AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is a sequel to "Their Hearts Desires". I suggest reading it first here:

SUMMARY: After Bruce is seriously injured, Diana contemplates their relationship and her immortality.

DEDICATION: A special thank you to Heybats whose input is priceless. You are the reason I started writing. And to Scott Claybrook who taught me a thing or two about the writing process.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the Bat-characters or subsequent franchise licenses. If I did, I would be a billionaire (and perhaps, secretly, a masked vigilante). This was just for fun.

Immortal Burden
by DC Lady

The steady humming of the Watchtower's massive life support system reverberated throughout the vast structure, lulling its superhero community to sleep. In the alcove above the main floor of the Watchtower one hero remained awake, conducting her scheduled assignment of Monitor Duty. As midnight approached, Wonder Woman scanned the various monitors displaying potential hot spots around the world and looked for anything out of the ordinary. So far, the evening proved quiet.

Content, she yawned, leisurely stretching her arms above her head. Her muscles screamed in pleasure at the stretch, releasing the strain built-up by her near motionless duty of world surveillance.

Sinking into her chair, she grasped her mug with both hands and deeply inhaled the coffee's rich aroma before taking a small sip. With the completion of the evening's routine system diagnostics, she momentarily allowed her mind to wander to more private aspects of her life. Her thoughts cascaded through her mind, ticking off mental reminders for various appointments and duties owed as the Themyscirian Ambassador before a more pleasant thought replaced her real-life routines: her new relationship with Batman.

Six weeks before, in a hotel room in Metropolis, Batman…Bruce, had opened his heart to her. The revelation of the traumatic effect that his parents' death had had on him took their relationship to a higher level than she had ever dreamed. She was amazed at the resulting intensity of his feelings; especially for those in his extended family, the Batclan. In the aftermath of their breakthrough, Diana and Bruce had been attempting to establish a relationship in the midst of their busy schedules.

It wasn't easy. Having suppressed his emotions for most of his life, Bruce was uncomfortable breaking down the barriers he'd constructed at such an early age. With a little prodding from Diana, she'd suggested Bruce take the initiative to mend the strained relationship with his son, Dick Grayson. Dick had been the original Robin before falling out with Bruce over his growing independence, eventually remaking himself as Nightwing, protector of Bludhaven.

(30 minutes earlier) The fog silently rolled in from Gotham's shoreline, its density cloaking the city's constant protector, the Batman. Perched on the rooftop of one of the numerous warehouses located in the docking district, he silently gazed through his night-vision goggles at the target of his surveillance. A sudden increase in Gotham's crime rate had concerned the Dark Knight, now determined to discover the root cause of the crime wave. After a prolonged investigation, he discovered the identity of the crime-lord aggressively trying to make a name for himself: Ramon Rio.

Following the money trail, Batman also discovered Rio had ties to influential businessmen. They were financing his operation by laundering the cash from his cocaine trafficking; putting it into real estate investments on Gotham's West Side. A syndicate was being developed and Batman intended to shut it down tonight. According to informants, Rio's bookkeeping records were kept at this warehouse.

Seated quietly to Batman's right, Nightwing donned his own set of night-vision goggles, surveying the same scene. While scanning the warehouse, he pondered the sudden improvement in his relationship with his surrogate father, silently crediting Diana's positive influence on him.

Batman had called earlier this evening, asking to rendezvous here tonight - actually the request was more of an order, but he knew that was as close as Batman would get to admit he wanted help. While gazing through his goggles, he glanced towards Batman, trying to summon the courage to ask his plans for the weekend.

"What!?" Batman asked, without ever lowering his night-vision goggles.

"Huh?" Nightwing stammered. "…." Batman does not ask twice.

"Oh, Barbara and I were thinking," Nightwing continued. "Well, Saturday night we thought we'd try that French restaurant that you like so much. And…well…we were wondering if you and Diana would like to join us?" He chanced a glance in Batman's direction.

"What time?" Batman asked, the hint of a smirk displaying on his lips as he continued his surveillance.

"Sevenish?" Nightwing asked, inwardly elated with his mentor's interest in his plans for a double date. 'Yep, Diana is definitely good for him,' he mused.

"Fine." Rising to his feet, Batman turned toward Nightwing, grapple gun in hand. "Let's go, partner," he said, and fired a line that would take him to the street below.

Nightwing gave his mentor his brightest smile, memories of his childhood as Robin flooding through him, bolstering his hopes of a renewed relationship with his father. "Yes, let's do it, partner."

Completing the checklist that would end her evening shift of Monitor Duty, Diana's heart quickened as an emergency alert from Gotham displayed on the main monitor. "Watchtower, do you need assistance?" Diana answered, trying to relay a tone of calm and professionalism.

"Wonder Woman, Batman is down. We need emergency transport to the Medical Bay," Nightwing stated, the seriousness of the situation evident in his unsteady voice.

"Transporting, Nightwing," Diana informed him, activating the transporter system. She then summoned J'onn to stand ready for a medical emergency and to make him aware of the identity of the injured hero so that security precautions could be taken to keep Batman's identity a secret. Finally, Wonder Woman contacted Flash in his quarters. She quickly explained the situation and asked him to relieve her at the duty station.

Preparing for the arrival of Batman, J'onn telepathically touched the minds of his two civilian medical assistants, shielding their minds so they would be unable to recognize the injured hero out of costume. The mechanical humming of the transporter system alerted the Med Bay team, followed by bright, vertical lights that filled the room. Once the transport was completed, J'onn saw a distraught Nightwing on the floor, cradling Batman in his arms. Without hesitation, J'onn moved toward the two men. He was immediately disturbed by the large amount of blood soaking Batman's uniform, already pooling on the ground beside him. Nightwing was applying pressure to a large, gaping wound in Batman's abdomen, frantically trying to stop the flow of blood.

J'onn placed one arm under Batman's shoulders and the other under his knees. Encouraging Nightwing to maintain the pressure to the injury, he slowly rose so as not to break the pressure, then quickly carried the unconscious vigilante to the examination table. Working as a team, a medical assistant removed Batman's uniform, cutting easily through the Nomex-Kevlar weave with a pair of diamond-tipped industrial scissors J'onn had designed for such an emergency. Reaching into the ruptured abdomen, J'onn desperately searched for the artery responsible for the blood loss. Locating it after a few desperate seconds, he clamped the artery, hoping the action would at least temporarily stabilize Batman's condition.

As he turned to prepare for the upcoming surgery necessary to repair the damage, J'onn sensed an incredible feeling of anguish from Nightwing. J'onn telepathically encouraged the younger man to wait in the corridor, not wanting his continued presence as a distraction.

Standing in the corridor, Nightwing silently gazed at the blood that stained his hands and uniform. The memories of the night's events settled in his stomach like lead. Hearing a sudden intake of breath down the corridor, he turned in time to see Diana go white at the site of his blood-soaked uniform.

"Dick, where is he?" Diana asked, rushing into the waiting room. "Hera, please tell me he is alive." When he gave no reply, she attempted to make her way into the Medical Bay.

Nightwing quickly stepped in front of her. "Diana, he is alive, but his condition is serious. J'onn is already operating on him," he stated, struggling to keep her from entering the Med Bay. "You have to let him do his job, Diana. Please," he pleaded, finally getting through to the distraught Princess.

Guiding the Amazon to a row of chairs lining one side of the corridor, Nightwing encouraged Diana to sit. Nervously removing his mask, he took the seat next to her, twisting the black cloth in his trembling hands. He shifted uneasily in his seat, summoning the courage to relive this dreadful night and to answer the questions that were written on Diana's face.

Taking a deep breath, Dick began his account of the evening. "We were at the docks running down a lead. We needed evidence to convict a new drug lord who set up shop in Gotham," he paused, taking a breath.

"Batman got a tip from a snitch which brought us to an abandoned warehouse. We watched it till we were sure it was secure, then we went down to look for the records we needed for a conviction. Batman took the north end of the warehouse while I combed the south." Dick stood, walking towards the Medical Bay door before continuing.

"There was an explosion. A big one," he said quietly, then turned toward Diana. "I ran to Batman's last known location, making my way through the debris, looking for any sign of him. After several minutes of searching I saw it - the end of his cape from under a pile of rubble," Dick stated, hoarse with emotion.

"The roof had collapsed on top of him. I tried to dig him out, then noticed that he was pinned under one of the support beams." Dick hesitated, unsure how to proceed. He suddenly felt Diana's hand on his shoulder, giving him her silent encouragement to continue.

"I was able to move the beam off him, then realized that it had fragmented, when I lifted it," Nightwing gasped. "I should have checked first but there was just so much smoke! I could have cut away the fragment before lifting the beam. Maybe he wouldn't have lost so much blood," he cried out, his eyes brimming with tears.

"Dick, it's not your fault," she said soothingly. My reaction would have been to get that thing off him as well. I would have done the same as you,"

"There was so much blood," he continued. "I've worked the streets for most of my life and dealt with a lot of injuries, but I've never seen that much blood coming from one person - I got scared. I thought that I would lose him." He admitted, again turning to face the Medical Bay door.

"When I was a kid growing up at Wayne Manor, I thought that Bruce was invincible. He has this way of making you think that of him. He's so damned confident in himself," he said with a chuckle.

"You think by his attitude that he has Superman's powers." She commented wryly, "It makes you believe that he is invincible.

"I use to think that Superman was 'the' coolest superhero who ever lived. I would pretend I could fly and have super strength to fight the bad guys. Bruce had even introduced me to Superman." He laughed at the memory. "That must have been the most difficult thing he ever had to do," he stated, knowing the competitive relationship between the two men. Turning to Diana with a serious gaze he added, "Superman may have been my childhood hero, but Bruce became my dad. He saved my life," Dick choked out. Diana quickly enveloped him in her arms, comforting him as best she knew how. Surprised by the comfort of her embrace, Dick could only feel regret at all of the things he left unsaid to his father.

"It sounds like you must have been very happy growing up at Wayne Manor." She observed. "Bruce never told me; what happened between the two of you?" Diana asked, as she and Dick again took their seats. "I was happy…as happy as one can be around Bruce" Dick replied automatically, then regretted saying the words. "It was lonely in the beginning. When I first arrived, Alfred showed me to my room, the same room Bruce used when he was a child. It was so big and empty, just like the rest of the house. Bruce was gone a lot at first. He really wasn't prepared to take on a kid. When he saw my determination to go after my parents' killer, he revealed himself to me as Batman and began training me as Robin. But, every time the killer was within my reach, Bruce stood in the way."

"You were just a child. Surely he was just protecting you," she encouraged.

"That was the problem. He was always protecting me. Bruce has this incredible fear of losing those he is close to. It's developed into a pathological ability to push people away, so they don't get too close. As I grew up I wanted to learn to stand on my own two feet and make my own decisions. I was no longer content being just a sidekick and following orders. It created an incredible rift between us. So, no longer having total control over my life, he did what was in his nature to do; he pushed me away. Now I realize this was his way of protecting me from the world we both chose to live in, but it wasn't all that clear back then," he finished.

"That does sound like Bruce," she admitted.

"Oh, before I forget, thank you," he said, turning towards her with an expression that reflected little of the angst he'd been experiencing the past hour.

"For what?" she asked, clearly confused.

"For having him call. For having him try to fix things with me," he explained.

"I did not force him to call you. He wanted to mend your relationship on his own. It's been weighing on him for a while now. He just needed some help getting started, that's all. He loves you, Dick," she observed.

"I know he loves me. I guess I've always known that. I also know that since he's been seeing you, he is trying to allow the people who love and care for him to be a part of his life. Without you, he would have never contacted me," he finished.

Diana shrugged her shoulders in agreement, then smiled at the fact that her presence in Bruce's life had made a difference.

Turning to Diana, Dick asked curiously. "What about you? What was your childhood like?" Dick watched as Diana's face brightened as she recounted her memories of home.

"I had a wonderful childhood. My memories of growing up are filled with the times I spent with my mother and sisters," she began, "The Amazon race is one made up of warriors, fierce in battle and competitive by nature. There were tournaments held to sharpen our skills and prove our worth in battle. Although competitive, it did not interfere with our love and devotion for each other. We were a family and I was very happy," Diana stated, frowning as she continued. "We did not have the trials and tribulations present in man's world."

"What type of trials and tribulations didn't you grow up with?" he asked, curious as to the differences of growing up with an immortal race of warriors.

"Death, sickness, aging," she stated sadly.

"This must be hard for you. Have you ever faced the death of someone you loved before?"

"Not like this. But, I have always believed there to be great honor in the death of a true warrior," Diana stated proudly. "Before the protection of Zeus that now encompasses our island, wars and invasions left the future of the Amazon race in doubt. To insure our lineage it became necessary to travel to man's world in order to bear children. Alcippe was one Amazon among many who refused to be defiled by a man, instead taking a vow of celibacy. Then Hercules invaded Themyscira to obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, a requirement given him by a Pythian priestess to earn his immortality. His men raped and plundered our island and its inhabitants. Rather than risk rape and eventual death at the hand of a man, Alcippe threw herself upon her sword, saving her virtue and obtaining the honor befitting an Amazon warrior.

Bruce has the heart and soul of a great warrior. He has followed his heart in his quest to help mankind. His death will be honorable and I will celebrate it as such if fate has determined his time," she finished.

Dick noticed the emotional struggle she displayed to live up to the words just spoken. "Diana, whatever happens, we will get through it together. You are not alone," he said, and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze as they waited for word on the fallen hero.

Hours passed before J'onn opened the door of the Medical Bay, his countenance reflecting the seriousness of the situation. Sensing Dick and Diana's distress he quickly reassured them. "He is alive, but his condition is critical," he began, motioning them to sit. He collapsed onto the chair next to them, the effort of the surgery an obvious drain on him.

"How bad is he, J'onn?" Diana asked softly.

"I put him on life support," J'onn stated. "His vital signs are stable, but dangerously low, due to the enormous blood loss. His right lung was severely lacerated. I had a difficult time repairing the tissue damage. It may collapse again. His aorta was nicked. I sutured the wound and cauterized it but that artery transports an immense amount of blood. If he throws a clot from his lung, there is a likelihood of a pulmonary embolism or a clot could prevent a loss of blood flow to his brain. There are numerous other wounds that are not life threatening and should heal quickly. However, because of his weakened state he has slipped into a coma, which is cause for alarm," he explained.

"What are his chances?" Dick whispered, fearing the answer.

"We have done all we can do. It is up to him now," J'onn concluded wanly, "but you know of his willpower. I would not bet against him."

"I've got to call Alfred," Dick mumbled, then blindly stumbled down the corridor to the communications center to contact his surrogate grandfather.

Sensing her fear, J'onn turned to Diana. The traumatic events of the evening had left the Princess emotionally drained; the seriousness of Bruce's condition was weighing heavily on her shoulders.

"Diana, talk to me," J'onn urged, sliding over to the seat next to her. "How are you holding up?"

"I knew that we both led dangerous lives. But, it honestly never occurred to me that it could end so soon," she began, focusing on the wall in front of her, unable to come to terms with the situation.

"You must not lose hope. He is still alive. He is fighting," he encouraged.

"I don't want to lose him, J'onn." The awareness of her giving voice to her fear had allowed the tears to flow freely down Diana's cheeks. Silently taking her hand, J'onn offered what support he could.

"When can I see him?" she asked.

"As soon as his condition is stabilized," he stated, and then continued. "I need to get back to him. Will you be alright?"

"I'm fine. Dick will return shortly," she answered. J'onn returned to care for his patient, leaving Diana alone with her thoughts. After several minutes, she turned at the sound of footsteps quietly approaching and saw Dick returning from his call to Alfred.

"Alfred will be here shortly. He wants to put together a few things for Bruce," he stated. "Did J'onn say when we could see him?"

"As soon as they are able to stabilize his condition," she whispered.

The two heroes sat in silence, waiting to see Bruce.

To be continued....