Note: ffnet took all the asterisks in the story away. The formatting, too. :(
She laughed and moved closer. "I've never seen you like this."
"Like...yourself. Not in one of your roles. Not the scary Batman, not the businessman, not the playboy. More human, more honest, more...real. It's fascinating."
He snorted. "You're seeing me drugged and in pain. If that's your favorite, I've obviously been taking the wrong approach to women."
She smirked and hit him playfully on his unscathed shoulder.
"This is Bruce Wayne at his most vulnerable. It's not a pretty sight."
"I'll be the judge of that."
The ensuing silence was comfortable rather than awkward. She dozed against his body, reassured by the even rise and fall of his chest.
He gave a sudden groan and shifted his shoulder. "Sorry. The anesthesia's wearing off."
She looked up in concern. "Should I get Alfred?"
"No, let him get his sleep."
"I thought he was washing up."
"He passed by half an hour ago, stopped outside but didn't come in." Bless him. "Probably went to bed. God knows I overwork that poor man."
"Are you all right? I can get you something—"
"I don't want more drugs. I'll be fine."
She nodded, lay her head back down. "You really should get some sleep." She didn't move.
"Yes." Neither did he.
She blinked. Sunlight was streaming in through the open windows.
She let loose an unprincessly yawn and began rubbing sleep from her eyes, all the while trying to stay burrowed under the bedcovers. They were snug around her shoulders, and she was loathe to leave their warmth.
There was a soft knock on the door. She gazed blearily at the source of the noise and propped herself up on her elbows. "What...?"
"Miss Diana?" An English voice floated into the room.
"Alfred?" She finally noticed her unfamiliar surroundings, gave a start. Then it all came back to her. Last night—she and Bruce—"Alfred!"
What had—had they—where was—?
"I have prepared breakfast, madam," said the muffled voice. "Would you care for some now, or shall I return later?"
She threw off the covers, realized she was still wearing her black outfit. "Come—come on in, Alfred."
The door opened and the impeccably dressed butler entered. He carried a tray loaded with food; the aroma of freshly baked bread made her nose twitch appreciatively.
"Good morning, Miss Diana," Alfred said, seeming not to notice her disheveled state. "I hope you slept well?"
"I..." she ran a hand through her hair, trying to smooth out the tangled black tresses. "Great. Where is..."
"Master Bruce had to attend an early business meeting." Alfred set the tray on the bedside table. "He asked me to convey his sincere regrets, and also to give you this." The butler lifted an envelope from the tray and handed it to her.
She opened it and took out the handwritten note. Bruce's script was small and neat. Princess, the note read.
Thank you. For everything.
As you said, I still owe you dinner. If you're free tonight, I would greatly enjoy the pleasure of your company at the manor. Please let Alfred know if can make it.
She couldn't hide her smile when she looked up.
"I hope that means I will be preparing dinner for two tonight?" Alfred asked expectantly.
"I would love that, Alfred. If it's not too much trouble."
The butler beamed. "Certainly not. It will do wonders for my poor culinary ego to cook a meal for someone who might actually appreciate it."
"How could Bruce not enjoy your cooking?"
Alfred's lips pursed. "Master Bruce would be just as oblivious eating at one of those...fast food establishments as he would dining on truffles and foie gras. And Master Dick has unfortunately inherited his father's indiscriminate tastes."
She hid a smirk at the image of Batman and Nightwing sharing a Happy Meal on a Gotham rooftop. "I can't wait, Alfred. Oh...as long as it's not, what do they call it, escargot?"
The butler's nose wrinkled. "Snails are meant for the garden, not the palate, madam."
She smiled at that. "Then I know dinner will be fabulous."
He nodded with a confident air. "And that means I must attend to my duties now if I am to satisfy those expectations later. Please feel free to relax anywhere in the manor, madam."
"Oh, I wish I could, Alfred, but I really need to get to work." She paused, glanced at the door leading to the suite's bathroom. "Although...do you think I could take a quick shower before I head back to Gateway?"
"Certainly, madam. You will find fresh towels in the closet to your left. Please call on the intercom," he gestured at the panel, "if you need anything."
"Thanks, Alfred," she said. "I'll be quick."
He just smiled.
She emerged from the bathroom an hour later, toweling her damp hair and feeling extremely refreshed. She looked guiltily at the clock, which now read 9:30 AM, but...there was a Jacuzzi in there! The bathroom was enormous and decked out with all sorts of toys; she had spent five minutes just playing with the control panel that activated the various faucets. Cold and hot water, soap, lotion, perfume, bath oils, even bubble bath, all dispensed cleanly with the touch of a button.
Come to think of it, what would Bruce need bubble bath for? She kept that thought in mind to tease him with.
"Well, it's not my bathroom," Bruce said defensively. At the silence, his protest grew louder. "It isn't!"
The reply was broken up by static. "—--bzzt--—sure you don't sneak in there—--crackle--—unwind from a long d---zt---s work? Bubbles are remarkably soothi—--zzzt--—ou know."
He opened his mouth to protest once more, decided to change the subject instead. "Are you going to be all right?" he asked.
The voice immediately grew serious. "Yes. ----crackle--—lly sorry, Bruce. It's just that--" A burst of static rendered the next words incomprehensible.
"Don't apologize," he said. "I understand. Be careful."
"—--zzt--—dbye, Bruce." The communicator in his ear clicked off. With a sigh, he pulled it out and stared at the tiny electronic device.
Alfred stood behind him, with a face almost as glum as his. "I take it that Miss Diana will not be joining us for supper?"
"No. Problem with Circe in the earth's core."
Alfred nodded. "Should the League perhaps be mobilized..."
"Already done. Lantern and J'onn are on standby." He stood up, began pulling off the Armani jacket he had put on just half an hour ago. "There's nothing I can do for her."
The muted frustration in his words showed in his struggles with the suit. Alfred was there before he could rip the ten thousand dollar garment, easily slipping the coat from Bruce's arms. The billionaire began tugging at his tie, then sighed and let Alfred undo the silk strip.
"I am rather disappointed myself, Master Bruce."
"I'm going on patrol." He stalked off.
"Sir, your arm ..."
Bruce was gone before his butler could finish the sentence, leaving the older man standing there with jacket and tie in his hands. Alfred spared a melancholy glance at the dining room, from where the smell of roast duck was drifting into the air.
He sighed and went to retrieve another suit, entirely different from the one he now held.
"Sandwich and chips again," he muttered as he left the room.
She stumbled onto the balcony, holding her aching side. The wounds caused by Circe's blasts had healed for the most part, but they were still sore. At least the sorceress was taken care of...or rather, had disappeared, so they could play this scenario over again in a few months. She grimaced as she approached the balcony doors.
The doors slid open on their own.
She immediately crouched into a defensive posture, hands at the ready. She ignored the twinges in her hamstring and abdomen.
"Who's there?" Her eyes scanned the darkness, saw a patch of black darker than the room itself. She readied herself to lunge—
She relaxed instantly at the sound of that voice, so much so that a part of her marveled at her ease around him. Batman was at her side, supporting her as they walked to her bed. She was too tired to protest.
"Are you all right?" he asked. His somber tone held a note of concern she had rarely heard before.
"Fine," she tried to smile at him. "Tired. Sore. The usual. I'm sorry I couldn't make it tonight. I really wanted to go."
"Our line of work, right?" The repetition of her words in the limo made her chuckle. She winced at the painful flare in her chest and didn't see his jaw tighten.
He helped her onto the enormous bed. She yawned.
"I'd invite you to join me," she murmured sleepily as her head sank into the soft pillow, "but that's not something I do until at least the first date." She yawned again and closed her eyes. "Which we never finished."
She was already half-asleep. He tucked the blanket around her shoulders and almost—but not quite—touched her hair.
He watched her for just a little while longer, making sure she was fast sleep, then strode out the balcony and into the night.
Bruce started, looked up from the huge mahogany desk. "Wha—oh, Lucius! Sorry, didn't hear you come in. What's going on?"
The CEO of Wayne Enterprises spread out a dozen charts and bar graphs onto Bruce's desk. He pointed to the first one.
"These are Munroe's third quarter earnings. They posted a loss of more than seventy cents a share, thirty percent under analyst estimates. But their stock went up two and a half points this morning due to rumors of our buyout. So, we hear LexCorp's also interested now and leaving Jonesy..."
Lucius carefully articulated each word, almost as if he considered his audience a bit slow. Bruce resisted the urge to tell him to hurry up. He knew everything there was to know about the Munroe, Jonesy, and Stackheimer Corporations. He knew that Wayne Enterprises was making blatant buyout overtures to Munroe in an attempt to inflate the company's perceived value and then hopefully slip in unnoticed on the Stackheimer and Jonesy deals. He had memorized the exact assets, expense, and profit sheets from each of the three companies, knew their management structures from top to bottom, and with a few buttons could find out what each of their CEOs had for breakfast.
So he put a dull grin on his face. "It all sounds great, Lucius! When's lunch?"
Lucius stared at him, interrupted in the middle of explaining the dynamics of the board of directors at Stackheimer. "Ok, Bruce, what's going on?"
The CEO sighed and pulled off his glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I know you find these things a bit...boring, Bruce, but your head's been in the clouds the past few days. You didn't even notice me coming in. And you wrenched your shoulder playing golf?"
"I...I'm sorry, Lucius. I guess I'm a bit distracted lately."
Lucius gave him a knowing look. "Another woman, huh?"
"I guess you could say that."
"Black hair, actually. And her legs!"
The CEO gave an exasperated smile. "All right, then, I'll leave you alone to dream about your lady friend. Just don't break her heart too badly, Bruce, we don't need any bad publicity right now." Lucius swept up his papers and left the room, already on his cell phone. "Liz, I need the latest numbers from Mern and McBach ..." the door closed and cut off his words.
"I'll try not to," Bruce said.
"Diana, it's me."
"Bruce! I'm here now, Alfred and I are waiting on you for dinner—"
"I won't be able to make it tonight."
A pause. "Oh."
"Something's come up with work. Last minute merger talks, I'm stuck at the office for the rest of the night."
"It's a huge deal we're trying to close out. I have to meet with three different company boards before midnight."
"I'm very sorry."
"I am, too. Our line of work, right?"
"Close enough. What? Yes, just a second, Lucius. Gotta go."
She hung up the phone and glanced at Alfred. The butler's lips were pursed. "I must apologize for him, Miss Diana—"
"It's all right, Alfred." She stood from the couch and forced a smile. "Since I'm here already, how about some dinner?"
"Nightwing and the others are taking over patrol for tonight. Nothing major going on, anyway. And you?"
"Quiet on my end, also," she replied. "Thank Hera."
"Good. And now," he rose to his feet and gallantly offered his hand to help her up. "I think it's about time we had dinner together."
She smiled and lifted her own hand. "I was beginning to think we'd never get the chance—"
Their JLA alert beepers went off simultaneously.
"Hades!" she snarled, slamming the back of her hand into an unfortunate cushion. It split open and tumbled to the ground. "I—I'm sorry, I..."
She stopped at the rare look of disappointment on his face. Then it was gone, replaced by the granite she knew so well. His words were toneless. "Yes. Let's go."
Several days after their victory over an energy core that had been threatening to collide into the earth and drill a hole right through the planet, the members of the Justice League gathered in the Watchtower for their weekly meeting.
The clock read 7:59:56. Kyle drummed his fingers on the table, looked around at the other superheroes. "Where's Bat—"
"Urk!" The Green Lantern stiffened as the black figure glided to his chair at exactly 8:00:00.
Superman nodded. "Right. Okay, everyone. I'm calling this meeting to order. First item on the agenda today..."
Diana listened to the first few items, which dealt with recruiting standards and reserve members, then gradually tuned out the words. Her eyes darted to Batman, but as usual he was staring blankly ahead and gave no sign of noticing her. She hid a frown.
--Is everything all right, Diana?-- J'onn's voice spoke in her mind. --I apologize for the intrusion, but telepathy is not needed to recognize that you are unhappy.--
--I'm fine, J'onn,-- she replied. --Personal issues.--
--Of course. Let me know if I can help.-- His presence began to fade.
--How much do you know about ... Bruce and I?--
There was a brief pause. --Um, I don't believe it would be wise for me to get involved...--
--Just tell me.--
--It was never my intention to pry into your mind, of course, but...--
--Out with it.--
If thoughts could squirm, the Martian's were certainly doing so. --—you project them, I promise I never intended to look—--
He gave what might have been a sigh. --I am aware of your...feelings for each other, which seem to grow stronger with each passing day. You radiate them sometimes, which is how I picked up on it, but he's usually so tightly wound that I catch nothing but the barest hint.--
--But of course.--
--What's troubling you?--
She sighed. --It's just that we've been trying to find time to see each other outside of 'work' and something is always coming up. Circe, our 'civilian' jobs, the JLA, Gotham, a million different things.--
--I am not well-versed in relationships, Diana. But I believe there is a human saying that goes, 'all good things are worth waiting for.'--
--Yes, I've heard that one, J'onn. It's still frustrating when we have to cancel five straight 'dates' because of some maniac with a grudge, or alien invasions, or diplomatic protests, or even a Hades-damned carjacker."
--I understand. Perhaps you are going about it the wrong way, then?
--What do you mean?--
--Bruce owns a billion dollar corporation; you are the ambassador of a sovereign nation. You both also have...activities on the side. The chance that the free time in your schedules will happen to coincide seems very small.--
--Tell me about it.--
--So instead of waiting for both schedules to conveniently open up, why not take matters into your own hands and create some free time? Perhaps one of you could make some sort of romantic overture as a surprise to the other.--
Romantic overtures. Diana almost smirked at the thought of Batman serenading her on the balcony with flowers, but a thought struck her. Wasn't that what he had done—sort of—the night she had come home from battling Circe? He had been there waiting, and although she had been too tired to reciprocate in any manner, he had still taken that step.
And she hadn't. She chided herself for that. Who would have thought the Batman would be the one reaching out in a relationship?
--Thank you, J'onn. That does help.--
--I'm glad to be of service.--
--You should have been a relationship counselor instead of a private investigator.--
--Yes. J'oanne J'ones, romantic advisor to the superhero community.--
--You would make a fortune.--
--Most of my business would come from Oliver North. I would go mad in a week.--
She gave a telepathic chuckle and glanced around the table. Superman was still droning on about some issue or other; most of the League's eyes were glazing over. Even Batman's lenses seemed dulled. --Are you paying attention to Clark?-- she asked curiously.
--Not really. More trying to catch the stray thoughts coming from Bruce's mind.--
--It's a way to pass the time.--
--What's he thinking now?--
There was a pause. -- I hear bits and pieces: something about 'how the hell', 'make Clark', and 'stop talking.' There's a glimpse of low grade plutonium and a lead-lined mouthguard.--
--Hah!-- She couldn't hold back a real smile, saw Batman's gaze shift ever so slightly to regard her.
--Hm. His thoughts are more focused, now. He's thinking of all the ways to fake an emergency in Gotham so he can leave, then fake one in Gateway City for you, too.--
--How sweet,-- she thought, amused and not a little flattered. She beamed at Batman. His lenses widened, then abruptly looked away.
--No plan to save me, unfortunately.--
--Indeed,-- he replied in mock-sorrow. --No one ever thinks of the Martian.-- She grinned mentally at that.
A sudden beeping interrupted Superman in mid-sentence. All heads swiveled to look at Batman, the source of the noise. The Dark Knight stood from the table, a black slash in the otherwise bright room.
"Emergency in Gotham," he said gruffly. "Got to go."
As he left the room, two members of the League had to hold back their laughter.
He released the grapple mechanism with his left hand and dropped onto the building, cape floating behind him like a dark shroud. He crouched on the edge of the roof and stared out into the expanse of the enormous city below. His city.
It was quiet now. Things had been hectic earlier, and he would have the bruises to show for it tomorrow. But the subsequent patrol had been uneventful, with one mugging aborted before it had even begun. The mugger had lost his nerve in the shadows and run off.
A superstitious and cowardly lot indeed.
A shift in the wind currents made him lift his head. His lenses whirred as they scanned the night air. They caught nothing, but...
"What are you doing here?" he asked softly.
He rose to his full height and turned to see the princess of Themyscira. She was once again wearing her loose black outfit, but this time her hair was done up atop her head, leaving her neck bared in the warm Gotham night.
"This seems familiar," he said.
She smiled, cocked her head at him. "Two weeks ago now, isn't it? Seems a lot longer."
"Yes. I thought you were busy tonight."
"I was. But I realized there was something more important I had to do." She lifted her hand, offered something white and fluffy to him. "For you."
A dandelion. He took it, raised a white lens at her.
"It's a flower." Her voice was huffy, but her eyes sparkled.
"I don't get it."
Her smile broadened. "You're not supposed to. Just blow."
He obeyed. Hundreds of the fluffy white threads scattered into the night. A few caught on the edges of his cowl. He brushed them away.
Diana abruptly crossed her arms. "So where was my rescue from that meeting?" she demanded with a smile.
He snorted. "I was working on it when Killer Croc broke out of the Arkham hospital. Fake an emergency and get a real one. Karma." He paused. "And tell J'onn I don't appreciate him nosing around my head."
She grinned. "I asked him to. Which brings me to why I'm here. I was hoping you could take the night off also." She hesitated. "We could finally have some time together."
His gaze lingered on her for just a moment before he looked away. He shook his head. "I have to patrol. I've already missed too much time." Almost unconsciously, he shifted his left shoulder
There was no hint of regret in his tone, but the hesitation had been enough. "If you have to, I understand, Bruce. I just wanted to say hello."
They stared at each other for several moments before she turned to leave.
"Wait." She stopped, watched him lift a hand to his cowl. There was a brief pause before he spoke. "Dick. I need you to patrol tonight."
She couldn't hear the response through the earpiece, but didn't need to. "Nothing."
A pause. "I'm busy."
Another pause, then an exasperated "Can you do it or not?"
There was a long wait, then the words came in a rush: "I have a date—Batman out." He clicked off the comm and looked at her. "That's going to take a lot of explaining tomorrow," he said sullenly.
She smiled and walked to him, wrapped her arm around his waist. "I think it'll be worth it." His lenses widened as they floated off the roof.
"You did not!"
"I did. I don't think I ever saw her again."
She giggled as she put down the empty wineglass. He picked up the 1997 bottle of Dom. Romanee Conti. French burgundy worth $1500 a bottle swirled into her glass.
"Are you trying to get me drunk, Mr. Wayne?" she asked, smiling widely at him. Her cheeks were rosy.
He gave her an innocent grin in reply, then lifted his own glass. "A toast."
She mirrored his action. "To what?"
"To... to not being busy."
She laughed. "To not being busy," she agreed.
They clinked glasses and sipped the burgundy. She settled back into her chair and studied him from behind lowered lashes. His lips looked very kissable.
They tumbled to the floor.
Alfred, who had entered the room a moment earlier carrying a tray of cheesecake, stopped in his tracks upon seeing the two figures sprawled on the ground. The butler turned and made his retreat in one smooth, if hasty, motion.
He closed the door behind him without a sound, then tiptoed away. He was smiling.
And now, gentle soul, we spare them our prying eyes, for even the mightiest of heroes, the darkest and the brightest, need time to themselves—and to each other.
So we leave this mortal palace, and make our way to—
No, I don't believe that to be possible, and after all—
Hmm? One last look, you say? Just one?
Perhaps one can be spared, for it is indeed a rare occasion to see two such opposites come together. The shadow and the sun, darkness and light, secrecy and truth.
Hurry, then: one last glance, and then to slip away unnoticed...
Here, hours later, they slumber in the domain of Morpheus. Quietly, now, lest we rouse them. See how her head lies snug against the crook of his arm? We cannot see her face nor divine her dreams, but by her calm demeanor we can tell this much: she sleeps soundly in his arms. She feels safe now, safer in the embrace of a mere mortal than she would on the highest peaks of Mount Olympus or behind the mightiest warriors of Earth.
And he...by the gods, what a sight. He smiles, not the cruel twist of the lips he employs in his nocturnal work, nor the vapid grin of his mask to the outside world, but a genuine smile, a true expression of joy that lights his erstwhile somber face.
He is something that he never thought possible after that cold, terrifying, night so many years ago. During those moments, each lasting an eternity, in which he lost everything in the world.
He is happy. And he has found what he has lost. Perhaps not all, but given time...
Shhh. We must go now, before he notices; a man of his keen senses would not find it a hard task. Thus we depart on the wings of night, and bid them farewell in the tranquility of their slumber. No, do not protest, but instead take comfort in this simple fact: the shadow has found its light.
The knight has found his princess.
A huge thank you goes to everyone who read and commented on this story. I hope you had half as much fun reading as I did writing. Well, for the most part—some portions were just insanely frustratingly godawful to hammer out. This last chapter was actually written several months ago—I just ran out of steam and the desire to proofread my work for the hundredth time (there's only so much of your own writing you can read before you get sick of yourself, am I right?)
So it sat there, mostly done. I decided to polish and put it up after seeing some BM/WW oriented episodes of Justice League Unlimited and having my interest rekindled. In the spirit of laziness I cut out a lot of stuff I originally wanted to write, but c'est la vie. At least it's finished. :) Looking back, I find it hard to believe it's been almost a year since I first got into the idea; it's very cool watching the occasional "shippy" episode of JLU and seeing how far things have come.
Finally, as the introduction implies, this story would have never been were it not for those fantastic authors who have written such amazing stories on this archive: my hat goes off to Tullberg, Petersen, Meljean/UG, Artemis, SteelMagnolia, and more. Bravo!