Disclaimer: These characters are owned by DC Comics. This story was written for fun, not profit. As such, no money is being made from this.
A/N: Inspired by the as yet to be released JLA #90. Consider this a pre-emptive strike, if you will. Also, I'm not going to bother establishing any romance between them leading to this point, because I feel that's been happening in the books. So if you don't see the relationship budding, or don't like it, then this fic is not for you.
"So. . ."
"Yes. . ."
Batman found himself tongue tied yet again around her, so he repeated himself.
"So. . ."
Diana remained silent this time and simply nodded. They had been standing in the Monitor Womb for a good two minutes now, awkwardly staring at each other.
"Well I suppose we—"
"I think we should—"
Both stopped and a relieved smile passed over both their faces. Batman held up his hand as he had done once before, in this very room and nodded with a self-deprecating grin, "You go ahead. Please."
Taking a deep breath that gave way to another smile, Diana nodded. "Thank you. I suppose we could try this?" she offered haltingly as her hand held out the smooth stone given to them by Manitou Raven.
Batman swallowed and stared at the blood red swirls in the stone. Manitou had promised it would simply reveal to the teammates the possibilities of their future. The shaman was wise and detected the tension budding into a potential romance between the two Leaguers. He was also aware of their hesitancy to become involved. He warned them that the stone only predicted their possible paths; in no way were the events revealed definite, merely the future's potential, based on whatever they asked.
But this involved magic. Besides his distrust, he did not want to base his life on the whims of an inanimate object. First glaring at the rock, he then moved his gaze to her eyes. "I think we need to clarify some things first however."
Her body shifted and he realized she was uncomfortable. His old doubts returned.
"What do you need to know?" she finally asked.
Firming his expression, he reminded himself that he has to ask her. He just needed to be sure. His hands dangling limply at his sides, but his eyes never leaving her face, he asked plainly, "How do you feel about me?"
If Diana was surprised by the question, she never showed it, nor did her voice reveal as much when she stated evenly, "I care about you."
Training his mind to treat this as any interrogation, he pressed further, "As a teammate, a friend, or more?"
She closed her eyes and in that second, he feared her answer. Interrogation, he reminded himself.
"Well?" His voice was nearly a growl. The impatience belied in his voice was not due to the usual reasons when questioning a suspect.
Long lashes fluttered open, revealing a pair of sea blue eyes that bore into him, through the lenses in his mask.
"Bruce. . ."
He held up a gloved hand once again. "Please. I need to know, before we make any decisions."
She nodded and touched his hand, gently lowering it.
Diana looked at their joined hands for a moment, and slowly withdrew hers, not wanting to increase the discomfort in the room.
"May I ask the same of you?"
"Of course." Batman's voice was gruff, but she recognized his wall for the defensive posturing it was.
"How do you feel about me?" She knew the answer, but wanted to hear it. She also suspected that he needed to admit it to himself.
Leaving her in stunned silence when he stepped away briefly, she watched him cross the room and make sure the doors were locked. Next, he stepped to the computer; and after a couple of keystrokes, she saw one of the monitors go black—the one covering this room. He then removed a small device from his belt and walked a lap around the room, waving it over the monitor-lined walls and under the desk and chair before joining her again.
"Is the room secure?" She could not resist the gentle chide.
But he was so focused; his lips remained pressed into a thin line. Her eyes followed the swift movement of his hand as he pushed back, then off, his mask and cowl. She could finally look directly into his eyes, and she smiled at him in gratitude.
Seemingly encouraged, he nodded and exhaled. His voice was measured and calm when he at last spoke, "I love you."
His lips were slightly parted as he stood completely still before her, his emotions laid plainly over a face with widened eyes and dilated pupils revealing a quiet desperation. In all their moments side by side in battle, all the injuries over the years . . . She never saw him more vulnerable than she did now. This was the first time she saw the boy Kal spoke of, the one who watched his parents murdered all those years ago.
The realization cut deeper still, when she suddenly realized she might break his heart.
It only took a quick glance at her downcast eyes to know he had just committed a major error. In a matter of seconds, his wall was once again carefully erected, his mask back in place, his face emotionless. He turned to leave her to Monitor Duty, but the bravado cracked when he reached the doors. His eyes bore into the steel before him, and never bothering to turn, he asked in a quiet, flat voice, "Why not?"
Surprised that she was bearing the doubts instead of he, he repeated, his voice angrier, "Why. Not."
She was unsure of what he was asking. Why did she not want a relationship? Or why did he think she did not love him? Left only with a question as well, she asked, wincing, "Why what?"
He never turned, just left his back to her. "Why won't you try to have. . . something. . . with me?" His voice dropped significantly by the last few words, but her hearing caught them.
"We'll only hurt each other, in the end. At some point, we will need to go our separate ways." Diana sighed and sank into the chair. "This won't work. You know that. I don't belong in Gotham. My beliefs, my style, even my existence all run counter to your own beliefs."
He said nothing, but he didn't leave either. She watched his posture, slightly stooped, as though the cowl and cape were now heavier.
"You know I don't exactly agree with your methods, but I must credit you for succeeding in protecting your city. But how can I balance what may be acceptable to condone as a friend versus the expectations I carry for the man I love?"
She observed a quick stiffening of his shoulders as she spoke, but that passed all too quickly. Her breath quickened slightly, as did her pulse. She had one more card to play, but it would be the most painful.
"I will admit that there has been attraction and perhaps even some flirtation between us, but . . . I don't believe we are capable of loving each other."
Bruce's thumb rubbed over the smooth stone he held in his hand. This whole situation was ludicrous. A couple months ago, he sat in this very same chair, hoping his dinner guest wouldn't arrive wearing perfume. Not that it mattered, he knew then, as he did now, she didn't need it.
But he hated giving up any sort of advantage.
Now he sat, just as pensive and still waiting. He was once again in control of his nerves however and could rise and greet her coolly once she arrived.
Alfred stood behind her, her coat folded over his arm. "Master Bruce—"
"Give me a few minutes Alfred." He knew Alfred would later comment on his rudeness, but at the moment, he didn't care. All he could focus on stood before him; a towering, raven-haired goddess whose kiss he could still taste on his lips.
But first, they needed to talk.
Diana watched Bruce carefully; she was usually capable of predicting her teammates choices and reactions, but this mortal man always gave her trouble. As usual, he left her surprised once she spotted the streak of red in the stone he clutched.
An amused smile played upon her crimson lips. "I thought you didn't believe in magic."
"I. . . don't." She nodded towards the stone in his right hand, but he already knew what her comment was directed towards. He held out the stone that Manitou Raven gave them, with the claim that all the possibilities of their relationship would be revealed.
As tempting an offer that may be to any one else on the planet, these were two warriors weary of time travel and predictions. Diana, crafted of magic herself when life was breathed into clay, was now just as hesitant to believe the promises that came with magic. Being flung three thousand years into the past and killed, only to be brought back to life and the present, would do that to anyone, including this Amazon Princess.
With that in mind, she only watched Bruce, refusing to hold the stone herself. "I think we should talk first, before we try anything."
He nodded, having reached the same conclusion himself. But his voice left him. He was unable to let down his guard, so even without the mask, Batman was still in the room.
"Bruce, I need to know how you really feel. I think . . . I hope that you know by now that I love you. What has happened between us is simply beautiful. However, and may Hestia forgive me," Diana said quietly as she set her lasso aside and took Bruce's free hand. "I need to hear your words without the lasso, without my abilities. I need to hear those words . . . as a woman."
His jaw tightened slightly and he gripped the stone harder. He could feel the sweat slick in his palm as she continued, her eyes open and honest.
"As a woman very much in love with you." She raised his hand to her chest and laid it over her heart, resting her hand gently on top. "Bruce?"
He didn't know how to say the words he needed without breaking the heart that beat beneath his hand.
So he said nothing.
As the seconds ticked by on the grandfather clock, his lack of words were enough. She released his hand and walked out of his life. He couldn't bring his eyes up to watch her leave, but when the heavy door slammed shut, he sank into his chair, never feeling more cowardly in his life.
Bruce sat up in bed with a yell. As he caught his breath and pushed the sheets away from his sweaty body, he observed wryly to himself that his nightmare was over and he at least had his voice back.
The fear receded as he made an effort to catalog the details of his dream, acting swiftly before the dream faded from memory. Alone in his bedroom, he allowed himself to admit how eerily realistic the dream was. Something smooth and round pressed between his palm and the sheets. He lifted his hand and groaned.
"I hate magic. . ."
He couldn't take his eyes away from it however. It remained on his sheets, the red and taupe appearing almost orange in the low rays of the sun dawning over the Manor grounds. He did not touch it again, but leaned against the headboard and crossed his arms over his chest. Studying the small object intensely, his jaw twitched as he contemplated what he saw in his dream.
He had been able to feel the fire in the hearth and the leather of the armchair as he waited for her. Even now, his skin on his left hand still tingled where she had lifted it to her chest.
But none of that really happened. As real as it felt, his memory assured him it was but a dream. And thinking back on how she had pledged her love to him, and he was simply mute, he added, a cruel dream.
Manitou claimed this stone showed "possibilities," a vague statement in and of itself, but that seemed to be expected among these individuals—couching their predictions in words intentionally vague, so the results could be interpreted as fulfilling the alleged prophecy, when in fact, any number of results could "fulfill" the prediction.
However, such was the work of frauds. He had experienced Manitou's. . . abilities. . . firsthand, along with the rest of the League.
He was left with the same quandary. Was his "vision" (he reflexively smirked at the thought) the result of this stone, or was this a manifestation of his own doubts and fears?
Bruce's head fell against the solid wood with a thump.
"I hate magic. . ."
"I would never say such things!"
The old shaman raised an eyebrow and resumed staring into the smoke billowing before him. "You should know better than to disrupt a spell in progress. I will be with you shortly. . ."
Diana folded her arms across her chest and glared at Manitou. But he was right, she did know better. Far be it for her to cause the accidental disruption of time, or misplace a portal. She stayed back and waited until his skin lost its glow and the tattoos became simply ink again.
"What is it you seek now Amazon?"
She stepped closer and sneered, "I seek nothing from one who would bastardize the truth such as yourself." With that, she held up the offending stone between her thumb and forefinger.
"Ah you come to return one of the Creator's eyes."
Diana frowned. She thought herself familiar with ancient religions, but did not recall this particular Apache legend. Manitou, catching her confused expression, explained.
"In the beginning the Creator, or the One Who Sits Above, created all that you see." He gestured towards the window and the blue and white that was Earth below them. "But after he created Earth, he lost his eyes." Manitou took one of the stones from her hand and nodded. "These are meant to see as the Creator does, long and far into the night."
Diana, still frowning, could not resist asking, "How did he lose his eyes?"
"The Fox, or the Trickster, had Crow pluck them out. They were satisfied with the Earth and no longer wished for the Creator's interference."
With a sigh, she asked, unable to hide the edge of irritation in her voice, "Manitou, you do realize that I am the Spirit of Truth? That my Lasso is but a tool. . . for ferreting out lies?" The last word was caught with a touch more emphasis.
The older man's weathered face creased into a smile. "The Trickster, Wonder Woman." He held up a finger and turned to his smoke. "The Trickster."
Diana stared at him a moment before turning and storming out. She never caught Manitou's wife slipping from the shadows and her gentle chide in Ancient Apache.
"Husband, you lie! There is no such tale!"
Manitou shrugged. "I needed a moral for these stones."
"And about those stones. . ."
Diana was still fuming as she practically ran to the training rooms. She was so angry at being deceived and yet simultaneously confused over what was true from Manitou's lips that she almost marched right past Batman.
"Bru—Batman? Hera, it's not even seven am in Gotham! Shouldn't you be asleep?" She did a quick calculation and if she knew his habits, he had probably only completed patrol three, maybe four hours ago.
Batman stiffened and remembered his dream. He had seen her approaching as soon as he rounded the corner, but fortunately she looked preoccupied. The stone lay in an evidence bag inside the same lead compartment on his belt he used to hold Superman's Kryptonite ring.
He wasn't taking any chances.
But even with the stone far from his skin, he was still left standing mute and gawking at her. Say something. You're the Batman.
He frowned and attempted a glare as he muttered. "Hn. Yes. I should."
She was too confused and still reeling from her anti-climactic confrontation with Manitou to catch the embarrassed frown that flickered over Batman's face for a nanosecond.
"Are you here for something?" she prompted gently, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes. . . Can we—"
"I think we—"
She gave a quick laugh and held her hands up in mock surrender. "Go ahead."
He nodded and cleared his throat. "Can we talk later? After I'm done here?"
"Of course. How long?"
Batman gave his best estimate. It never took him longer than a few minutes to get the facts out of anyone on the street. Although, he had to admit, he couldn't use those methods on Manitou.
"And then there is the story of why bats hang upside down."
Batman channeled all the teachings he acquired in all his travels to bite back the urge to fling a batarang at the shaman. His internal chronometer knew that five minutes had passed twelve times.
Manitou continued, oblivious, or simply not caring about Batman's internal struggle. "One day, Coyote asked Bat who should he marry. Bat suggested Hawk Chief's wife, as Hawk Chief had disappeared and never returned. But Hawk Chief did return and learned of what Bat told Coyote. So Hawk Chief picked up Bat and flung him high into a tree. Bat was stuck upside down by his pointed moccasins and could not come down. Bat was forced to remain upside down, even sleeping that way. And that is the Apache legend of why bats hang upside down."
Through gritted teeth Batman intoned in a low voice, usually reserved for the cowardly, superstitious lot, "If you have a point, please find it."
Manitou Raven smiled and turned back to the lighted Apache glyphs that adorned his walls. "There are many stories here Bat."
"I will repeat my earlier question as you seem to have forgotten it. What does this stone, or these stories you've been telling me for an hour, have to do with me and Diana?"
The Ancient waved him closer. Batman studied him a moment, considering the possibility of possession. He also took a quick sniff of the air checking for hallucinogens. His suspicions were temporarily pacified, even as his hand stayed on his belt.
"Raven. . . You have been a member of the League long enough to know that I—"
"Your protocols, Bat. Yes, yes I know. Come here."
Batman indulged him in one step closer and stopped, crossing his arms.
Manitou leaned closer instead and his eyes twinkled in the green light as he finally answered Batman's question.
"The stone or the stories?"
Manitou, now bored, returned his attention to his green flames and the smoke that spirited away. He ignored Batman, even as the Dark Knight remained, glaring. After a full minute, Batman resigned and left the shaman to his spells.
After a quick visit to the Monitor Womb that left Flash and his chair on the floor, having lost his balance in surprise at Batman's early appearance, Batman headed to the training room. He only needed a quick glance at the monitors to confirm where he suspected Wonder Woman was, and after taking advantage of Flash's surprisingly slow recovery from the floor to make a modification to a certain monitor creating a loop of the past ten minutes, he was on his way.
Diana rolled her shoulders back in a quick stretch and started another series of punches on the bag. She was bored and frustrated, but did not want to go quite yet, as she doubted Batman would just leave and not tell her.
Sure Diana, she chided herself, disappearing abruptly without telling anyone wouldn't be like Batman at all. . . She rolled her eyes and added some kicks to the combination she threw at the bag.
"You're a little slower with your left."
She didn't bother looking up. She should have guessed he would appear like that. "Five minutes?"
"Raven. . . needed more time."
"Ah." Diana stepped back and halted the swinging bag before turning to Batman. She caught his upward glance and followed his gaze.
She chuckled softly. "Where Kal welded the chain back together . . ." Glancing back at him, she knew he was thinking about that sparring moment as well.
"I still haven't gotten a rematch."
"I would just beat you again," she grinned.
"Does immodesty come with that Amazon competitive spirit?"
"No, that's from my unflinching need for truthfulness."
He didn't say anything in response, not that he couldn't have thrown back a witty retort or renewed his challenge to spar with her. But instead, he found his eyes taking in her easy grin and relaxed posture . . . someone relaxed around him, he suddenly realized.
And he knew he wasn't exactly the most relaxing person to be around.
Batman's head snapped up she cleared her throat.
"I tried Manitou's stone."
He nodded, feigning mild interest, when in fact he was trying to keep his pulse steady.
"I refuse to believe the future it presented. They were misplaced fears I had once, but no more."
He kept his expression calm, even as his mind pounced on this possibility. He had never considered "not accepting" the dream. Strange that he could overlook that option.
During his musings, she had moved closer, but stopped when she saw he was looking at her once again.
"Did you use yours?"
He gave her the barest of nods, once again finding he was mute in her presence.
"What of that future? What did you see?"
An inner voice said "This" even as his lips remained still. How could he tell her that the future he saw was very real indeed because it was founded from his own fears and inadequacies? He had never been a very emotive person, which was part of the reason he pushed Dick away. And that same reserve, that protected him so often on patrol and in battle, would now be his worst enemy.
Diana had moved closer still. She raised her hands to his face and pushed the mask away. Her eyes held the same open, honest expression as in his dream. His throat clenched, knowing what she would say and what he would be unable to say. He could not see this again—
"Stop it Bruce."
His eyes momentarily widened in surprise, even as she continued. "Whatever you're afraid of, I won't allow it to happen. I want to try to make a relationship with you work. I know Gotham's first in your life, I know you need to work yourself beyond any normal human's abilities, I know you can't bring yourself to say the words of how you feel about me . . ."
Diana paused to smile and caress his unshaven cheek gently. "I know. All of it. All that is you, I . . . know." An easy smile crossed her lips and the truth, all of it, shone in her eyes. As he stared back dumbly, his body left him behind and moved on instinct. His arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her closer. She embraced him back, dropping her head to his shoulder. His eyes closed and he just stood, existing purely in that moment. Finally he spoke, his voice hoarse.
"Let's try this."
"It will get complicated . . ."
He nodded at her teasing tone, but kept his eyes shut as he relished the softness of her hair against his face. "I know."
"And we'll have a lot of explaining to do . . ."
"I know. I can handle the rest of the League . . ."
"And my sisters?"