forward to greet me. She had not taken two steps before I knew that, if I ever had to fight her, superpowers or no, I would have my hands full.
Then she stopped in front of me and smiled shyly and, in place of a fearsome martial artist, I was facing a bashful teenager.
"Hi" was all she said.
I smiled back. "Hello, Cassandra. It's good to meet you."
"See," Barbara interjected, "I told you she wouldn't eat you."
Cassandra turned to her. "Not afraid of being eaten," she insisted, "but she's WONDER WOMAN." There was a whole world of wonderment and hero-worship in her tone.
I blinked. This was NOT what I had expected. Suddenly everybody was grinning and talking at the same time. Had they been nervous about meeting ME? I wondered why I had let Bruce convince me that this would be an ordeal.
I turned and looked at Bruce. He sat on a corner of his desk, looking increasingly sardonic as Dick and Barbara teased him about having a 'girlfriend'. They seemed to be repeating strictures he had pronounced to them years before. To my ear, it seemed fairly mild but Bruce clearly didn't like it, was uncomfortable with it and (more surprising) showed it. He really WAS bad at 'this family stuff'.
Alfred appeared in the doorway to announce dinner. Bruce was up like a shot and almost ran Alfred over in his haste to get out the door. The rest of us shared a grin at this and followed more sedately.
Alfred held the door as we entered the dining room and I almost gasped. Cass did. Alfred had outdone himself.
The crystal chandelier was turned down low, but it wasn't needed. Alfred had placed innumerable sconces on the dining table and around the room. The soft, warm candlelight turned the cool elegance of the room into something far more homey. Around the base of each sconce were arranged pine bows and several large sprays of roses were arrayed on the dinner table and sideboard. There was no tablecloth hiding the beautiful cherry wood dinner table today. Instead there were gilt-edged chargers at each place. The china was a very different pattern as well. There was a slight yellowing to it that bespoke age. Even before I heard Bruce's soft intake of breath, I knew this was his parents' china.
The result was no less elegant than on previous occasions but it felt more relaxed, more familial. The smell of the pine branches awakened a memory of Julia Kapatelis' house at Christmas time. Christmas in Patriarch's World, I knew, was very much a family holiday. I was impressed with the way Alfred had carefully set the scene for a family dinner.
Dick walked past us into the dining room. "Looks nice," he commented, off-hand, "what's for dinner, Alfred?"
"Surely I taught you better than that, Master Dick."
Obviously stung, Dick turned back to us and gave an exaggerated bow. "After you, ladies."
One place had no chair in front of it. Barbara promptly rolled over to it. Since Dick couldn't help Barbara with her chair, he tried to help Cass with hers. She immediately turned and looked at him suspiciously. Dick reddened and slunk to his chair, next to Barbara.
Bruce, who was holding my chair, chuckled.
"Cass has never been here before," I commented.
Bruce looked at me in surprise. "No," he said slowly, "no, she hasn't."
I wanted to shake him, but limited myself to a pointed glare. Bruce, you idiot. This is your family. Treat them like it.
Alfred now reappeared with a soup tureen large enough to feed a village. Cass, who had picked up her plate and was examining it carefully, reddened and quickly put it down.
"Hey, Bruce," Dick called out. "When you tell the JLA about your 'girlfriend', can I be there?"
Barbara and Tim laughed at this. Cass kept quiet, but her eyes flicked from one person to another, obviously reading a whole subtext not available to the rest of us. Bruce looked grim.
Suddenly, in unison, our JLA signal devices went off. Bruce pulled his out of his pocket and checked the message while I was still digging mine out of my bag.
"We're wanted at the Watchtower, no details," he announced.
Everyone was immediately alert. "You may need Oracle's help," Barbara began, pushing herself away from the table.
"If we need your assistance, I will let you know," Bruce interrupted. "You can interface with your system via the computers downstairs. In the meantime, there's no point in wasting Alfred's, no doubt excellent, meal."
He turned to Dick. "Dick...."
Dick waved him away. He grinned. "No problem, big guy. We've got your city. Go have fun."
Bruce nodded. "Thanks."
We headed up to the study and then down the stairs to the Batcave. At the bottom, Bruce turned towards the transporter pad rather than towards the uniform vault.
"Aren't you going to change first?" I asked, surprised.
"No need." His back was to me as he typed the coordinates into the transporter control system. "We aren't going to the Watchtower."
"We aren't...." Enlightenment dawned. "There is no emergency, is there?" I demanded. "You faked it somehow."
He turned around. His eyes looked guilty, but he simply said. "Yes."
"Bruce, they are your family. You shouldn't run out on them like that, just because you're feeling uncomfortable."
"That wasn't the reason."
"No? You're telling me you're taking the night off from being the Batman – something you almost never do – just to be with your girlfriend?" I asked skeptically.
He said nothing, which I took as a tacit admission of guilt. I started getting mad.
"I ought to drag you back upstairs and make you apologize to everyone."
"But you won't," he smirked. It was that infuriating, knowing smirk of his and I itched to wipe it off his face. But did I want to knock it off or kiss it off? But options were tempting.
"And why won't I?"
"Because this is the last free time we have together for a week. It would be terrible to waste it on a row – which is what would happen if we went back now. I can fight with Barbara any time, but the time I can spend with you is limited."
"This will be three weeks in a row that you cancelled on Dick," I retorted, but we both knew I was weakening. He had a point.
"Dick knows. Didn't you hear what he said? He knows."
"Oh." I searched my mind for a comeback. "Barbara is not going to be so forgiving," I replied. It sounded weak even to my ears.
His smirk broadened. He knew he was winning. How was it he could argue me out of positions I KNEW were right?
"I know she won't. Serves her right for planning this without asking my permission. Since she's going to be angry with me in any case, let's not waste the opportunity. Come on."
He tugged on my arm, trying to get me up on the transporter pad.
"If we waste much more time, she is going to come down and find us here," he added. "Believe me, you don't want to be a part of that scene."
He had another good point. Even if Barbara held me blameless – a big if – I did NOT want to any part of that scene.
We both jumped like guilty children, then turned to face Alfred. He was holding a large paper bag. Mouth-watering smells were coming from it.
"I have prepared you a portion of tonight's repast to take with you on your 'mission'."
Bruce reddened slightly at this. Then he smiled gratefully at Alfred as he took the bag.
"Don't let it get cold," Alfred admonished us dryly as he turned to leave.
Bruce grinned. "We won't," he assured Alfred. He turned at me with a look of such pure mischief that I had to laugh. How could I resist him like this?
"Thank you, Alfred," I called to his retreating back.
He turned around to say, "Not at all, Madame. Have fun."
We looked at each other and burst into laughter. "We will," we promised in unison as the transporter engaged.
Author's Note: Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) visited Wayne Manor twice while Bruce was in custody during the 'Bruce Wayne: Murderer?' story line, but Bruce is not likely to know that. I cannot recall any 'social' occasion in which she has been there.
Author's Ramblings: I never intended to write "Sunday Dinner at Wayne Manor". But Joe Kelly, the rat, sent Diana off on that mission in space and I knew it would be months before he got around to showing us their date. And the story I was working on was being difficult and I let my mind wander and soon I was ignoring the story I had been writing to write something else entirely. I didn't know, when I started, where the story was going. I just started typing. I don't know how it is with other writers, but I find writing hard work. I love having written a story, but getting there is often a grind. This story, however, just flowed out. So I put it out on fanfiction.net and got back to work on the story I had been writing.
Then I started getting back some very nice reviews, and several people asked about a sequel. Tough luck, folks, I thought. But my subconscious had other ideas and one day, while exercising, I began to think about What Happens Next. I started writing "Another Sunday Dinner at Wayne Manor" with no real idea where it would go. All I really knew was that Bruce would walk in on Alfred and Diana while they were discussing him. Once again, the story just took off on its own, leaving me to keep up as best I could and wondering what would happen next.
The first chapter was intended to be the only chapter. But it seemed unfair to leave things hanging like that, so Sunday Dinner was followed by Tuesday Breakfast and... here we are. Each chapter almost wrote itself; all except this last one which took forever to write, perhaps BECAUSE it was the last one.
Or so I thought. During all this I sat down and read the "Graduation Day" mini-series. At first I was outraged and decided that in my continuity, in the unlikely event I wrote any more Bruce & Diana stories, it never happened. But then I thought of a scene that just begged to be written. The problem was that the scene was short and left things hanging unbearably. I had to come up with some sort of resolution to go with it. One day, while I was exercising once again and thinking about this, the story took an unexpected turn and headed off into unexplored but fascinating territory. Quite literally, a light went on, not in my head but in the story and I knew I had to write it, if for no other reason than to find out What Happens Next. So this isn't the end, after all. There will be a sequel. The problem is the new story will require a lot more careful plotting than this one and so may take a lot longer to write. Also, I am bound and determined to get that other story, the one I was working on before Bruce and Diana highjacked my creative processes, finished and posted. After that, I plan to get to work on "Power Play". I have only a vague idea of where I'm going and no idea how I'm going to get there, but I'm hoping Batman will tell me. After all, he always has a plan.
Rick Peterson August 24th, 2003