This story was inspired by some of the beautifully written BM/WW stories on the archive. My hat is off to those authors.
He released the grapple mechanism and swung onto the roof, cape billowing behind him like a dark mist.
Someone's following me, he realized suddenly. Someone very good, whom he never would have noticed if a shadow cast by an overhanging gargoyle the next roof over, an image he passed by around this time every night, hadn't been a few inches too long. Probably for a while now. He immediately ran through the list of possible allies who might be shadowing him for fun. Nightwing—no, not to insult Dick but he would never be able to follow Batman so easily. Batgirl—Cassandra was at home sleeping. Huntress—no, Helena wasn't this good either.
Very few people were.
His body continued moving as his mind puzzled over the situation. He reached the edge of the rooftop now, fired another grappling hook onto the high-rise in front of him. Assume enemy, then. Unknown. Which meant he would seek higher, more familiar ground and turn the tables.
Now that he was aware of the existence his mystery pursuer, he moved along an exaggerated path to flush the person out. A zig-zag across one roof and immediate leap onto another revealed a very light flutter, one only his keen senses, augmented by audioscopes located in the pointy ears in his mask, could pick up. This person was very good.
He located a favorable building, one where he would have the advantage of height and surprise. He landed, quickly turned the corner around an enormous advertising billboard that espoused the latest Cola concoction, and waited, batarang cocked and ready. There was no sound, but a barely noticeable shift in the air and he leapt out, hurling the weapon at its target.
There was a solid clang of metal on metal. The tiny spark that erupted was enough light for his night-vision lenses to pick up the outline of the mystery figure.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
Princess Diana of Themyscira, aka Wonder Woman, smiled innocently at him. "Hello, Batman. I was just dropping by." Instead of her usually patriotic ensemble she was wearing loose fitting black clothing, but her hair—the source of the flutter earlier, he noted—was unbound and flew freely in the night wind.
"I've told you to stay out of my city."
"I know, I've heard it before," she replied in an airy tone. "Other superheroes show up, undermine your image, your job becomes harder, old Bat can't cut it, and so on and so forth."
He glared at her. "Leave."
"Aren't you even going to ask why I'm dressed in this ridiculous getup?"
He turned away, stalked toward the edge of the roof.
"Batman! Come on."
He held out the grapple, fired it.
"I'll give you three guesses…"
The grapple found its target and wrapped tightly around the pole.
"You're no fun."
He tested the line's tension.
"I think you're just bitter because you didn't realize I was following you," she called out.
Just before stepping off the roof, he turned his head and sent her an—almost—amused glance. "I had you four blocks ago, Princess."
Her smile just widened. "I've been following you for seven."
His eyes narrowed but he couldn't stop his body's momentum, and he was off the roof before he could reply. Damnit.
But he couldn't hold back a small, very slight, grin.
The mugger waved his rusted pistol at the terrified couple. "Now!"
The husband forced his wife behind him and faced the mugger, palms held up pleadingly. "Sir, please—"
"Give him the money, Jim," his wife hissed from behind him. Her eyes widened as the mugger lifted the gun to her husband's head. Her mouth opened—
--he pulled the trigger—
When she managed to open her eyes again, a new figure stood between them and the mugger. She could only see their savior's back—long, black hair over black clothing.
"If I were you, I'd put the gun down," came a female voice, strong yet feminine.
BLAM. BLAM. And two more pings as the woman deflected the bullets, then sauntered toward the man and decked him into the wall.
She turned toward the couple and gave them a beautiful smile. She was gorgeous. "Have a good night," she said, and floated away.
The wife watched in awe as the figure in black disappeared, then turned to her husband, whose jaw was in danger of hitting the ground.
"Ow!" he cried as she smacked him in the head.
Diana smirked at the sharp cry, and landed easily on the rooftop above the aborted mugging.
"Princess," came the growl.
She almost flinched, but held herself still. She'd been expecting him, after all. "Hello, Batman," she said without turning.
"I won't stop you from flying around if you want to sightsee," for now, was the implied threat. "But if you interfere again—"
"If I hadn't, what would have happened to that couple?" she demanded. "Should I have watched them be shot?"
"No," he replied, the growl tempered by something foreign in his voice. Amusement? "You should have watched a real hero in action."
She whirled around, mouth open indignantly, but he was gone. It was a few moments before she finally found her voice.
"Touche'," she whispered to no one in particular, but she was smiling.
He slid effortlessly into the Batmobile, a sword coming to rest in its sheath, its job done. The digital clock read 4:35 AM. He revved the engines, pressed the buttons to close the top, and drove off.
One hand was on the steering wheel; the other tapped buttons without stopping. The police band was silent; it had been a quiet night. He checked the latest news feeds: nothing.
It was one of those great miracles of Gotham, a silent night. The only incident had been the mugging, and he had not even been involved in stopping it.
What had Diana been doing here? he wondered. That led to another question, why hadn't he been more adamant about her leaving, especially when she had interfered in the mugging? You're getting soft, Bruce, he chided himself, blaming the quiet night, his own lack of sleep, and various other reasons, without once touching upon the real one.
As he neared Wayne Manor he pressed the keys to bring up video feeds of the mansion, the entrance to the Batcave, and the cave itself. It was a routine he performed every night before actually pulling into the cave. Just in case. He tapped his way through the images. Paranoia, maybe. Necessary, yes.
He paused at one of the screens, the one that showed the entrance sitting room of the mansion. He stared at the crisp image.
"What the hell is she doing?" he muttered.
"More tea, Madam?" Alfred asked.
"No, thank you, Alfred," she replied with an easy smile. "But perhaps another one of those cookies?"
"It would be my pleasure." He lifted the tray and held one out to her, wrapped in its folded napkin.
"These are heavenly," she said as she accepted the biscuit and took a bite. She sighed in pleasure. "But, Alfred, are you sure I'm not keeping you up?"
The butler shook his head. "As I told you earlier, Miss Diana, I am generally up to help Master Bruce wrap up any loose ends at the end of his patrol and… tuck him in, so to speak. In fact, he should be arriving—"
Diana had been lulled into a sleepy state by the comfortable sofa and the delicious cookies; Batman's appearance startled her. Alfred didn't even blink. "Welcome back, Master Bruce." He strode toward the Dark Knight, handed him a towel and helped him remove cape and cowl. "I'll leave the two of you to your business, sir," he said as he left the room.
Bruce and Diana watched the butler leave. "You're very lucky to have him, Bruce," she said softly once Alfred was out of earshot.
"I know," he murmured, "I'm reminded of that every day." He turned to face her and visibly shifted gears. Piercing blue eyes studied her. "What are you doing here?"
"Won't you sit down?" She patted the cushion next to her. Still wearing her quasi-ninja suit, she was a splash of black on the red velvet.
"Oh, fine," she said in exasperation. "Take all the fun out of it."
He just looked at her.
She stood up abruptly. "You'll notice that I removed any trace of Wonder Woman from this outfit. There's no danger of anyone, criminal or civilian, thinking that you were getting help from an outsider."
"I know." His voice was soft but he didn't shift his gaze. He did take a few steps toward her, into the light. The muscles in his hardened chest, no longer hidden by the cape, shifted as he moved. She was distracted for a brief moment.
"I'm sorry for following you. If that made you mad. It's just that I saw you swinging along as I was flying overhead and I just couldn't resist the challenge."
Not mad, he thought, more like impressed. Few people could shadow the Bat for three city blocks without him noticing. Not that he would ever say that out loud. "Understandable."
She opened her mouth to speak again, then closed it. Her stomach was fluttering. She realized that her hand was gripped so tightly it had crushed the cookie Alfred had given her. She glanced at it, held it up to show him. "I ruined his cookie," she said with a sad laugh.
Bruce had somehow covered the distance between them and stood only a few feet away. "What is it, Diana?"
She swallowed. "Do you know about the ball in Gateway City next week? For the International Children's Fund?"
"Yes. The Wayne Foundation is one of the sponsors, so Bruce Wayne will be attending. I understand you're one of the featured guests. Why?"
Do or die. The words came out in a rush. "I was wondering if you…if Bruce, would be my date for the ball." She said this to his boots, then looked up and couldn't hold back a giggle.
He wasn't wearing the cape and cowl, but the effect was close enough. For the first time since she had met him, the Batman looked flabbergasted.
"And what did you say, sir?" Alfred poured more steaming coffee into the mug.
Bruce took it and slumped back in his chair, sighing as he sipped the scalding coffee. He had had four hours of sleep, and the caffeine hit just the right spots. "This tastes great, Alfred."
The butler nodded smoothly. "What you said to Miss Diana, sir?"
"What was I supposed to say, Alfred? Do you realize what she was asking? For Bruce Wayne to be Wonder Woman's 'date' could set off all sorts of questions I'd rather not deal with. It'd be a lot of trouble. Not to mention working with her in…professional situations. Things would be uncomfortable..." He trailed off, staring at the mug.
"So you said yes?"
Bruce took another sip of the coffee. Alfred raised an eyebrow and waited.
The word was muttered sullenly into his cup. "Yes."