Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, no profit is being made from this and copyright infringement is not intended.
Author's Note: Here it is folks…finally, the last chapter. To tell you all the truth, I never thought I will finish this story, after leaving it for so long. Anyway, I hope you will all still be here when I start the next (yes, I am starting anew one, and is quite different from the usual). Again, my sincerest thank yous to all.
Yes, he really did not have much sleep when he turned in at about three a.m.
Not really. But realizing what he was about to do made him question his judgment.
Oh hell, Bruce! He mentally admonished himself. What's the point in having this self assessment when all you do is deny the truth even to yourself?
Then he shifted in his seat making the faint squeak echo around the room.
More than a week earlier he had been very honest, not just with himself, but with her as well and it was indeed a breakthrough in his emotional development. Hence, still given the fact though that it was still a gray area if she was just being polite by not turning him down flat that afternoon or if she was indeed taking into account giving him another chance, he was nevertheless very much willing to take this opportunity.
Her mere absence in his life, be it just for less than a month, made him realize her importance. And a smile hovered on his face at the remembrance that she once teasingly complained to him that she felt a little neglected.
That was why of all the Mondays he could ever recall, he was very unusually early for the meeting today.
Wondering what was taking the rest, he involuntarily flipped his wrist to check for the time. But he was not in his Bruce Wayne mode so he left the expensive wristwatch at the manor.
Passing the time, he thought about J'onn's welcome news nights before that she was finally returning to active duty. He also did not think twice about asking of her condition because there was no use beating around the bush with a telepath. J'onn informed him that there was no more cause for worry since the medication seemed to have worked.
But of course, even if every bit of him was itching to have an excuse to visit the watchtower on the off chance of bumping into her he knew he had to wait a while.
Hence again, here he was, too early on a Monday and excited, nursing a slowly aching arm.
He sighed, adjusting his right arm slightly to relieve the stiffness from keeping it still, hiding something in his cape as he sat.
Maybe this isn't such a good idea...
And then the door opened to the sound of her laughter.
Like always, though he never confessed it to her since he was still arguing it with himself, there was this strange awareness of her, that of everything else around him she had his most attention and the rest just occupied the distant background. And stealing a glance her way now, looking at the vision of her in her uniform, he successfully hid a private smile that he missed seeing her with not that much covering. It seemed a very long time ago, when he last saw her with that magnificent tiara on her head. And he must say that he also missed the slight arrogance in the way she unconsciously tilted her head when talking.
But of course, like a loud screeching noise interrupting a very wonderful melody, the ever present best friend just could not help by getting into the picture. He did not really consider himself a jealous man because there was not much to be jealous about.
Until she came into his life.
He tried dismissing with a grunt this strange feeling somewhere in the pit of his belly that surfaced at the affectionate way she and Superman were talking. But he had to admit that her relationship with the Kryptonian was something he needed to accept if he wanted this to work.
And then, suddenly, the collective noise from everyone else talking at the same time was eerily hushed by the eminent surprise at the acknowledgement of his presence in the room. Just like obedient students, the others guiltily moved to their assigned seats.
"Good morning." It was a polite greeting, but this time her eyes showed a glimmer of something deeper.
"Good morning." His even more formal reply belied the feeling he had inside.
Strangely giddy…that's what he felt right now.
And it was starting to be definitely a good morning.
Even if it was probably not the most important, bordering a little to a total waste of time that even Superman might be playing with his x-ray vision to defeat the agonizing bout of boredom, Monday morning meetings were a ritual ever since J'onn came back from his sabbatical.
Maybe it was one of the things he learned from mingling with humans, the need for bonding. Or just simply a way to set off the week in the right direction.
Whatever the reasons were, she had to admit that she was starting to see things in a different light. Sitting now amidst the uninterested faces of the founding members, after a almost a month of not seeing all of them sitting ildly, quietly entertaining thoughts to keep from yawning, or better yet finding any excuse to get out of the meeting, with the exception of Shayera who was conveniently away on assignment, she smiled inside at the feeling that she was once again home.
And things were back to what it was.
She smiled inwardly and remembered testing herself at the training room yesterday. When the hologram of villains appeared, she had a fear that she would talk her way out of a fight or plainly just use verbal abuse, remembering that she could not muster the strength, nor summon the willingness to fight anyone physically when she was with child.
Thankfully, the mere sight of a Devil Ray look alike awakened the Amazon within. And a few minutes later she had disposed of all her enemies, loving the feel of triumph on the flex of her muscles, on every bead of sweat.
She really missed all of this, all of her friends.
J'onn…for some strange reason, they shared this intangible bond ever since she heard his voice calling out to her that day when the invaders arrived, even if she was probably one of the few that he openly argued with concerning personal matters, albeit affectionately.
Personal matters…who had the most to deal with personal matters aside from her than…
Though she could not help but harbor this concern for her friend, the image of a very pregnant Shayera was a little amusing. She could just imagine the way her friend would curse and complain at every chance she got. But even before that, there was still the issue of telling the father to be.
And thinking along those lines naturally would make her think of…
John…she wondered how he would react as she looked at the passive face of the marine.
Fatherhood was simply not the easiest thing to accept in an instant and adjust to, especially now that he was in a relationship with someone else. But then, how could he have ever done it, how could they have committed an act of love if the feeling no longer existed?
Anyway…looking at Wally's boyish face made a lot of things less complex. To him, life was simple.
Somehow, she tried. But all she could give him was the affectionate hand of a friend.
And besides, the thought of being with him made her feel old even if she was ageless. Because…there was a certain spirit within him that refused to age.
All the while she was surrounded by children, it was his face that she saw in her mind, simple, carefree and happy. And even though she knew from the short glances tainted with guilt that he still silently blamed himself for what she had to endure, on the contrary, she was thankful at being given the chance to experience something that taught her so much about life.
She would be lying if she never admitted to the truth that she sometimes entertained the thought of being with him after reading several fan fiction stories of them ending up together, eventually. They were so alike in many ways, most of the members of the league, and the general population as well, had already accepted the idea of them being a pair.
But, time and again, fate had proven that the love they shared was that of friendship. Never less than, nor beyond.
And also because of the fact that her heart only belonged to one man…
"Before we adjourn the meeting, there is something of importance that I need to discuss," Batman spoke in his trademark nobody better leave or else tone as he walked to the nearby console. "Shayera…please join us for a few minutes."
Shayera's image appeared a few seconds later on one of the monitors. "What is---" The green eyes widened in surprise. "Diana! You're back. How was the…" The Thanagarian heard someone clearing his throat. "Go on, Batman."
She smiled an apology at her friend as Bruce returned to his seat by Superman's left.
And they all waited for the aforementioned matter of importance that needed to be discussed.
But there was just silence.
And even more silence.
"Er…Bats…" Wally finally broke the ice. "Can we…speed things up? I have to clock in at my other job."
There was a glare somewhere in there when Batman took a deep breath.
"A little more than a month ago," he began. "Someone asked me what my relationship was with Diana."
She was suddenly nervous for unknown reasons, but in a good way.
"I made a total…ass of myself when I lied. When I could have just admitted to the simple truth of having strong feelings for her." His voice echoed a feeling that was always absent when he talked. But he was all business after that as his sweeping gaze took in everyone else's reaction. "As of this moment, I just want to inform everyone that I am going to court Diana. And whoever has any objections, say it now."
Again, a blanket of silence covered the whole room.
It was too quiet that Superman could hear a pin drop. On a carpeted floor.
It was as if everyone was still reeling from unbelief of what Batman just confessed. There was even a moment there when she thought Flash was going to make him repeat his words just to make sure it was said.
There was the sound of static interference. "If anyone dared object…" Shayera finally found her voice.
"Well, that's certainly something…unexpected coming from you, Batman," J'onn mused. "I must say you took quite a long time."
The banter seemed to have lifted the cloud of doubt.
"You can say that again," John finally laughed. "I actually never thought you'd have the balls…I mean be brave enough to do it."
And the tense atmosphere was gone.
But then Superman pushed away his chair slightly to turn to Batman. The Man of Steel regarded his teammate with nothing but utter seriousness as if trying to read his thoughts, or more appropriately, trying to monitor his vital signs if he was indeed sincere. And while the seconds stretched, the tenseness slowly crept back in the room.
It was a while before the Kryptonian moved his hand to extend it. "All I can say is…congratulations."
There was the same hesitation in Bruce before taking the offered hand.
"Hey! What congratulations?" It was only then that Wally was able to say something intelligible after looking wide-eyed at everyone. "It isn't as if they are getting hitched already. Besides the Princess hasn't even said yes---"
"Cut it out, Wally," Shayera could not help but interrupt.
"You had your chance…" John added as he got up from the chair, patting his shoulder.
"Typical…the both of you turning against me." Wally crossed his arms on his chest and pouted while being led by John to the exit as the others prepared to leave. "Since when did the both of you started agreeing with each other again, anyway?"
"Oh, shut your trap!" With that Shayera was gone.
And soon everyone else.
Except for the two in the suddenly small conference room.
After all that they have been through, she could not believe he was having the attack of shyness at this very moment. At least, that was what she thought when he just sat there, suddenly devoid of any motion or emotion in total contrast to his earlier tell-all demeanor that she almost believed he was regretting the fact that too much information escaped from him.
But the remembrance of his choice of words and the flawless and confident manner he delivered them, a warm feeling emanated from within that showed when a smile formed on her lips. And even though deep inside she was still a little baffled at what he just did, she never really expected this from him at all, her heart was more touched by his gesture to not pay attention to any nagging confusion at the moment.
It was surreal…but wonderful nonetheless.
And the smile she had on her face widened as snickers started escaping.
"What?" He finally turned to her.
"I just…" She tried to contain her building mirth as she turned the swivel chair in his direction. "I just didn't think it was possible for the Batman to say…ass."
"I say ass…with another word more often than you know."
"Well not referring to yourself anyway, I'm sure."
He stood up and took a few steps toward her, sitting on the seat vacated by Superman beside her, dragging the chair closer.
"And court. Too formal, even for you." She tried not to be that much affected when his knee accidentally grazed hers. "And do you even realize the meaning of what you just said?"
"No," he replied nonchalantly. "I merely did this for everyone else's amusement. And I'm sure wherever the others are now, there is a ninety nine percent chance that Wally is already making a copy of the recording of today's meeting."
She tried to keep a straight face but the image of Wally, John…even Kal, running to the archives section, fighting over a CD, with Wally losing of course and John winning because of the ring, was just plainly side-splitting.
"If you think that's funny. You'll find this even hilarious."
He shifted and his left hand reached inside his cape.
And what he placed before her was enough to wipe away her smile that was replaced by an expression of awe.
The three white roses he had been hiding inside his cape all along were already starting to wilt, the petals turning a light brown on the edges. But they were the most beautiful roses she had ever received.
Because they came from the man she loved.
"Stole it from Alfred's garden," he mentioned. "It's not as elaborate as George's, but I'll make up for it soon enough."
"You've been hiding them all throughout the meeting?"
She smiled at the thought of ants creeping up his arm.
"Sorry…they were almost crushed when I tucked them in my arm to accept Superman's hesitant bordering on forced congratulations."
She frowned at him. "Why do you say that?"
"Because that's what I see."
"Maybe it's what you want to see."
He sighed. "Are we going to argue because of him?"
She sighed in return, in frustration. Not bothering to answer his inquiry, she diverted her gaze to the flowers in her hand instead of focusing on his eternal jealousy of her best friend and remembered what he had to go through to please her.
"I…you really didn't have to do this."
"Too late. I already did."
She remembered the explanation she gave him when he visited her. "I thought I told you that…I'm okay. That I have no---"
Her look was apologetic for a fault that she was not accountable to. "Doing this, saying what you just said to everyone earlier…you've put yourself under a microscope."
"I'm used to being put under a microscope by now."
"Yes, but as your famous alter ego. This…this is different."
Seconds passed by with him just looking at her. Then he took a deep breath. "It's a very small price to pay to win you back."
"You of all people should now how stubborn I am, Diana. So stop convincing me that we are better off as friends because I don't buy any of that."
There was something in the commanding tone of his voice that assured her that he was not doing this just to appease the guilt he might have been harboring, that he was doing all of this because it was what he wanted.
"I thought you're giving me time."
"I am. I'm giving you an hour."
He wanted to pursue her and he made it clear by finally having the guts to tell all their friends. And as far as she was concerned, she gave him fair warning, again. And he dismissed her concern, again. So there was nothing left for her to do but stop obsessing about something that he was very determined on doing.
Like he said, he was stubborn. And she knew this to be true.
"Three roses…" She plucked a discolored petal from the smallest one.
There was a tiny grin on his face. "Alfred said they were supposed to say something."
And that got her thinking. In all her years in Man's world, she did not pay much attention to the number of roses she received because they came in bundles, lots of bundles, sometimes with chocolates, sometimes with stuffed dolls. And her confusion showed as a frown once again settled on her features.
"You don't know." It was not a question.
She smiled. "I…don't. Sorry." She wanted to laugh at his apparent disappointment but decided against it. "Aren't you going to…enlighten me?"
"It's up to you to figure it out."
While she was busy clearing her mind of the cobwebs and trying to remember any references from Shayera, or even Wally, about the significance of three roses, there was a short though very sharp and irritating beeping sound followed by what sounded to be Wally's complaining voice that was cut off by John's that reverberated from the PA system.
"They are now fighting over the copy of the recording," she laughed, looking at one of the wall mounted speakers and had the sudden urge to whisper. "They are probably listening in right now."
"Have I told you that I have a device in my belt that can disrupt sound waves?" He was wearing a trademark smirk now. "All they can hear up there is sadly, nothing."
"What about the video cameras?"
"I haven't figured how to downsize it yet. The device is unfortunately too heavy to carry on my belt." His smirk turned suspicious. "Why? Are you planning on doing something?"
She colored at the sound of his voice. It made her remember the intimate moments they shared before the storm entered to break them apart.
"No. I was just…asking." The invisible wall she placed between them to fight off the effects he had on her was slowly falling apart. Suddenly, she was reminded that their knees were touching and a small tilt here and a lean in there would touch her lips to his.
"You're blushing," he whispered deliberately. "The medicine?"
"I finished it several days ago."
"Then you really want me."
For a strange moment, she wanted to cross her arms on her chest because she was starting to feel him undressing her in his mind. After a semi-glare, she immediately diverted her attention to the slightly withered roses and thankfully remembered she had not figured out the meaning yet.
"Okay. To make up for this, because this is such a humongous leap in emotional development…" She indicated the flowers as she changed the line of conversation. "I think I'm letting you off about the whole courting thing. Anyway, I think we've passed that mark already."
"I don't think we've passed anything yet. As far as I can recall, the last time I was just on second base…"
She gave him a full Batman sized glared this time. "Seriously…Bruce."
For the long life of her, she never thought she would ever say that to him while he was in uniform.
"I know what you mean…" Fortunately, he changed his mood at her subtle threat as evidenced by the change in his voice. "We've dealt with the issues of the end of the world many times, with life and death…sometimes to a brutal extent." He regarded her closely. "We've seen each other in our best and worst and by worse I mean," he paused and a grin belied his seriousness. "…with matching edema and all."
"Don't forget…vomit," she added and grimaced at the remembrance.
When it was mentioned, they both seemed to drift away into a private recollection of time shared and remembered. As she reflected within herself the trials they have been through, she would not choose anyone else to be there for her other than him.
Because despite of what he was lacking, he made her feel safe.
And notwithstanding the truth that she could never look more beautiful, he could make her feel more with just a certain look.
He…Batman…Bruce Wayne. The man who owned her heart.
"We've been through more than an average couple could ever go through in a lifetime," her eyes tried to convey her feelings.
"Couple…" he whispered. "I can get used to that word."
She tried giving him a last warning, just to be certain. For his sake. "Are you sure this episode…this lucid interval will not come back to haunt you?"
"You know what I mean."
He sighed. "All that came back to haunt me was when I let you go."
The sincerity in his voice once again made her look away at the guilt that seeped at the thought that she could leave him just as easily, knowing that the two people he loved the most left him too. And once again, her eyes settled on the three roses in her hand.
"Figured it out yet?"
His voice prompted her to look back at him. "No…not yet."
"Just think of words that you…used to think you will not hear from me."
She raised a brow. "Other than…ass and court?"
His lips curved into a wide smile. "Yes, other than those."
She thought for a while. Three seconds after that, her eyes shone as her face lit up before a pinkish hue dotted her cheeks.
"I love you," she whispered.
He looked smug. "I know."
"No…" she beamed. "This means I love you."
"Like I said I know. And the feeling is mutual."
Her first reaction to his words…just like what the rest of them looked earlier when he made the announcement. Dumbfounded and speechless.
He was implying that he loved her while he was in full uniform. It was very charming. But it was time to say something.
"Really?" That was all she could manage.
The smugness, the grin, all other expression except for utter seriousness was gone from his face.
"More than you know."
At that precise instance, the numbness from the initial surprise at his confession was slowly dissipating when the overwhelming feeling of elation washed over her, almost urging her to boldly move to embrace him and smother him with kisses, anything just to convey her exact sentiments into action.
But then again, one thing might lead to another, and she could not risk the display of affection knowing it would benefit the audience who were probably sharing popcorn already.
"You're blushing again."
"I'm…" She could feel her eyes shining. "I'm too happy."
"I knew I should have brought that video altering device."
"So I can kiss you right now." His voice was deep with feeling. "It has been a very long time. And it hurt like hell, not being able to…you know what."
"I'm sorry about that."
"You owe me more than a kiss now."
A shiver ran down her spine at what his voice hinted at, the culmination of something long denied.
"And I intend to collect, with interest."
"I think…" She interrupted his teasing because she was getting all warm and cold in certain places. "…you'd better restrain yourself and remember that people are watching. And now that we've reached an agreement, it's time we get back to work."
She knew he was putting her on the spot. "This…I mean…"
"That we are officially together?"
He waited patiently for her to answer.
She sighed audibly. "Yes."
"Good. I just wanted to hear it from you." He could not resist another smile from breaking out. "Dinner tonight then?" He assisted her after getting up from the chair.
"Tonight?" She considered though butterflies were dancing in her tummy at the prospect of being with him. "I'm on monitor duty. Tomorrow?"
He looked disappointed. "My after work hours schedule is booked up to Thursday. What about Friday?"
"I made a promise to Wally…"
"We'll have to talk about your Friday evenings from now on."
"Come on, Bruce. It's Wally."
"Okay," he conceded. "Once a month maybe."
They walked to the door. "What about Saturday? Can you take…cold showers till then?"
"I've waited all this time. I can wait a few days more."
He suddenly reached out and took her hand in his, and they paused just by the door. And with a soft voice that was only meant for her, totally out of character, he added, "But by Saturday, I'm planning on keeping you for a very long time."
He was standing so close. And his voice was so warm, so honest.
"Even if you hate my guts for the first month, suddenly develop allergies to any of our alien friends on the second, take an inventory of every item in the manor or in the cave on the third, make me eat all the ice cream and strawberries on the next, cook up a storm while singing the eighties away and eventually break some of Alfred's utensils, decide to window shop…with all the hair colors in between…"
She held her breath for a few seconds. "Bruce, you really know what you're…saying?"
She felt his hand gently squeeze hers as if to reassure her of his determination, his conviction.
"You remembered all of that?"
"Everything about you seemed to be etched in my mind." He searched her face. "So? Are you okay with that?"
And she smiled. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Holding hands?!" Wally exclaimed. "Bats! You can do better than that," he yelled at the stoic face of the monitor.
"What do you expect anyway, that he'd kiss her?" John asked.
"Well…actually I was expecting more than that," he leaned on the leather swivel chair.
"Give it up. He knows perfectly well that we are watching. That explains why the sound system suddenly going awry. And no thanks to you punching the speaker button." John shook his head.
"Hey…that was an accident."
"Anyway…" Superman interrupted. "Show's over. You owe me a monitor duty."
"And fifty for me."
"Shucks," Wally looked dejected.
"But…" John tapped Wally's slumped shoulder. "Since you are a good friend and I know how all of this affects you…I'm taking fifty percent off the amount you owe me." John gave Superman a knowing look.
"Cheer up Wally. Just remember you had your chance."
"Supes…are you cheering me up or rubbing it in?"
Superman laughed. "However you want to take it. Come on, let's go get some…steak and banana split."
He grimaced and cast his eyes heavenward. "Can you just strike me down now?"
He punched a series of keys on the console. "Okay. Bring 'em on. I don't think anything can get worse anyway. I just lost my girl…willingly, I lost a bet to two guys bent on torturing me…" He held up a CD. "At least I have this. Bats calling himself an ass can at least…make up for a very bad day."
"That's the spirit," John mused.
He stood up and prepared to leave with the two. "You think he'll make me best man?"
"I think I'm up for that role," Superman declared.
"Dream on, Big Guy. That's as likely as you can…stand within an inch from a Kryptonite."
"Want to wager on that?"
He thought for a while. He had been losing a lot of bets lately. "Well…at least he'll let me say something during the reception…like a speech or something, after all…I had a major part in all of this."
"The part where you placed the human race in the path of extinction? Maybe," John added as they exited the door. "But no one's mentioned a wedding yet. You're going too fast as usual."
"Yeah. But it's not too early to plan." A few steps later. "You think we'll be in uniform or…in formal attire, anyway we're among friends…"
The two men ignored him.
"And it's nice to take the mask off for once. Anyway, Bats won't marry the princess wearing the cape and cowl…that'll be too weird even for him…"
The other two seemed to have misplaced their ears.
"And besides," Wally was starting to laugh. "It will absolutely look like a freakin' Halloween party if that happens…"
"Flash…" John lost it.
Apparently he was oblivious. "But before that…Stag party! Girls jumping out of cakes…woohoo! Now that'll be enough to mend my broken heart."
Superman shook his head.
"Anyway…I bet they'll name their first baby Wally," he placed his hands on his teammates' shoulders. "Well…if the baby turns out to be a boy, that is. If it's a girl---"
"Oh shut up!" Two male voices yelled.