The third instalment. "It's Alive!".

I never thought I'd get this much feedback, still...

Dedicated to my grandfather, Donald Maxwell McLean, born 9th January, 1921, died 5th July 2000.

Disclaimers - better write some, eh? DC owns everything except the plot. (Which I am willing to negotiate...) Happy? Furthermore, if anybody thinks you could, would or should gain a single cent from Internet Fan Fiction, may certain portions of their body drop off in the most agonising fashion possible. Thus endth the sermon.


The Unusual Mission, Part Three; the Next Phase.

Summary; The JLA's catching up, and Arthur's none too happy. Now the family's getting involved ...


***

Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle, spoke to the speakerphone. "I'm not answering that question."

"You have to."

"What you're asking of me is impossible."

"It seems pretty easy to me."

"You're not the one who has to part with the information."

"Babs..."

"All right." She sighed. "I'm wearing that black t-shirt and those jeans Dad bought me for my birthday. And a pair of pink socks. Happy?"

"Ooohhh yeaahhh...."

"Richard Grayson, you're impossible."

"I'm also irresistible."

"And deluded." Barbara wheeled herself to a monitor, checking the computer performance and connection rates with a glance. "And why are you calling me?"

"First, I wanted to hear your voice."

"The other reason."

"Is this line secure?"

The world's foremost hacker sighed. "These systems are designed by the NSA, and modified by me. I used features from New Genesis and Apokilipian technology. I transmit on a secure waveband to the Watchtower regularly, and only Bruce and J'onn have clue one to my identity. Nobody and nobody can listen in on this conversation."

"Okay. Did you catch the society pages?"

Barbara tapped on one of her three keyboards, showing the Net addition of the Gotham Gazette society article concerning the appearance of one Amazon Princess appearing with one billionaire playboy at the Horwester Charity Function. "A little hard to miss."

"Did he tell you about this?"

"No. I didn't see it coming, either." She lifted her wire-frames up and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Perhaps I should actually attend a JLA meeting instead of telecommuting all the time. Conversations with Superman in the nude is fun, but you miss out on the office gossip."

There was a pause. "Sorry, that image just threw me for a moment there."

"Me too."

Barbara jumped, turning to see Tim Drake leaning over her shoulder. "Do you want to give me a heart attack, Drake?"

"I'd rather see your JLA meetings."

"How did you get in?"

"You left the door open. I would have said hi, but I had to go to the bathroom first." The current Robin leaned towards the speaker, and talked to the first person to hold the title. "By the way, she's wearing a Hanson limited edition tour t-shirt."

Barbara covered her face in her hands, the sounds of Dick chortling ringing through her apartment. "Nobody but nobody can listen in?"

"Dick..."

"Hanson?"

"It was a gift. What the hell were we talking about?"

"Bruce going out with Wonder Woman." Tim helped himself to a bottle of Zesti Cola. "Where's Cassandra?"

"In bed. Seven muggers at once and two drowning teenagers does a tired Batgirl make. Back to Bruce's new social life."

"Alfred won't say a thing." Tim sat down in the well-worn visitor's chair. "He just does one of those smiles that makes you think he knows everything."

"He does know everything. I couldn't do a thing in that house without him knowing about it. I swear he has a metagene."

"Knowing that you were up to something is hardly the world's greatest deduction, Dick."

"Does Donna know anything?" asked Tim.

"Offworld, saving Kory's planet. There's going to be a sudden crimewave in Bludhaven when she comes back, because I don't want to be the one telling her."

"You're volunteering Roy?"

"Consider it karmic payback."

"Bruce hasn't talked to me since that function." Barbara sighed.

"Why don't we just ask him?"

Barbara stared at Tim, the speakerphone crackling in the silence. "Just for that, you get to ask him."

"Is there any evidence that they did anything else apart from go to the function?"

"Just one ... Gateway PD reported an attempted assault with intent to kill three days ago. Two people, a man and a woman, stopped a local gang from performing the assault. Not the brightest bulbs in town, they did this in the middle of a local festival. The woman reputedly threw a forty-four gallon drum at one of the attackers, and blocked a baseball bat with one hand, some say she crushed it. The guy, unarmed, took out three of them in thirty seconds, one of them had a gun, but never had a chance to use it." Barbara leaned back in her wheelchair. "No photos were taken, but guess who's physical descriptions they matched?"

"Circumstantial evidence."

"Not enough to convict, but enough to follow up on." Retorted Tim. "When's the next JLA meeting?"

"Tonight."

"You watch them - check for body language and other signs. Don't ask him anything. I'll ask him tomorrow."

"You want me to monitor the man who taught us how to watch others?"

"Got a better idea?"

Barbara rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Perhaps we'd have a better chance of finding out tomorrow. All of us." Her tone brooked no deviation from her plan. "Strength in Unity, guys."

Tim shrugged. A plaintive voice came from the speaker. "Er...you'd probably be better at this, Babs..."

"My apartment, eight sharp. A second before and your pay-per-view bill is posted to every cop in Bludhaven, and all your neighbours in your building."

A brief pause. "Do ... do you want me to pick anything up before I get there?"

***

Lois Lane, reporter, minor celebrity, and multiple kidnap victim was at the breakfast table, reading through various magazines.

Turning to the Gotham Gazette, she flicked through the pages, until she found the pages she wanted. Lois took a pair of scissors, chortling around a mouthful of toast, as she finished cutting the article out.

A large part of her famed bravado stemmed from the fact that she was told as a very young girl that she wasn't as good as the boy her father wanted. Therefore, she had a deep-rooted inferiority complex that made her overcompensate - overachieve - to a phenomenal degree. And seeing who she suspected - but would never tell anyone - to be a potential rival for her husband's affections not only give up the chase, but replace him for an inferior choice made the little imps inside her dance with glee.

A gust of wind fluttered her hair around but not a paper - experience taught her long ago to always keep a paperweight handy.

"How was the Fortress?"

"A massive pain. A multi-dimensional construct with glitches is not easy to debug." Clark Kent, aka Superman, slumped down to the table. "Knew that the whole thing spontaneously reconstructing itself was too easy. Anything interesting happen while I was away?"

"Welll..." she showed him the article she had just cut out.

Clark took the article. From the Gotham Gazette, one of the society pages, judging from it's florid style. The article had a photograph of ... Diana? Yes Diana, Wonder Woman herself, being led on the arm of...

Bruce?

Clark took off his glasses, reading the article more intently. Yes, the body of the article was about the shock appearance of Diana and ... Bruce? attending a charity function/excuse to throw a snobs party, the rest of ... Bruce??? ... the article was just filler about their other individual media appearances, but ...Bruce?!?! ... Clark couldn't read the rest ... BRUCE?!?!? ... because of the radiating bolts of numbness lancing through his body.

Clark dropped the cardboard to the tabletop, feeling quite stunned. Lois was looking at him with a smile that could only be described as evil. "I'd thought you'd be surprised."

"I never thought..." Clark tried to get this into perspective. And failed.

Lois sipped her straight black from the mugs she 'liberated' from her SCU training. "How does she know America's richest slacker, anyway?"

Diana meets him, once a week minimum, on the surface of the moon while he wears black tights and a cape. He got us one of the best apartments in this city as a virtual gift, and saved you from a dark cave, Lois, and you casually insult him without ever knowing the irony.

I've rarely seen him trade more than ten words at a time with Diana, and this surprises me more than you know. I'd love to tell you exactly, but although we've shared no secrets from each other, this secret isn't mine to share.

"I'd love to hear that myself. Maybe there's ... hidden depths to the man."

"Well hidden." Lois started reading a copy of the Star. "You know, if you died, he'd be the first I'd marry, then screw for millions in alimony."

"Lois, he is our landlord."

"I call it getting my deposit back. Haven't you got a JLA meeting tonight?"

"Oh yes." Clark could see everybody trying to find out about this little affair. As the JLA's Chair, he suspected that this was not going to be the most productive meetings.

"Tell her that if she gives me an exclusive, I'll go easy."

"The Webster's dictionary definition of 'easy', or the Lois Lane definition, which gave that senator the heart attack and quadruple bypass?"

"You want to interview her? Fine." Lois would still consider her husband a rival for a scoop, an attitude that made him surreptitiously scan her for ulcers every other day. "Probably better, since she knows you ... probably reveal a few more things. You work on your amazon friend, I'll work on Wayne."

"Bru ... Wayne knows me better than he does you. Why do you think you'd do better with him, anyway?"

Lois shrugged, a sly smile on her face. "I'd look better with a low-cut blouse."

"You wouldn't..." Clark then remembered who he was talking to. "I'll talk to her." He leaned in. "You can try to talk to him. You - be - good."

"I thought you liked bad girls."

"So might he." If some of the rumours concerning Catwoman were true ... "I'll take a quick trip around the world, then head to the Watchtower."

"Oh, if you're heading to Germany...?"

"I know, I know..."

***

Diana was on the phone. More accurately, a point-to-point link to another Wayne Industries encrypted unit, on a direct satellite link. Bruce had given it to her to keep in touch ... and to keep his secrets. Rather than make a convoluted series of code phrases for their cross-country conversations, he dug out one of the direct-line units that he used on a field mission and made a gift of it.

And they say romance is dead.

Judging by the background sounds, Bruce was in the Batcave, filing, Alfred tidying up around him.

"I'll see you at the Watchtower then?"

"Get the meeting out of the way. Then at this new restaurant ... French."

"Is it as good as Alfred's cooking?"

"A virtual impossibility, Miss."

She heard Bruce strum his fingers impatiently until she heard Alfred move away from the receiver.

"Is there anywhere else you want to go afterwards?"

"What? No. Judging by the last two times we went out in public, it's better we keep that to a minimum. Besides ... we're overdue for some time spent alone, don't you?"

"Oh ... right. Yes. Just making sure."

"Wait a minute..." she picked up a newspaper next to her. "...just before you hang up, what do you think about this ... Luthor running for President?"

"I try not to." Stated Bruce. "Clark's horror stories are enough for me."

"And they laughed when I kept my British Passport." Called Alfred.

Diana smiled, faintly. "Foreign National." Her smile increased. "Diplomatic Immunity."

"If Clark wants to raise a point over this, let him. It's his territory."

The sounds of the paper shuffling increased ... she could virtually see Bruce fidgeting, "Perhaps you should avoid this meeting."

"And why that?"

"They are going to torment you relentlessly."

"Somehow, I think I can cope."

"At least let me go first. Give me an hour to..."

"...put the fear of God into them?"

A short pause. "Preferably fear of me."

Diana simply gave ten seconds of stone cold silence before replying. "I know you're trying to protect me, but I'm more than capable of taking care of myself."

"It's just..."

"Bruce ... this isn't the latest deadly gauntlet of Darkseid. It's friends and colleagues wondering who I'm going out with."

"It's just ... you're going to be doing most of the work. Taking on most of the burden."

"You've just described the feminine role in most relationships, Bruce."

A slight murmur. "I have to try."

"Be nice to them."

"I'll ... go easy."

"Okay. Bye." With that, she hung up. Both agreed that the cutesy 'you hang up' routine was risking a fatal saccharine overdose, and weren't willing to risk it.

***

Bruce sat down in front of the computer as Alfred set a glass of water in front of him. "She won't be deterred, will she?"

"Not for a moment." Bruce absently sipped at his glass. "This was begun solely to protect my identity. It was meant to be a one-night favour solely for my benefit. Now, she'll have to continue that charade as long as we decide to ... continue this." He set the glass down harder than he intended. "Short of going public, I can't see any way of deflecting the attention off her. I'll have to stand aside and watch the others interrogate her about why she's going out with Bruce Wayne, of all people."

"You could consider that is how most people feel when the Batman shows up to save the day ... helpless, incapable, wanting to help you help them, but knowing they can't do a thing about it ... perhaps this will make you more ... normal?"

Bruce gave his butler an askew glance. "You're telling me to use one of my relationship issues to empathise with my fellow man?"

"Well done Master Bruce, you're finally listening." Alfred turned to a hanging suit, and brushing it off. "If no other emergencies come up, you should make the reservations in plenty of time."

Bruce strummed his fingers. "The reservation is too close to when I start my patrol."

"The JLA is an obligation you must meet. We're playing fast and loose with the scheduling as it is."

"I know ... I'm not blaming you, I just won't..."

"...won't spend as much time with her as you like, sir?"

Bruce nodded. Alfred smiled as he finished off his brushing, straightening up the lapels. "I was considering ... maybe you could give it a miss, tonight?"

Bruce turned away from Alfred. "I can't give up my duties Alfred. You know that."

"You can delegate." Alfred held out a cordless phone. "Master Dick is staying in the townhouse."

Bruce looked at his butler, a grin stretching across his face. "He's still not fully acclimatised with the new Gotham."

"Miss Cassandra can help. She knows this city just as well as you do."

***

Dick Grayson hung from the bar by his ankles, touching his toes and then the floor in flowing movements. MTV was on the bigscreen, showing Britney Spears' latest clip. The former acrobat wasn't too sure what the song was called, but had unofficially titled the music video The Adventures of Latex Girl, and her sidekick, NASA's Designated Dickhead.

He'd planned a night of doing absolutely nothing, one of those rare times in his life of watching the worst cable had to offer in his underwear. A non-productive nirvana.

Of course, the phone rang. Dick grabbed it on a downward stroke and snapped it up.

"Dick Grayson, envy of men, lover of women."

"I understood it was the other way around."

"Bruce?" Dick lost his flow and kept hanging from the bar. When did he start opening with a joke?

"I can't perform the patrol tonight. It's up to you."

A sinking - or at the moment, rising sensation was in his stomach. There was a Japanese monster movie marathon as well.

"Meet your partner at Barbara's place. Alfred will take the car to the usual spot."

The line cut off.

New opening, same old Bruce.

***

"Well, it looks like I've got the whole night to myself." This alien concept gave Bruce a sudden attack of vertigo. "What should I ... what can I do?"

Alfred had put on his coat and bowler "I don't really know, Master Bruce. You see...I'm taking the night off."

"Night off...? But what if..."

"There comes a time when every man must spend some time with a woman ... by himself. Normally, it occurs between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Now, at long last, that time has come for you. Besides ... I've always wanted to try the club scene..." Alfred descended towards the Batmobile, Bruce feeling more than a little lost.

He walked over to a full-length mirror, and examined himself for any stains, wrinkles and imperfections. To scare the hell out of the planet's most powerful individuals on a regular basis took flair and a lot of preparation.

As he adjusted the utility belt that he normally carried for the JLA and whenever he was hunting down metahumans, he mused over what Alfred said.

Nonsense. He had spent time alone with women. He couldn't remember the exact dates and times at the moment, but the experiences were there...

Still, Alfred's judgement was sound. Some time alone with Diana would help. Maybe...

Snap out of it Bruce. Diana was born and raised on an island feminist utopia. This is also her first 'real' relationship, and you're haven't even started your third date. Add to the fact that you're not exactly ideal boyfriend material, and your own skills in that area are rusty, she's not going to be making, or be receptive to any sexual overtures anytime soon.

Don't ruin a good thing by rushing it. It might be months before she's even ready to think about the concept.

Bruce pulled down his mask, examining the blank look it afforded. The Batman examined his rationale, and nodded. He wouldn't try looking for something that wouldn't be there.

***

Diana put down the phone, and turned off the current. The only batteries this field unit took were military grade, and consequently very hard to get. Luckily, it also ran off house current, so she kept in Helena's and Cassie's house, in the spare room which had been hers before she moved into the WonderDome.

The flying fortress was spacious, insulated against the elements, with unrivalled privacy, a telepathic interface and a great view. What it didn't have was electricity, and what she considered the greatest achievement in Man's World; hot running water.

She left the room to see Cassie watching television. "Anything good on?"

"A repeat of Angel. It's the one where he goes to Gotham, and the Batman is really a vampire cult with the leader wearing the costume, obsessed with controlling the city." She took a handful of potato chips, stuffing her face. "They got the obsessive bit right. Whenever I see him, I get this shiver right down my back...is he a vampire?"

"Human. Just very dedicated. Does Robin know how you feel about his boss?"

"Robin knows he scares everybody. What about..."

"The Batman has never intimidated me." Stated Diana, with immense dignity. Recently, though, he's made you feel very nervous, for entirely different reasons...

"What did moneybags say?" stated Cassie, not wanting to dwell on the Dark Knight any further. Okay, he was on TV right now, but she got to see David Boreanaz in tight pants, so it evened out.

"Bruce..." empathised Diana "...is taking me to a restaurant after the meeting."

"He's cool about that? You being a superhero?"

"He doesn't have a choice in the matter." It's not like he can argue against it....

"Okay." She watched the show until the ads came on. "Have you done it with him yet?"

"Cassie!"

The girl cringed, wondering how her mother always managed to enter the room at exactly the wrong time. "I told you not to pry like that. I'm sure Diana will tell you when she's ready, but until then..."

"I've ... been thinking about it." Diana's voice broke across a potential parental tirade.

The two women stared at the Amazon. Cassie's voice was low and deadly. "He hasn't been pressuring you, has he?"

"Actually, he's been avoiding the subject." Diana went over to the percolator. "The last few times we've talked, somehow the steamier side of things never comes up."

"Maybe Mr. Wayne doesn't want you to feel obligated."

"Maybe he wants you to make the first move." Wondered Cassie.

"Does he?"

"How should I know? I've never met him!" Cassie got up and went over to the fidgeting Diana. "Before we get all technical here, let's get one thing straight. Do you wanna do him?"

"It's just that ... it's been a while." The last time had been a hallucinatory episode in what was the WonderDome, where she, Clark and Bruce had been ensnared in a mock telepathic reality, where she had fallen for Clark and borne his child. Despite's Bruce's assurances that the hallucinations had been just that, the shared experiences had been very real, making conversations between her and Clark extremely uncomfortable for months afterwards.

"I'm taking that as a yes."

"It's just like riding a bike." Assured Helena, despite her misgivings, still wanted to be supportive.

"You can have all the old Cosmo's." stated Cassie. "Tons of great stuff. How to dress, what to do, how to make him sit up and beg like a dog..."

"Cassie!"

"What? You bought it for that article."

"I'll look at those later." Promised Diana, not wanting to cause a family argument. The Gods only knew how many 'passionate debates' there were around here due to her involvement in their lives. "Perhaps I should just open up the subject ... try and sound him out..."

"No!"

"For god's sake, Diana! When it comes to being subtle about sex, men are oblivious. Just give it to him straight." Empathised Helena.

Diana fidgeted under their gaze. "My major concern is ... well, I don't want to look ridiculous when bringing it up."

Helena and Cassie looked at each other for a second, then the elder touched Diana's shoulder. "Diana, for the majority of the time, the largest pieces of clothing you wear are a red bustier, and star-spangled bikini briefs. Not once in that time have you ever been accused of cellulite, anorexia, love handles, low muscle tone or unsightly sagging. There is no way on god's green earth you can look ridiculous in that regard."

"So you're gonna..."

"Maybe, Cassie. Maybe." Diana moved to the spare room, and checked a shoulder bag, talking over her shoulder. "It's going to come up sooner or later, and I want to make sure that I've got a course of action."

Helena frowned. "You make it sound like a plan of battle."

"Blame my mother."

"Diana, just ... take it easy, okay? Don't rush it..."

"Make him beg for it." Stated Cassie.

Helena gave her daughter the patented 'you're-going-to-get-it-later' glare, and ignored the routine 'what-one-of-your-hallucinations-are-you-blaming-me-for-this-time?' stare, escorting Diana out the back.

***

"You really shouldn't blame Cassie ... she's curious, that's all."

"She's curious. I'm curious, everybody at the museum is damn curious - by the way, everybody there thinks you're sleeping with him for his money, despite all my threats - but there's a difference between being curious and being damn rude."

Diana turned to Helena and hugged her. "I know what I'm doing. What they say in the papers about him are faked, if that's what you're worried about."

"For God's sake, I knew that. Besides, if he gets too fresh, just play basketball with his head, or something." She drew back from the embrace. "If I can trust my daughter's life to you, I can extend some of that to your personal judgement, can't I?"

"Thank you."

Diana was preparing to take off when Helena's voice stopped her cold. "I know that you've known Wayne longer than you're telling Cassie."

"Er ... what..."

Helena gave Diana a stern look she reserved exclusively for her daughter. "I know you Diana. You wouldn't think about sleeping with a man you've only gone out twice with, who you've only known for less than a month ... unless you've known him longer ... a lot longer than you're letting on. I'm guessing you've known him for a pretty long time, but this relationship is new for both of you, is that right?"

Diana shifted around, nervously. "I ... I can't..."

Helena raised her hand to her temple, resignedly. "It's a super hero thing, isn't it?"

"Yes." Diana turned away. "I ... I can't say any more."

Helena nodded, gravely. As Diana turned to fly off, she heard her friend. "There's only one hero I know about in Gotham City."

"Yes."

"I hope you know what you're doing." With that, she entered her house.

***

Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, drove the Batmobile through the night.

Since the Batmobile was in it's newest incarnation, it wasn't gaining as many stares as usual, although that would change soon. Dick pulled up in the alleyway behind Barbara's building and opened the top.

Immediately, a dark figure in a batsuit landed in the passenger seat. The costume was superficially Batman's, although the insignia was a yellow outline of a bat, the mask completely covered the face, and the figure was that of a young girl.

"Hi Cass."

The figure waved at him.

"How's Babs?" He mimed the self-propulsion of the wheelchair-bound.

The girl shrugged, making a 'so-so' sign with her hand.

"Ready to kick ass?" He slammed his fist into his open palm.

She nodded, then flicked on the radio, tuning it until she found a band she liked.

"Oh no. She's discovered the Backstreet Boys." Dick quickly tuned it to a classic station and the sounds of ZZ Topp filled the cockpit.

Cassandra quickly switched it back, and started bouncing on her seat to the rhythm.

Dick groaned. "We are not going to inspire fear into the hearts of criminals when they hear 'Larger than Life' on our stereo, did you know that?"

The girl kept bouncing, now twisting her head to the rhythm.

"We turn it off when we see bad guys." He muttered, and pulled away. "Do you know why Bruce isn't doing this instead of me?"

The girl stopped, then drew a circle from the back of her head to her temple, using both hands. Then she drew a five-pointed star where her fingers met. Then she continued her minimalist gyrations.

Dick couldn't believe the news. "I'm covering for him so he can go on a date?"

***

Kyle entered the airlock, making straight for J'onn. He was clutching a People Magazine reprint of the Gazette article. "Have you..."

The Martian Manhunter held up an identical copy. "Yes."

Green Lantern spread his hands. "Nobody told me!"

"Nobody told anybody, Kyle. This is simply Diana's personal life outside her duties."

Kyle leaned towards J'onn, still confused. "I thought that she wasn't allowed to go with men, or something like that."

"You went out with the former Wonder Girl, didn't you?"

"Donna wasn't raised on that island." His voice grew more conspiratorial. "Roy Harper told me that going there is like signing up for the class with the most babes, then the professor comes in and you find out it's the 20th Century Advanced Feminism course, based on the subtopic that all men must die a slow and painful death."

The Manhunter took Kyle's arm, and led him down the corridor. "Despite any preconceptions you might have about Themyscira, there is no specific law about fraternising with males ... simply because there were none for millennia. Also, Diana is their Princess and ambassador, meaning she would enjoy a certain amount of leeway if she chose to test any ... social boundaries. Finally, even if there were direct laws ... if she was truly determined, would that stop her?"

"Okay. Then why him?" Kyle tapped the face of Bruce Wayne.

"Why indeed?" stated J'onn, for entirely different reasons. "I'm curious as to what the Batman would think."

"Batman? What does old pointy got to do with it?" Kyle suddenly whirled around, scanning the area. "Okayyyy ... that's the first time I've ever said anything about him without him appearing on me."

"I'm sure that..."

"J'onn, I was thinking out loud that I thought he was acting all scary simply because he was trying to overcome a ... personal deficiency, y'know what I'm saying? I was in the shower, using the back scrubber, getting that hard-to-reach bit below the ribcage. Guess who opens the shower curtain a second later and tells me to 'assist' him capture a meta-powered serial killer?"

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

"No it was..." Kyle stopped. There wasn't a hint of amusement in the Martian's features. "I can't figure you sometimes."

"In response to your earlier question ... since Batman operates in Gotham, he might take a vested interest in Diana entering his territory on a regular basis."

Kyle snorted. "He couldn't stop her..." his features grew worried. "...could he?"

"Batman might take offence that another hero would operate in Gotham without his direct approval."

"Yeah ... no muggers after midnight, no gang members wearing pastels on alternate days. Super-powered psychotics go straight to Arkham, do not collect two hundred dollars. You know, I don't need him telling me not to go to Gotham, I can stay away from that madhouse by myself."

"Your common sense is improving, Kyle." Batman strode past the two. "J'onn."

Kyle raised his hand towards the dark figure. "See?"

***

Batman was heading to the conference room when a familiar red and blue figure stepped in front of him. "Bruce."

"Clark."

"Are you going to fill me in?"

"No."

Batman started to walk past Superman, but the Kryptonian grabbed his arm. "Listen to me..."

The Dark Knight remained still, but silent until Superman released his grip. "I'm listening."

"What's going on?"

"Nothing that you should be concerned about."

With that, Batman strode away. The Martian Manhunter materialised beside Superman. "I take it you were as successful as you anticipated?"

"Better. He broke the ten word limit." Superman turned his head in the general direction of the teleporters. "She'll be here soon."

"Perhaps you should speak to her?"

"I'll have a better chance of finding out what's going on from her."

"I'll talk to Bruce."

Superman murmured his agreement. "You're the one he talks to the most, have you noticed that?"

"Well, I am the most charming." The Manhunter glanced at the teleporters. "But you're missing the important question."

"Which is...?"

"It's not what two people are doing ... but what one other person in particular is going to do when he finds out?"

Superman's face fell. "Oh. Him."

***

A large figure materialised in the teleportation tube, and stepped out. Six foot one, three hundred and twenty-five pounds, all muscle. He had long blonde hair and beard and a steel gaze that rivalled Batman's. He wore green-and grey scaled pants, and a piece of armour which covered his right side, and his left arm sported a yellow mechanical hand.

Arthur Curry, Orin, King of Atlantis and the Seven Seas, and the core member of the JLA known as Aquaman strode into the conference room, noticing immediately that Diana wasn't there, and sat down next to Green Lantern. "Kyle."

"Hey." Lantern was tapping what looked like a rolled-up newspaper on the edge of the table.

Aquaman scanned the room, and it looked like nearly everybody had a newspaper ... the typeface belonged to The Gotham Gazette?

"Why does everybody have the same newspaper?"

Kyle gave Aquaman a bizarre expression. "You don't know?"

"Obviously."

"Don't you..."

"Kyle ... for the past few weeks, I've been mediating disputes between several governors within my borders. Add to the fact that we don't get any television, Internet, radio or printed media, there are the odd gaps in our knowledge of what we consider an alien environment."

"No TV?"

"Yes."

"Chandler and Monica are together."

"That's hardly the ... really?"

"Yeah. Live together now, in her apartment."

"What about Joey?"

"Had Elle Macpherson for his roomate for a few episodes. Now he works in the coffee shop as a waiter."

Aquaman was about to ask about the latest hurdle in the saga of Ross and Rachel, when Superman entered the room. He was the only one apart from Batman who was not holding a newspaper. He also seemed to be annoyed, and judging from where he was looking, it seemed to be connected to those newspapers.

What the hell was going on?

***

Wonder Woman materialised in the tube, and placed her bag nearby. She brushed her hair back and strode towards the inner recesses of the Watchtower. The usual echoes of the Tower seemed more distant than before.

Diana entered the conference room. Virtually everybody was there - Superman, Lantern, Steel, Arthur ... from the look on his face he didn't have a clue what happened. The hologram of Oracle was floating above the table.

She made eye contact with Batman briefly. For a moment there, she saw the same flustered individual who confessed an inability to perform anything remotely resembling a domestic task, then the Bat emerged, swallowing Bruce up completely.

Everybody looked at her expectantly. And they all had the same newspaper ... as she went to her seat, they all attempted to hide their copies by either sitting them or hiding them in their capes. She wondered if she should get a cut for the readership increase that issue had enjoyed.

The sound of her boots crossing over the floor, and her sitting down were magnified several times in the silence. Every hero was either looking at her, or trying very hard not to look like they were staring. Batman made absolutely no comment, giving his air of usual indifference.

Aquaman mouthed 'Tell me now' to Kyle. Green Lantern wordlessly opened up his copy of the Gazette, to see a smiling Diana and Bruce Wayne, a paparazzi shot from the entrance. Aquaman's jaw swung open like a drawbridge. His frantic face was torn between staring at the cover and giving Batman an evil glower. The Dark Knight surreptitiously checked his utility belt, making sure his weapons were all there.

Suddenly, a man in a red and yellow circus acrobat costume entered, newspaper in one hand, anguished expression foremost.

"Oh, why, WHY?" His head extended on a telescoping neck, pleading. "We were meant for each other, Wondy! It's you and me, babe! I know I'm not as rich as him but-" his body inflated into a bodybuilder's parody "-look at this bod!" His head then whispered conspiratorially in her ear. "Those aren't the only muscles I can flex, bend, expand, and twist into interesting shapes."

"Plastic Man..."

"I know, I know ... shutting up, sitting down, putting on a brave face despite having his heart broken ... broken, shattered, torn asunder..."

Superman decided to assert authority. "Plastic Man, if you don't sit down and be quiet, we'll tell Barda that we found out you've been impersonating items of her underwear for the past few months."

"Eeep." The flexible hero sat down, putting on an innocent expression that wouldn't fool a blind man. Superman gave Batman a quick glance - if you didn't know the man behind the mask, you would swear that the Dark Knight was impatiently ignoring the whole affair in front of him.

"Now then ... we've been debating the possibility of investigating low-level reports in accordance to Batman's proposed pro-active stance. One such incidence is the alleged contamination of the water supplies of a small town called Capeside ... accusations of a wide scale experiment which doubles vocabulary but reduces common sense by at least four times..."

The agenda was passed with lightning speed, thanks to everybody's total indifference to the meeting. Superman placed the documents down. "Any questions?"

"Yeah ... did Wayne try to slip you the tongue?"

"You did it for a gag, right?"

"You lost a bet! Just do what I do and run around the pool table with your pants around your ankles!"

Those questions broke the silence and the entire table turned to a cacophony of questioning. Wonder Woman covered her face with both hands, but couldn't hide the grin, which fairly threatened to crack her face in two.

A slow, methodical rapping filled the conference room, and everybody turned, to see The Batman knocking on the table until relative silence reigned.

The Dark Knight got up, slowly, placing both palms flat against the conference table, giving everyone his patented blank-eyed glower. "If you've finished gossiping like old ladies ... "

The implied threat was more than enough to make the younger heroes shut up, and the veterans think twice. The meeting broke up, however not into the small groups as per usual thanks to Batman's little proclamation.

Wonder Woman was walking to the lower levels when Superman came up to her. "Diana?"

"You're about to ask me about my evening?"

"Er ... sort of. Well, yes." He looked around, seeing that (a) the other heroes weren't around and (b) Batman was remaining at the table, talking to ... oh great, Aquaman.

"Bruce and I went to this charity dinner ... it was either that or spar with Artemis again."

"Just ... just that? One of those charity dinners he goes to?"

"Are you concerned, Clark?"

"Well ... it's not like ... I've never seen him go out of his way to be friendly." Superman knew that was the case ... even though most of the people within the League didn't even know he had a secret identity, he still tried to relate to them. Watched some football with Lantern and Wally a few weekends, indulged J'onn's Oreo habit, gave Steel a meteorite composed of nearly pure nickel as a housewarming present.

Batman was the complete opposite, effortlessly intimidating people who had the power to vaporise him without an iota of effort. Orion rarely spoke out of turn in his presence, the other heroes would draw straws to see who was unlucky enough to speak to him, and Plastic Man would obey his orders for several minutes without a comment.

"Surprisingly enough, he's been more than friendly."

"R...I mean, are you sure?"

Diana gave the man she'd received her first kiss from a stern look. "What's do you mean, Clark?"

"That ... he might be putting on an act."

Diana snorted, smiling slightly at this statement.

Superman took a breath, marshalling his arguments. "Listen to me, Diana. For those of us who have secret identities, Kyle, me, it's all a matter of masks. For me, it's taking off Pa's old glasses and wearing a skintight costume that my mother made for me."

Diana thought about raising a point about mothers who would make such a costume for their sons, and wisely shut up. "What are you getting at, Clark?"

"I'm saying ... Superman is the mask I put on ... the Bruce Wayne you were with was the mask he puts on when he isn't wearing a cape. I've known him the longest, and the closest I've ever seen that could be called his 'real' face is when he puts on his costume."

Wonder Woman shook her head at this. "Don't you think that you're overreacting, slightly? I can tell the difference between Batman and Bruce Wayne."

Superman lowered his voice. "The death of Bruce Wayne's parents is public knowledge, the twelve years he spent training are completely unaccountable, and Batman's equipment budget outstrips the GCPD by several million every year. The main reason nobody has successfully put the two together is the fact everybody thinks Bruce Wayne can't even walk and talk at the same time, let alone launch such a campaign. Does that tell you how good an actor he is?"

***

The Dark Knight felt the pressure in his skull the instant Wonder Woman left the table. -Something you want to tell me, Bruce?-

-Not really Arthur.-

J'onn looked around, frowning, but caught the expressions of the King of the Seven Seas and the Dark Knight, and decided only to intervene when somebody's head started bursting like on 'Scanners'. Besides, he had to polish off some Oreos right now or he would strangle Plastic Man.

-Run out of bimbos, did you Wayne?- A grin devoid of any pleasant emotion creased the Atlantean's bearded features. -Thought so.-

Batman slammed his mind shut, a wave of anger beginning to build. That emotion began to give strength to his mental barriers, making other thoughts indistinct and blurry.

-Considering your own personal life, Arthur, don't throw stones in a glass house.-

Orin's eye gave a nasty twitch, and Batman felt the experienced telepath begin to probe around his cerebrum. -I'm not going to let you harm Diana just so you can preserve your secret identity, even if I have to rip out every experience with women out of your head, got it?-

Batman tried to focus on Aquaman, his blood pressure rising to dangerous levels, blood starting to well out of a nostril...

...and sent every ounce of hatred in his soul, for every psychopath, every mugger, and every criminal in Gotham, along the telepathic connection and into Arthur's head.

The Atlantean's head jolted back, left eye rapidly turning bloodshot, an unnatural gagging coming from his throat. He forced his neck down, staring into the white orbs of the Batman.

-Pampered fool-

-Mindless idiot-

-Brooding Fanatic-

-You noticed you self-obsessed -

-Half-witted-

-Arrogant-

-Freakish-

-Deluded-

Suddenly the two's heads stretched backwards, then slammed themselves into the conference table, hard, with a sound like mating coconuts.

-I don't know about you but SOMEONE IS TRYING TO EAT HERE. Either start shouting like humans or beat each other up like superheroes.-

***

J'onn sat down, in a private little room, munching on a large bag of Oreos. It had been a particularly enjoyable batch, until Arthur tried to bully the Batman, of all people.

A telepathic wrestling match between the King of Atlantis and the Dark Knight would have gone on for hours, good thing he was there to break them up.

A smile creased along his face. "Hail to the King, baby." He muttered, as he tossed up an Oreo and caught it in his mouth.

***

Batman looked up at Arthur, an ugly bruise starting to form on the Atlantean's forehead.

"This isn't finished."

"As far as I'm concerned, it is. Whatever is going on between Diana and me remains between us. If you don't like it..."

Batman left the room. He walked three flights of stairs down until his legs gave way, due to the wave of nausea that threatened to cripple him.

***

"Clark, I know you're concerned about me, and I appreciate that fact. But please understand ... I'm not going into this blindly, despite what everybody thinks. I know who, and what he is."

Superman looked away. "I ... Is it ... serious?"

"I ... we don't know yet. It's still ... new." She looked down, then up. "The entire concept of being in a relationship is still a novelty for both of us."

"Relationship ... I never thought Bruce ... at least not without..."

"...a few years of therapy?"

The two turned to see Arthur standing behind them. He held their gaze for a few moments, then Aquaman strode past Superman and Wonder Woman. "Arthur, while you're here..."

"Later." His left eye was bloodshot to the point where it was more red than white. A large bruise was on his forehead, and his mood was worse than usual. He gave Diana a neutral glance and left.

"He took that better then I thought."

Wonder Woman raised her hand to her temple. "Gods...I should have told him."

"Would it have made any difference?"

"Maybe ... maybe not." She looked at Superman, regretfully. "At least it would have been polite."

"I suppose ... what happened to his head?"

***

Batman was seated, resting his head in his hands. The migraine from the telepathic attack was fading to a manageable level, and his blood pressure had lowered to near normal. His meditative practices made him able to rest much more quickly than others...

"Bruce."

Batman looked up at the lurking figure of a bright green bald man built like Schwartzenegger after a health farm regime specialising in beef, exercise, and steroids.

"Just give me a minute to recover from your headache, J'onn."

"The pain you're suffering isn't concussion based."

"How's Arthur?"

"Almost suffering as much as you." The Martian Manhunter touched Batman's head, and the pain disappeared entirely. "I've numbed the pain receptors for a few hours. Do you mind filling me on what's happening with you and Diana?"

"At least you're direct."

"When you've lived as long as I have, you learn the value of saving time."

Batman got up, having learned long ago that hiding things from a mind reader was a virtual impossibility. "After that charity function, I showed her around Gotham, trying to distract her from..."

"...from what Bruce Wayne is seen to be?"

The two started walking down the corridor, half their attention on the conversation, the other listening for interlopers. "Yes. It turned out that we had more in common than we originally thought." Bruce looked down, then at J'onn. "We're ... 'going steady'."

The throaty chuckle at this remark resonated throughout the enclosed space. "'Going steady'? I knew that bypassing your adolescence would have side effects..."

"It's the only method I can use to describe our situation." Muttered Batman, feeling the unfamiliar edges of embarrassment.

The Manhunter's mirth subsided as he produced an Oreo. "How will you handle Arthur?"

Batman grimaced, rubbing his forehead. "Either way, it all depends what action he takes, doesn't it? He favours direct action, but knows the value of indirect measures."

"Don't underestimate him."

"Underestimating the ruler of seventy per cent of the Earth's surface is the last thing I will do. Also, please don't speak with your mouth full."

The Manhunter swallowed. "Do you require protection, Bruce?"

Bruce gave J'onn a veiled glance. "Appreciated, but I'd rather keep this between me and him. If anybody else takes sides in this matter, we could turn the JLA into a factional bloodbath."

"Just like a political organisation?"

"Precisely." Bruce looked at the League's elder statesman with all the seriousness he could muster. "If it comes down to me and him, I want nobody else drawn into it. I want you to make sure it stays that way."

"Somebody else is. Diana herself."

The Dark Knight gave a resigned smile. "Oh I know. She'll find a way to enter this little ... disagreement. I'm not going to try to stop her."

J'onn cocked his head slightly. "So why are you afraid of that?" Batman gave J'onn a vicious look. "No, I'm not reading your mind. It's simply a case of me knowing you, despite your efforts."

"The possibility exists that she might decide that a King is a better choice than a Knight."

"I doubt she's that shallow."

"I know. The rational states that. The intellectual part that has observed her and noted her behavioural patterns over the years presents the case. But the emotional..." Batman rubbed the outside of his gloves. "The rational and emotional parts of the mind rarely agree."

J'onn murmured agreement. "I'll try to keep the other members out of it if it comes to that. I can't make promises though..."

"Your best is more than enough."

J'onn stopped, turning Batman to face him. "I doubt if anybody thought of putting the two of you together." He suddenly grinned, and clasped the Dark Knight's shoulder. "But I hear that the ideas that nobody else thinks of are the best."

With that, the Manhunter walked away. Batman headed for the teleporters, his steps lighter than before.

***

"Oh, Lois says hi..."

Diana nodded, knowingly. "She wants an interview?"

"Says if it's an exclusive, she'll go easy."

"Just how is that senator, anyway?"

"Oh, he's fine ... resigned, said he wanted to spend some time with his family anyway..."

"I heard he became a born again Christian."

"It's pretty common with near death experiences..."

They both shut up as they heard familiar footsteps. Green Lantern rounded the corridor, and walked up to Superman and Wonder Woman. "Er ... hi."

"Kyle."

"So ... er..."

"Dating Bruce Wayne of Gotham. Might be serious. Looks good in a suit." Stated Diana.

"Might be...?"

"It's just ... " Green Lantern scratched the back of his head. "...I never knew he was ... you know, your type."

"I know the feeling."

"Oh please..."

A rolling gait made them all look up. Batman was suddenly there, at the end of the corridor, heading towards them.

The Dark Knight gave Superman, the closest thing to an ex-boyfriend Diana had, one of his more life-threatening gazes. Superman gave him his 'stern resolute' expression back, while reminding himself that he was bulletproof.

Green Lantern, the only person there who didn't know Batman's identity, moaned. "Here we go..."

"I take it that the topic is Wonder Woman's personal life."

"That's right." Superman met Batman's gaze without blinking, then turned to Diana. "Do you want the JLA to have an official position on this?"

"I recommend a firm 'no comment'." The implication was that his 'recommendation' would be made official policy or else. "The JLA has no official position, or directives as per the personal affairs of it's members. Let Wayne's press staff deal with the media. That's what they're paid for."

His blank gaze swept over Superman and Green Lantern. "I recommend ... strongly, that you both adopt that policy."

"Am I allowed to say anything?" asked Wonder Woman, directing this comment to the air.

Green Lantern thought Batman was somehow shocked by the question. "You can say anything you wish."

"While we're on the topic ... you seem to be the only person here who doesn't have an opinion. Since everybody else is giving their two bits, do you want to say something about it?"

"Your personal life, unless it jeopardises your life or the lives of those you work with, is yours. Nobody else's." He pauses. "I sincerely hope that he manages to make you happy."

"Thank you. Oh, there's one more thing..." Wonder Woman walked towards him. "Unless you object, I'd like to use your teleporter. I have a date."

"Of course."

The two turned, heading for the teleporters. Batman's cape was cut millimetres away from the floor, hiding the action of his feet, making it look like he floated just above the air.

Kyle, unaware of the theatre put on for his benefit, turned to Superman. "Why isn't Batman arguing?"

Superman's voice was slightly distant as he watched the two walk away. "What do you mean?"

"She's using his teleporter for personal business. That was the same guy who tore a strip out of me for asking Steel to fix my VCR after a meeting."

"Tore a strip?" Batman favoured the low, threatening monotone that managed to terrify more effectively than a Drill Sargent's most fanatical rants.

"He did one of those ... non-blinking stares for at least two minutes, didn't speak ... you know."

"Oh. One of those."

Superman saw J'onn out of the corner of his eye. "Look, I've got to go, Kyle. Catch you at the next meeting, okay?"

"Yeah ... sure ... maybe Donna knows something..."

***

The yellow mechanical hand strummed on the edge of the throne. The bearded face grimaced.

He had to do something.

She and him? Impossible.

He had seen the Dark Knight's mind - a tangled, dangerous, screaming instrument of vengeance. There could be no affection, no positive emotion.

Diana had to have been deceived by Wayne. Some dark scheme of his ... possibly trying to seize the Chair of the JLA? Batman and Superman rarely agreed on anything, and Batman had frequently gone his own way despite the League's lack of support. Even formed his own personal super-group once. Batman might have intimidated the rest of the League, but he and Diana were never terrified like the rest of the sheep.

Would he intentionally seduce her just to secure control of an organisation?

Orin smiled in his solitude ... never underestimate The Batman.

Think, Orin, think.

Engaging him directly would be sheer stupidity. Beating up Batman would only turn Diana further towards him. Also, since Batman insisted on keeping his identity secret from the majority of the League, could gain further points if Aquaman was reported for beating up a 'helpless' human. Not that it wouldn't feel very, very good...

Maybe afterwards. Try and turn the other heroes against this new union? Just how? They'd know part of why you were doing it, Diana was strong enough to endure any pressure...

...just a moment. Pressure.

Not society, not peer, but another pressure entirely.

The idea formed within his head, and a beatific smile creased his features.

The King of Atlantis got up, stopping only to pick up a watertight plastic bag, and that copy of the Gotham Gazette. He tore the pages enough to remove the good works of Wayne from the article, revealing only Wayne's infamous dating record.

As he boarded the fastest submarine in the city, he went over his plan, which was simple, and direct.

If you want to win the heart of a woman, allies are always desirable.

And what better ally than the woman's own mother?

***

"Can I have your autograph?"

Diana looked at the girl, no more than seven, holding a notepad and pen, a pleading look in her eyes. She sighed, then smiled, always having a soft spot for children.

"Of course ... what's your name?"

"Larissa...hi Mr. Wayne."

Bruce waved to the girl as Diana gave a flourishing signature on the pad. "How's your mom and dad?"

"Okay ... Daddy says he's going to kick your ass on the course next week."

Diana gave the pad back. "Now watch your language."

The girl took the pad and practically skipped over to her parent's table. Diana unconsciously rubbed her wrist.

"Are you all right?"

"Fine ... just that I've given more autographs than I can remember. Even when I was still learning English, and barely forming coherent sentences, I was asked for autographs."

Bruce Wayne had given five at the most, even when some of the more malicious rumours about his lifestyle broke out. And the Batman never stayed around long enough to be accurately described, let alone asked for his signature and a souvenir snap. "Ever get used to it?"

"It's not the occasional one ... it's the twenty in a row when you first go out in public, and the crowd nearly crushes your friend next to you, so you have to fly her to safety. Then a cop meant to be holding back the crowd asks you for one when you're waiting for a meta's counter-attack at any second." She looked around, making sure others weren't listening, then leaned in. "Those are the times when the rest of us realise that you're onto something with this 'urban legend' idea."

Diana drifted into silence, a pattern she'd adopted throughout the meal. Every time Bruce tried to start up a new topic of conversation, she would abstractly latch onto and drift away from the topic.

"Is something wrong?"

"Well ... there might be..."

For a sickening moment, he imagined her saying something like 'it's not working out', or similar.

"...I think Helena suspects who you are."

He shrugged, that sudden weight now gone. "I suppose it was inevitable, at some stage."

Diana was looking at him strangely. "You're not mad?"

"I have half-a-dozen alibis lined up at any one time."

She looked back at her meal. "I imagined you would be foaming at the mouth."

"One of the aspects of having..." he quickly scanned the area "...an alternative lifestyle is knowing that eventually the questioning is going to involve you, sooner or later. You have to have your ducks lined up well beforehand."

"Perhaps I should have one."

"Another ... lifestyle?" Bruce shook his head. "I think you're coping pretty well without one."

"I wouldn't mind ... avoiding this." Diana glanced at the restaurant patrons, most were staring at them, or openly talking about them. "You said you envied Clark's marriage. I envy his life outside costume."

"We hold ourselves up to him quite a bit, don't we?"

"Unfortunately." Diana grinned mirthlessly. "A change of clothes and a pair of glasses, and he can join the human race. We seem to be chained to our ivory towers."

"Would you like to see what it's like?"

"What?"

"I've been creating ... lifestyles for years now. Full documentation and history. There's a disguise room where I can turn you into a different woman in minutes." He leaned in. "If you want to know what it's like to be a normal human, even for a little while, I can do that for you."

This is one of the many times where your life is decisively different from other women. Other men would offer clothes, jewellery, trips to exotic locales. This one states that he can give you a secret identity, an opportunity to seem normal. Drinks after work, walking down the street without everyone staring. Acts of routine that was beyond you now being offered free and clear.

"I might take you up on that, Mr. Wayne."

"Of course..." he looked at his empty plate. "...we all want what we can't have. Want dessert?"

"Mmm? Oh, no. Besides ... I've been wanting to try some of those cookies Alfred makes."

Bruce signalled to the waiter, who materialised immediately. "Oh yes. How's..."

"Artemis has been trying to learn to cook ... just so she can make them."

The mental image of one of the most warlike women in existence trying to learn to bake gave Bruce a reason to pause.

"She's been trying to find that butter for a while now."

"I could call the supplier..." Bruce signed the bill with a flourish, and palmed the waiter a hundred-dollar note.

"Don't. She's determined to do it herself." She got up from the table. "One thing I've learned about her is that you don't offer her any help unless she asks for it."

"Very stubborn."

"A lot like you in that respect."

At the exit, Bruce shook hands with the maitre de, and the chief cook, slipping them several hundred-dollar bills, all neatly folded. "If that's the case, why does she still hold me in contempt?"

They headed to Bruce's Lamborghini. "You know, like repels..."

"...and opposites attract." Bruce held the door open for Diana, who slid in gracefully. "Does that mean we're opposites?"

"Just opposite enough to make it interesting."

Bruce revved the engine, and peeled into the freeway, hitting the speed limit in three seconds.

Diana sat back, looking at the city flying past. "Where to?"

"The Mansion." Replied Bruce.

"So are we going to go on patrol again?"

"Not really..." Bruce sounded embarrassed. "Alfred suggested that I let Dick perform the patrol. He then decided to take the night off."

"Really?" There was a discernible lilt in her voice. "When the butler's away..."

"It was his idea." He changed gears aggressively. "I want you to know ... I'm not going to ... attempt to pressure you towards ... that."

"That?"

"Yes."

"You're talking about sex, aren't you?"

"I ... yes."

"Good. We Amazons, not knowing about such things, want to make absolutely sure." She looked away to the window. "I know you're trying to make things easier, and I appreciate that, but I'm not going to be coddled like a child, okay? If you feel you have to say something, then just say it." The last few words were spat out.

There was an awkward silence in the car as the scenery flew by.

"Is this an argument?" Diana heard a slight edge of fear in his voice.

"No." She smiled faintly. "You'll know when we're having one, believe me."

"Are you sure? I mean..."

"Bruce, remember when you refused to bend on four words in a letter to the Indian Prime Minister for three hours straight? That was an argument. You single-handedly made Clark go outside and bash his head against a crater wall."

"Ah." He smiled, faintly. "Is it wrong to feel proud about that?"

"History will be the judge." She turned back to Bruce, and laid her hand over his on the shift. "We need a song."

Bruce reached for the radio but Diana swatted his hand away. "I meant our song."

"We do?"

"Apparently most couples do."

"You're right." He was suddenly stuck by a thought. "No cute nicknames."

"Oh, come on."

"I have to draw the line somewhere."

"Brucie?"

"No."

"Brucie-wewsie?"

For a split second, she saw terror on his face. "You can't..."

"Brucie-pewsie?"

"Please don't."

A laugh issued from her throat. "Okay, no cute names ... for now. But we have to negotiate a song."

"A song's fine." He thought for a moment. "'It's Not Unusual...'?"

"Not Tom Jones."

"What's wrong with Tom Jones?"

"I don't know ... there's nothing specifically wrong with him or his songs, but I just don't see one of his songs as ours. What about 'My Heart will Go On...'?"

Despite his best efforts, the nausea was plainly visible on his features.

"'Unchained Melody'?"

"What's that one?"

"The theme from...right, you don't like movies." She thought for a moment, then cleared her throat. "Ohhhh, my loovvee, my darling..." she suddenly scowled at Bruce. "I know I can't sing. Stop smirking."

Bruce quickly looked at himself in the rear view. "This is not a smirk, it's my 'trying to remember' expression."

"Bruce, I know a smirk when I see one."

He signalled, while racking his brains for a solution. "I think your voice is one of your most attractive features."

"You're just saying that." Her scowl was softening, however.

"Women would kill for that voice. " He pressed his argument. "And I never just ... say that."

She smiled, glancing at her lap, then at him. "Bruce?"

"Yes?"

"Have you ever thought about me ... like that?"

His eyes kept firmly on the road. "It's ... it's been an effort not to lately."

He seemed embarrassed, but Diana wanted to delve behind this. "What about before...?"

"Not ... not seriously." His fingers twitched around the wheel. "You seemed ... unattainable."

"I've been doing that a lot." She leaned back, then looked wolfishly at Bruce. "The jury's still out on wether you're gay or just fanatical."

"What do you think?"

"Why should I know? I'm only your girlfriend."

***

The girl, christened Cassandra, now officially the new Batgirl, was a phenomena. Trained at birth in every form of combat, she had nearly superhuman combat abilities at the age of fifteen-seventeen - nobody knew her exact age. However, her ability to communicate had been severely hampered, to the point where she had no verbal or reading skills whatsoever, and could only interact by an elaborate means of charades.

It appeared that [scary pointy-eared guy who inspires bedwetting] had told [lady on wheels who hides Brad Pitt movie collection] to perform a [circle city look for bad guys] with [man with long hair who resembles male model].

Cassandra liked [guy with the rear girls try to stare at], he would put on the radio instead of the police band, and actually talk to her. She couldn't understand the words ... yet, but acknowledging her rather than just barking out orders made her feel ... warm, safe.

This was not one of the best times, since [man who makes wheel-lady put on make-up] had been talking non-stop ever since she'd turned on the radio.

"Okay, I know that Bruce should have a private life, and he should. I mean, he deserves to have one. But... Wonder Woman? C'mon! Okay, let's overlook the fact she's in Superman's power class. It's actually not a factor. They're ... totally different. I've met her. I've met a lot of heroes. And I know her sister. Hey, we get on pretty well ... not that way, I never did. We're like ... you know, brother and sister. Sort of. And Bruce is sorta like my father ... looked after me, taught me, keeps on giving me grief, like a dad is supposed to. And Donna's going to freak when she finds out, so ... I mean, what's your opinion?"

He looked at the masked girl, who was leaning back in the chair. Dick was about to ask what she was thinking when a loud snore reverberated throughout the interior.

***

Diana and Bruce were in the kitchen. Bruce had been searching the fridge when he discovered a fruit platter, and since he couldn't remember any visitors or functions that would be held in the near future, he assumed Alfred had made it for them and set it out.

"I like what you've done with the place." Stated Diana, as she polished off the last of the strawberries.

"It's amazing what you can do with a few million if you put your mind to it ... " A flash of memory made him get up, holding his hand out to her.

"...that reminds me, there's something I want to show you..."

He led her by the hand into the upper areas of the mansion, where most of the bedrooms were located. Diana assumed this was where everybody actually lived, since the signs of habitation were the clearest in this vast house.

Bruce guided her into a small room, a small sitting area. As he guided her in front of a large window, Diana saw that the view overlooked the entire city.

Bruce stood behind her as they watched the shimmering lights of the city, the moving traceries of the traffic and the glittering bay behind the teeming metropolis.

Bruce decided to chance it, and slid one arm over her shoulder. There was a moment when she shifted under him when he thought he did something wrong, but the surge of relief when she took his other arm and wrapped it around her waist was almost overwhelming.

Half the time he didn't know what he did was right or wrong when he was with her. He tried desperately to analyse, to plot and plan his moves, like every other aspect of his life, but now ... when she came near, his certainties and assurances slipped away in front of the anxieties of the moment.

"I can understand why you're so proud of that city..."

"How?"

"It wouldn't be there if it wasn't for you. That is yours, no matter who holds the titles to the properties or becomes elected. The Batman owns Gotham. It's a testament to your achievements."

"It's not just ownership. It's the lives. It's just metal and concrete without the people."

Diana looked up at Bruce's gaze. "So you're saying that personal pride has nothing to do with it?"

Bruce looked down at her - there was an impish curl to her lips that he was seeing more and more often ... something he didn't mind at all. "Well, a little pride isn't bad ... it's good for..."

"...that massive ego of yours." She leaned back into Bruce. "Admit it."

"Admitted. And my ego is not massive." Something struck him. "There's something else I'd like to show you..."

She gave him a suspicious glance. "Go on."

"I was thinking ... on the grounds there's a spot on top of a hill, under an oak that's been there for years ... it's very nice there this time of year. If you're not doing anything tomorrow, perhaps we can have a picnic?"

"Picnic?"

"I thought it could be something ... different."

"Sure." She seemed somewhat preoccupied.

"Is something wrong?"

"Oh, nothing actually wrong ... is there a bathroom in this mansion?"

"The closest one's over here..." He escorted her to his bedroom with the ensuite.

When she closed the door, Bruce turned to the cupboard. Nothing annoyed Alfred more than staining a suit unnecessarily, so he quickly changed out of it to some slacks and a shirt.

What could they do now? Television? He avoided it as much as possible, and he didn't know Diana's preferences in that area. Sitting in front of a fire? That was one domestic task he could perform adequately, thanks to an intimate knowledge of arson techniques.

Had Tim left a Nintendo?

Bruce strummed the back of his hand. You can think of something ... think of all the times you've spied on couples on stakeouts.

Since most of the subjects of his observations were criminals, he doubted that his voyeuristic journeys would have any wisdom for this matter.

Bruce heard the door to the bathroom open. He turned around, to discover that she had changed out her dress.

She now wore black shoes with spike high heels, sheer dark thigh-high stockings, and a smile.

Nothing else.

Bruce's IQ dropped a hundred and fifty points as Diana walked ... well, slinked over towards him, but at this point in time he was incapable of recalling fine details.

"Tell me, do you like this?" Diana performed a neat little pirouette.

The Batman's mind, finely honed computer that it was, crashed.

Backup routines took over and Bruce found himself devouring her mouth with his own, hands grasping places where he'd previously avoided out of a mixture of courtesy and anxieties.

Threatening to suck his tongue out of his mouth, she grabbed him by the shirt collar, wanting to lead him to the four-post bed but unwilling to break the contact. Unfortunately, at that moment synchronous co-ordination was the furthest thing from their minds, and his legs tangled with hers, causing them both to crash to the floor.

There was a moment of deathly silence, then a deep-throated chuckling rose from the ground. It was followed by a gut-wrenching bout of laughter.

When their laughter subsided, a voice filled the silence. "That was unfortunate."

"Want to try again?"

"What's wrong with right here?'

"On the floor?"

"The rug. Persian."

"Intriguing ... " suddenly a two hundred and ten-pound six-foot two male found himself casually swung onto the bed like a handbag. He was then straddled and found a tongue down his gullet before he could react. "...but I want to give this..." she patted the bed. "...a trial run first."

***

Aquaman's head broke the surface of the water, looking around. He had abandoned the submarine, and had decided to take the next leg of the journey himself to avoid any defences put up. Just because he hadn't seen any yet didn't mean that they're weren't any.

Arthur swam the next ten miles, making sure that the beach was deserted. Good.

He retrieved the Gazette, lodging it in the sand, making sure that Diana's face was prominent. He then waited around for somebody ... ten minutes later, he saw a sentry walk along the edge of the beach, spear and shield in hand.

The King of the Seven Seas threw a small pebble onto a rock, then slowly retreated into the ocean. He waited until she came near the shore in her investigations, then spotted and picked up the newspaper before he descended into the waters.

***

Nightwing spun on one leg, sending his heel into a gang member's jaw, his hand releasing a one and a half foot baton, which flew towards and connected with the groin of the boy trying to sneak up on him.

Not too far away, Batgirl kicked a full trashcan, the impact sending it flying into the head of her opponent, who went down like a sack of wet sand. Without turning around, she caught the bicycle chain that was flying to her head, and pulled. The attacker was wrenched towards the girl half his height and was met by a boot in the nose.

He quickly scanned the area, searching for any possible threats. Seeing none, he bent down, and retrieved something from one of the many prone bodies strewn around him. "Hey Cass! Tic Tac?"

Batgirl looked at the proffered mints, then shook her head.

"Wanna head to the mansion? Give Bruce an update?"

Cassandra shook her head, miming a lasso.

"Okay, she might be there. You'll like her."

She shook her head more forcefully.

"C'mon, Cass. I mean ... what do you think they're doing?"

Batgirl rolled her eyes at Dick. The answer was pretty obvious - she immediately started thrusting her hips in mid-air with accompanying arm movements.

Dick did what any child does when confronted with their parent's sex life; he turned away, pushing his fingers in his ears, and started muttering 'Popeye the Sailor Man' as quickly as possible.

***

They lay there, not looking at anything, fingers running along each other's bodies, savouring the contact.

Diana spoke first. "That was ... different."

Bruce looked quickly at her, concern etching in his features. "Did I..."

"No, no. I liked ... well, liked is an understatement. I was a bit surprised...."

"Oh that. Something I picked up in India."

"And here I was thinking that you wasted your youth on martial arts training and the like."

"It's amazing what you learn when you travel. Although, I didn't know that you knew how to..."

"Women's magazines. They don't just promote anorexia."

"Ah." Bruce shuffled himself up so that his shoulders lay on the pillows, so he could watch Diana lying beside him. He felt ... some kind of peaceful lethargy, from the simple action of just watching her.

It took a full minute to place the emotion; contentment.

"We've wasted a lot of time, haven't we?"

"Speak for yourself..." murmured the immortal amazon. "Still, with the lives we live ... we can't just put things off today. There's a risk..." she moved in closer, draping one arm over his chest, covered in a fine mat of hairs. "...that we might not see tomorrow."

"Carpe Deum?"

"Always."

"Well ... in that spirit..."

"Yes?"

"I propose..."

"Go on..."

"We try everything."

"Everything?"

"At least once."

"Do you have something in mind?"

Bruce told her. Her eyes widened.

"That might be a little uncomfortable."

"If you..."

"Why not?" Her grin could only be described as wicked.

"I ... I mean, there's..."

"Bruce..." she threw back the covers with a flourish. "...get to work, boy."

He gave a small salute with his fingers before doing as the lady ordered.

***

Hippolyta, Immortal Queen of the Amazons and once replacement for her daughter's role as Ambassador of Man's World, looked at the newspaper with mounting horror.

A sentry had found this on the beach, and recognising Diana, brought it to her Queen. Since the sentry spoke very little English, she was quite unprepared for the reaction of the bilingual Queen.

The monarch got up, eyes blazing with fury. "I will travel to man's world at once."

***

In the still of the night, Diana, Princess of Themyscira, gave a sharp, prolonged scream.

***

Alfred entered the house, pocketing his keys while touching the napkin with that young girl's phone number ... what was her name again, Kimberley?

Quickly looking inside Bruce's bedroom, the sight made one eyebrow raise slightly.

The bed covers had been thrown off, and a pillow had lodged itself on top of the cupboard on the other side of the room. The room badly needed airing, and a can of whipped cream lay forlornly on the carpet.

Diana lay asleep, wearing a single torn black stocking that was now coiled around her ankle, while Bruce was behind her, one arm curled around her abdomen. Her face was curled into a lethargic smile, and his sleeping features were calm for the first time Alfred could remember.

Wordlessly, the butler left the room, to soon return with fresh linen, which he laid over the two. His quiet movements didn't disturb their slumber. Alfred then took the bundle of blankets to the laundry room ... and threw out the whipped cream, although it was still half full, he suspected that it wouldn't be used for food anytime before it's sell-by date.

Alfred silently wished his master peace before retiring ... and hoped that he wouldn't stuff this up anytime soon.

***

At roughly seven thirty, three figures walked up the drive to the front door of Wayne Manor. One wore a flowing white Greek robe and a murderous expression, the other two wore copper armour and short swords.

Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons raised her fist and brought it smartly on the door. The three-inch thick door shattered like matchwood, and the Queen pushed the remains aside.

Alfred Pennyworth walked towards the trio. "Excuse me, may I..."

One of the Queen's honour guard, selected for their fighting skills and their discretion, shoved Alfred aside. Even though they didn't have the power levels of their Queen and Princesses, their strength was still in the meta range, sending the butler into the wall.

Bruce even at the best of times a light sleeper, heard the commotion. His eyes snapped open, and he immediately threw on a sweatsuit and sneakers, a long time master of the quick change.

He ran out of the room, slowing down when he saw the three women, recognising Hippolyta immediately.

As he moved to see if Alfred was all right, his actions attracted their attention, and they quickly ascended the stairs. Bruce experienced the sinking feeling which is common to every male whenever they see the relatives of the woman they have spend a debauched evening with.

Ra's Al Ghul, father of whom could conceivably be called an ex-girlfriend, tried to kill him at every opportunity. Somehow he suspected that the Queen of the Amazons would not be that merciful.

Hippolyta and her two companions, possibly her bodyguard, drew level with Bruce. He knew that charm would not help, but he tried anyway.

"I don't believe we've..."

The Queen of the Amazons, with the kind of meta-level strength that would allow her to comfortably juggle tanks, grabbed Bruce's throat and lifted him up. "I am the mother of the daughter you were trying to seduce."

Vision greying, Bruce clutched at the arm. It was at that point that Diana chose to walk out of the bedroom wearing a terry-cloth robe, looking around. "Bruce...where...?"

Then she saw her mother, holding Bruce off the ground by the neck.

The Queen of the Amazons looked at her daughter, knowing she wore nothing under that robe, and how easy it would be...

"Put him down right now, mother."

Hippolyta threw Bruce to the ground, nodding to her guards. "Remove him from my sight!"

The two guards dragged the choking Bruce away while Hippolyta headed towards her daughter. "What is the meaning of this?"

"I thought it was obvious."

Hippolyta's mouth performed an intriguing series of twitches. "Did you think of the consequences of your act?"

"Evidently more carefully than you thought of your own!"

"Do you realise what has happened? This male has taken advantage of your innocence for his own..."

"Innocence? I had to ask him out! I was the one who seduced him!"

"You were manipulated by a master of this depraved practice!" Hippolyta produced ... yep, that article. "He is a dangerous predator!"

"First, Mother, I have the physical power to rip off his arm and beat him to death with the soggy end. I was not in any physical danger! Second, I know about this, I have been reading English longer than you have! And most of this is fabrication!"

"You are not thinking clearly!"

***

The two guards, several thousand years old, whose last encounter with males was the war against Heracles, an unpleasant encounter involving deception, rape and enslavement, held up the devious male who had seduced their princess.

He didn't even seem too aware of the world around him, as the guards propped him up against the wall. "Wake up!"

He didn't seem to understand a dialect of Greek not spoken for millennia, so in order to assist -translation, the guard slapped the insensible Bruce in the face for each syllable. "Can - you - un - der - stand - me - pig?"

Her friend lifted Bruce up by the hair. "Perhaps the queen would appreciate us educating him, eh?"

"I feel that is a lesson she'd enjoy giving herself..."

"Then we should give him..." she lifted his head up and looked him in the eyes "...a 'beginner's course'?"

***

Hippolyta ran her fingers through her hair, blood pressure rising. "The guards will show Wayne the penalty of dishonouring Themyscira's princess."

"You've told them to beat him up."

***

One of the guards tried to lift up Bruce, the other finding a nice heavy candlestick, Somehow she was having trouble getting him into position, he kept on slumping over at precisely the wrong time.

The second grabbed Bruce by the arm, lifting him up. "Perhaps we should wait for him to wake up?"

Her friend listened to the escalating argument outside. "Best to do it now..."

The male slumped again, slipping out of his captor's grasp. He staggered towards the first, arms flailing...

...his wildly gesticulating arms hitting the guard with incredible force, driving her back into the wall. Then he seemed to turn, accidentally slapping the other, knocking her over.

After all, the amazons had never heard of Drunken Boxing.

Bruce dropped the semi-conscious act, as they got up, now angry. Two angry, trained, meta-level women, out for blood.

***

The lack of concern made the Queen frown. "Do you not care?"

Diana shrugged.

"He won't hurt them too much."

The door to the bedroom shattered, sending the blonde guard flying out onto the landing. Hippolyta watched as the guard shakily stood up, and ran back into the room, the sounds of the brawl now fully audible.

Alfred approached the two women, a cut to his head plastered. "Good morning Miss Diana."

"Good morning Alfred."

The other guard flew through the shattered door, landing face first on the carpet.

"Do you have any preferences for breakfast, or shall I continue with the bacon and eggs?"

"That will be fine. Mother will have some of that fruit platter you make...?"

Hippolyta listened as the sounds of two of her best guards having the crap kicked out of them reverberated throughout the manor.

"I'm going to deal with Wayne myself..." Diana grabbed her mother's arm.

"I think you've interfered enough."

One of the guards flew through the door, rolled to the railing, crashed through it, then fell to the floor below.

She got up, woozy, grabbing for a bright blue object for balance - until Alfred snatched the priceless vase out of her reach, causing her to fall to the ground again.

Bruce rolled out of the bedroom, trying to prise the hands of the blonde guard off his throat, while she tried to unsuccessfully bite the thumb that was lodged in her eye-socket.

On the ground floor, the guard, angered, tried to snatch the vase from Alfred, who somehow kept it out of her reach.

"This old body is not long for this world..." She lunged again, failing.

"...the fixtures and panelling can be replaced..." The guard feinted left, then lunged again, Alfred not fooled for a second.

"...but you will damage the last of Mrs. Wayne's favourite pieces of china..." Noting that she wasn't going to be any more fixated on the vase, he produced a heavy lead mace, smashing her smartly over the head. The blow made her collapse to the ground, moaning.

"...over Alfred Pennyworth's decaying corpse." He twirled the mace once before re-mounting it behind him.

Bruce had levered the fingers off his windpipe and shoved the Amazon away from him. She drew her sword out, intent on skewering the wretch.

Alfred materialised behind the arguing Diana and her mother. "I'm afraid we have no more paw paws. Will cantaloupe suffice?"

"Perfectly. Did it ever occur to you that I might wish to pursue a relationship? At all?"

Bruce ducked a wild swipe and lunge, rolling to avoid the blow that shattered a nearby table.

"I hoped that you might consider the fact that a daughter of Themyscira is required to act appropriately!"

"By who's standard? Have you no faith in my own judgement?"

Bruce grabbed the guard's wrist, and squeezed in two places. She dropped the weapon, but hit Bruce across the face.

She was about to grab it when Alfred suddenly kicked it away. "Oopsie."

The guard was about to hit this interloper when Bruce grabbed her neck, and started slamming her head repeatedly into the floor.

"Would you prefer orange juice, or coffee, madam?"

"Eh...?"

"She'll have the orange juice. You dare to question my conduct when yours is at question, by attempting to have my boyfriend beaten up?"

Hippolyta watched the man described as a useless fop entangle her guard's hands with his own, then sending a vicious round of blows into her face. She turned to the manservant. "Is this normal ... among males of his class?"

"He's at that age where it's either that or Scientology, madam."

The guard entangled Bruce while he was positioning for a kick, the expended kinetic energy sending them rolling off the landing, and landing onto a coffee table below.

"I think we all know which is the preferable option."

The guard got up, but Bruce sent a piledriving blow into her head, sending her down. He got up, dusting himself off on shaky legs, then trotted up the stairs to where Hippolyta looked at him in near shock.

"You must be Diana's mother..." He took her hand. "I must say this is one of the more interesting times I've been introduced to members of the family."

A slight cough drew them to Alfred. "Breakfast is served."

***

The guards had been woken up, and nursing bruising and contusions, ate the breakfast Alfred had prepared. Bruce and Diana sat next to each other while Hippolyta positioned herself between her daughter and her guards.

Hippolyta spoke up first. "Which hero are you then, Wayne?"

Diana and Bruce looked at each other, then at the woman. "What do you mean?"

"First, no other man would be able to beat my guards. These two are some of the finest fighters on our island and yet you beat them." She looked Bruce directly in the eye. "I also recognised some of Ted Grant's fighting style."

The infamous Wildcat of the JSA, which Hippolyta, thanks to the mysteries of time travel, had served with retroactively. Bruce, during his many studies in his youth, learned the finer points of boxing - mainly hitting somebody as hard as humanly possible.

"So, Diana, which hero is he? The one known as Beetle? The Lantern? Flash?"

"How many heroes are within Gotham, madam?"

"Alfred!"

"You have just beaten two women who were each stronger than Bane on that concoction of his. Things like that tend to clash with your media image."

Hippolyta suddenly looked at Bruce with a new light. "There is one who is not mentioned ... but everyone knows. One who took the lawless city and bent it to his will..."

"Careful, he's got enough of a swollen head as it is."

"Why does everybody think I have a titanic ego?"

"Not everybody Bruce. Just those you've met."

"Tell me, Batman...how did you beat these two?" The guards were pecking at Alfred's fruit platter, the loose teeth and split lips making consumption difficult.

Bruce let the Bat seep into his posture. "Your guards were highly trained, with the added bonus of having thousands of years to practice and duel. They can fight more easily than breathing ... that is their weakness."

Hippolyta frowned at this. Diana was also puzzled. "Explain."

"They have completely mastered only one fighting style. They have no knowledge of any other form of combat. They've never seen or heard of oriental fighting styles, or modern western boxing. So anybody such as myself, who's seen Diana fight up close in her early years, or yourself ... or even study the news footage of those events. There's a significant amount of media dedicated to superhumans, even during World War Two. Any modern library will have hundreds of hours of footage available. Then, you can anticipate how they'll fight. The habit of thousands of years is particularly hard to break, I'd imagine."

Hippolyta nodded slowly, looking again at her guards. Alfred had given them water and Tylenol, but were demanding what he was giving them. She ordered them to shut up and take the painkiller, then back to Bruce.

"You turned their own discipline against them..."

"The art of the warrior is never static. Along with the discipline of maintaining your art, there is the discipline of mastering new arts, and the methods of your enemies, be they old, new or potential."

Hippolyta leaned back in her chair, taking a swig of orange juice. "Thank you Batman. You have revealed to me a danger in our thinking." She looked at her daughter, who had remained silent throughout Bruce's statement. She switched to Greek. "Can others employ those techniques?"

"Possibly." Diana answered in English. "And only one language at the table, mother, it's rude."

"Very well. Tell me Wayne..." her posture shifted to a more aggressive stance. "...do you intend to harm my daughter?"

"I have never set out to do so. Not before, not now, not in the future."

Hippolyta coldly evaluated him. The first male she'd trusted had poisoned and imprisoned her. Although the others she'd met, and the heroes she'd fought alongside with in the JSA had softened her attitude, the initial distrust of men still remained. Now her daughter was obviously enamoured with this one.

A proven hero, yes, but one who had hidden his existence, and regarded with no uncertain amount of fear.

The urge to grab him and rip his heart out was irresistible, but the mother realised that you can only alienate your daughter so much in one day. And judging from the looks they were giving each other, the familiarity ... it didn't seem to be likely he would be hurting her in the near future.

"I will allow you some ... freedom to pursue this..."

"Courtship, madam?" Alfred refilled her glass.

"Courtship, yes." She glanced at Alfred, warily, then leaned towards Bruce. "What I hear about you is ... disturbing, Batman. But with that fear is respect. Respect for a honourable warrior." She started tapping the tabletop for each second word. "If Diana is harmed in any way, you will face me, and..."

"...you will not threaten me." His voice was low, but the undercurrent of malevolence was plain to all, even the guards. "To threaten me is to make an enemy of me, and believe this, if you have heard about what I can do, you do not want to make me your enemy." He matched her eyes, and getting her first look at The Bat, Hippolyta unconsciously drew back.

"I will never harm her. You have my word on this. If you don't believe me, fine. Let my actions be evidence." He drank the last of his coffee, then held it out for a refill, not breaking eye contact for a second.

Hippolyta nodded, then stood up, the guards following her example. "Very well. Diana...?"

Diana looked at Bruce, then moved over to her mother. "Yes...?"

Hippolyta started speaking in rapid Greek. "He has no ill intentions, and will do nothing to harm you ... but he will, in any fashion."

"Mother..."

"Let me finish. You serve Peace. He is an instrument of ... Order. His Order." She looked at her daughter sadly. "I may be wrong, but I cannot see this being ... permanent. Please keep that in mind."

Diana looked at Bruce. The fact that his features were a mask was a sign he didn't know what her mother was saying.

"I ... I shall. I promise."

***

Hippolyta was escorted to the door. Alfred had tended to the guard's wounds, and they seemed to hold Bruce with a grudging respect. Hippolyta shook hands formally with Bruce and Alfred, then hugged her daughter. "I do not know how this news will be taken back home."

"It'll be the first bit of juicy gossip in millennia. That seems to be the function of royalty in this world."

"Unusual. Take care." With that, she started down the drive, Alfred closing the metal door that had been installed after Bane had barged in unannounced.

As soon as the front door shut, Bruce immediately lowered himself to a nearby chair, taking ragged breaths. His face seemed to be paling, and his hand was visibly shaking.

Diana quickly leaned over and examined him. Apart from the facial bruising, there were damaged ribs and nasty blows around the abdomen.

Bruce glanced at her face, and gave a slight grin. "They got one or two good ones in."

"More like six or seven. Might be some damage to the windpipe." Her expression turned murderous. "Why didn't you get Alfred to check you out rather than just chatting to my mother?"

"Your mother rules a warrior society. What do you think she'd respect more ... someone who fought her champions and took his injuries in stride, or someone who was beaten to a pulp?" Diana's fingers pressed a sharp spot, making him wince. "I've had worse."

Alfred emerged, hefting a well-used case. "Many a time he's incurred multiple injuries that would send any sane man straight to the emergency ward. He progresses despite my advice." The case was cracked open to reveal a first aid kit that bordered on the obsessively well prepared. "Fortunately ... or unfortunately, this ranks about minor to middling on his regular injury scale. I'll fetch the bandages. Miss Diana, can you help him to the bedroom?"

As Alfred left, Diana noticed that Bruce was inclining his neck at an odd angle. "Is something wrong with your neck?"

"I'm trying to avoid the view. It's very ... distracting."

Diana looked down. At the angle she was leaning over, the robe she wore gaped open giving anybody in the chair a sight to die for.

"So I distract you?" Her lip curled up slightly.

"Oh y..."

His response was muffled as Diana grabbed the back of his neck, and shoved him face first into her cleavage. "Is this a distraction, Mr Wayne?"

A suppressed sound made her turn to see Dick Grayson, and two people she didn't recognise; a woman in a wheelchair and a teenager, all staring at the sight of her manhandling Bruce Wayne's head down her top.

She stepped back reflexively, the sight of his damaged face drawing gasps. "I knew something like this would happen." muttered the woman.

Diana closed her robe hurriedly. "That was caused by my mother."

Dead silence.

"I meant that it was the two women she brought along. Her bodyguards."

The three looked like stunned statues.

Alfred entered, carrying several bandages. "Good morning Master Dick, Master Tim, Miss Barbara. Could you help? It appears Miss Diana's mother came around to defend her daughter's honour."

Dick and Tim suddenly snapped out of their trance, and started to bind their mentor. From the looks of it, they'd had a lot of practice.

The woman - Barbara - wheeled herself over to Diana and held out her hand. "Er ... hi. Barbara Gordon."

Diana took her hand - from the looks of her musculature, she'd been in that chair for some years. "Diana." Something about the woman's voice rang a bell. "Have we met?"

Barbara looked faintly embarrassed. "When we talk, I normally use a voxbox and computer system..."

Diana looked at the young woman with new eyes. "You're the Oracle?"

"In the flesh." She frowned. "What were you expecting?"

"Green Lantern and Flash have the theory that you're a man."

"She had the operation years ago."

"Sit and swivel, Grayson." Snapped Barbara, offering the mid-digit to perform the operation.

"You're contaminating the minds of the young." Called Dick, pointing to the teen next to him.

While the three were squabbling, Bruce was levering himself up, assisted by Alfred. Diana came around and offered her shoulder, which he took without comment. The three were nearly at Bruce's bedroom before the others noticed.

The visitors raced up the stairs following ... more accurately, Dick and Tim got half way up the stairs before the violent coughing of Barbara, who had been left at the foot of the stairs, drew their attention. Dick picked her up while Tim carried the chair.

By the time they got to the door, Alfred had gently, but firmly stopped them while Diana had placed Bruce in his bed. He looked up at her apologetically. "It looks like I won't be able to do that picnic, after all."

"Considering my mother's track record of interfering with my life, this rates middle to low."

Bruce lay back, looking at Diana. "I'll be fine by tomorrow. This has happened hundreds of times before."

Diana brushed part of his hair back, checking his skin temperature. "Name one time."

"When Kobra stole my body. Clark had to fight him without his powers ... did a good job too. I was feeling his bruises for two weeks afterwards." Bruce's voice softened. "At least I know where he doesn't guard..."

"It didn't look like you felt a thing."

"You use pain..."

"...as motivation." Diana ran a finger along his chin. "Right now, you are one of the most motivated men I've ever seen in my life."

"I'll be fine by tonight. I just need to sleep this off." A pause. "We can have our picnic on ... Wednesday?"

"Make it Thursday."

"Deal."

Diana leaned in, and kissed him, lingering, her tongue tracing the contours of his lips. Without warning, he raised his hands, and gently broke contact. "Ah, Diana ... if this continues, resting is going to be the last thing I'll be capable of."

"If I knew that was all I had to do to break that dark exterior, I would have seduced you years ago."

Bruce eyebrows raised. "If I knew you were willing to go that far, I would have told you."

"Cute. Now get some sleep." She kissed his forehead, then drew the curtains before leaving. "Pleasant Dreams."

Somehow, thought Bruce, that is not going to be an effort.

***

As Diana left the bedroom, holding her dress and clothes under one arm, the group of Alfred, Dick, Tim and Barbara straightened, trying very hard not to look like they'd been listening.

She went to Dick first. "I need a favour."

"Sure ... what?"

"Can you do his patrol again tonight?"

Tim looked away, embarrassed. Barbara smirked, slightly.

"I think he needs more recovery time, that's all." Stated Diana. "From his injuries." She added, before Dick could open his mouth.

Tim couldn't believe this. "He's not going to spend another night on the blocks."

"One night off is pretty much unprecedented." Agreed Barbara.

"Alfred, could you...?"

"Already taken care of." Alfred produced a pre-loaded syringe of ketamine.

"Thank you. Unless the end of the world occurs again, I'll be back on Thursday."

"I shall count the hours until then."

"Charmer." She suddenly hugged Alfred. "Take care of him. And yourself."

"My standing orders for nearly forty years." He nodded, then headed off.

Diana was left facing Bruce's surrogate son, his current pupil and one of the JLA's most important members. "I suppose you wanted to..."

"Find out what's going on." Finished Tim, awkwardly. "He doesn't give too much away."

"Although from the looks of things..."

"Unless we're really mistaken..."

"You've got a thing with Bruce..."

"Which is a major contravention of the laws of all space and time, but we're okay with that."

Diana smiled. "Glad to hear it." She suddenly realised something. "Dick ... does Bruce have a map of major shipping lines?"

***

Aquaman surged up to the surface, the sensation of air hitting his lungs always feeling alien, no matter how many times he did this. He saw Diana sitting on the edge of the beach, perched on top of a rock.

"Diana! What do I owe this pleasure?"

"Glad you came up, Orin." Her voice was flat, controlled.

"Well, when somebody drops a large rock in the middle of the Atlantean city plaza, with 'Orin, the beach, now' carved on the surface, you take it that there's some urgency involved. What happened to the JLA communicator?"

"I didn't want anybody to know about this meeting."

"Including Wayne?" Arthur Curry walked up the sand. "I heard you two were getting cosy."

"Especially him." She turned her head to look at him, her features expressionless. "He's not exactly the forgiving type."

Aquaman made a mask of his face. "Oh? What have I supposed to have done?"

"My mother paid him a visit."

"Meeting the in-laws is always painful the first time."

"He'd agree with you. She made two of her best guards beat him up."

Aquaman couldn't suppress the slight chortle. "Sorry. The great Batman being beaten up by two Amazons ... "

"Oh, he gave them more bruises than they gave him." Her face was still featureless. "Really impressed mother. Gives her full blessing now." She let a slight smile crease her features. "Said something about looking forward to the grandchildren."

She feared that the last part was laying it on a bit thick, but the look on Arthur's face as he realised that he'd critically miscalculated was worth it.

Diana went on. "It's all too soon for that of course, but you know what mothers are like..." she had the knife in, and now she twisted it "... and it's not like we're not going to have a lot of fun if we do decide..."

Orin felt like he had to hold down his breakfast. "Well ... don't let her pressure you..."

"It came a bit sooner than we intended, but better to deal with it sooner rather than later." She got up from her rock, brushing herself off as she walked towards Aquaman. "Really strange, though..."

"What?"

"Found out from the Gotham Gazette. It found it's way all the way to Themyscira." She started circling Aquaman as she talked. "That was strange, because mother deliberately keeps anything from 'Man's World' as far as possible. There's a few odd items; a camera, some handguns, even a videotape of 'Titanic'. There aren't that many newspapers, the most recent one is when Superman died."

Aquaman tried to be nonchalant. "Maybe it blew in from a ship...?"

"The closest shipping line is ninety-three miles away. I checked." Diana stopped her circling and stared Aquaman in the eye. "That's somewhat strange, don't you think? Since you're the expert when anything goes beyond the shores, perhaps you've got a theory."

He shrugged. "Not off the top of my head."

"Arthur..." she retrieved her lasso from her belt. "Why don't you put your hand in this? I need to check that it's working."

He looked at the Lasso of Truth, fashioned by the Olympian Gods, which would compel anyone bound to answer directly to Wonder Woman's questions. "Normally, yes. Unfortunately, I was chairing a dispute between some of the local governors when your message flattened a charming piece of local sculpture. They're probably eating each other alive as we speak. So..."

Aquaman turned to leave, and started walking to the edge of the water. "Of course. Sorry to take your time, Arthur. You've got a whole ocean to order around, people who depend on you ... schemes to cook up..."

Aquaman, halfway in the water, turned towards Diana. "Why are you seeing Wayne, for god's sake? He's brooding, bullying, aggravating, obsessed with controlling his little patch of the world..."

"Careful - you just listed some of your best features."

"I'm the first to admit we have some similarities..."

"There's differences, though."

"Obviously. What are they?"

"First of all, he doesn't feel that he has to use my family for his dirty work." Her tone grew cold. "If you ever do anything like this again, I'll make sure my mother knows about what you did. Of course, you'd probably think that Atlantis could win a personally motivated war against Themyscira. But the locals probably wouldn't want to get involved in a war that their king caused by attempting to humiliate their queen and her daughter. Then Bruce will know." She turned her back to Aquaman. "You know what happens to those he feels personally insulted by."

With that, she launched herself up into the air.

Aquaman watched her, feeling a sinking feeling as she disappeared from sight.

He waded back to the shore, and sat down, watching the waves, assessing his miscalculation. Perhaps if he'd been quicker, maybe asked her out.

Still, in all probability, she would soon realise what a mistake she'd made with Wayne, and kick him out of her life. Then he'd start working on her again. That thought cheered him up immensely.

As Arthur got up, and entered the water, he idly wondered what the Janisary was doing at the moment...

***

Later.

Eleven-fourteen pm, Gotham City.

James Gordon, Police Commissioner of Gotham City, publicly credited with holding the city together during the infamous No-Man's Land, and recent widower, got out of the cruiser.

"What's the situation?"

"Some guys from out of town tried to rob the museum ... think they tried to use some of that Metropolis technology."

Gordon seriously considered starting smoking again for the seventh time today. "Guess they didn't read the manual. What kind of weapons are they using?"

A sphere of energy roughly the size of a baseball shot out of a window and hit the cruiser that Gordon was just in. It exploded, sending the vehicle flipping up, then down onto the ground.

Detective Harvey Bullock, Major Crimes, looked cautiously from his position behind a cruiser's front section, watching his boss form an intimate embrace with the blacktop. "Something lifted from the set of Phantom Menace?"

***

The men looked out at the surrounding cops, and grinned. The B13 upgrade worked wonders on a bunch of stuff lifted from a National Guard Armory, turning M-16s into plasma guns, night-vision goggles into full sensor arrays, and a LAW into a shoulder-mounted cannon which would punch through Superman's skin.

Unfortunately, this worked on every other piece of technology in the city, so they decided to move into less advanced territories. Ever since Catwoman had been locked up, people had decided to put stuff that was actually valuable into the Museum.

"I don't know why you pussies are worried ... we can just walk out of here. You get the stuff ready, and we'll shoot our way out."

One of the men turned to where a bunch of once-bulletproof-vests-now-force-field-harnesses were stacked... "Hey, where'd they go..."

The lights went. Grimacing, the leader scrabbled for his goggles ... but somehow, it was too hard to get them on in the dark, and the straps kept getting in the way.

Something snatched them out of his hands.

The others tried to get this ... something that took their goggles and weapons, but it moved too fast, and couldn't be seen.

It stopped, in front of them. A living, moving shadow.

The shadow's blank gaze sweeping over them and their spoils, as they grabbed their plasma rifles.

It grinned.

"You're new here, aren't you?"

Something flew from it's fist, and their rifles were smashed out of their hands.

"Welcome to Gotham."

Then it sprang out, claws outstretched.

***

Gordon perched on top of a cruiser, and looked at his watch.

"Got an appointment, Commish?"

"Hardly, Bullock. I'm just wondering..."

A scream rang out from the museum, and an energy blast rang out.

"...must have been delayed."

The police force got ready, hearing the now familiar screams of terrified criminals. "I heard about a purse snatcher on the other side of town..." stated Bullock, chambering his twelve-gauge.

"Must have been it." Gordon produced his forty-five, and cocked the hammer.

They ran out into the night, terrified. One was bloodied and limping, another was holding his arm at an odd angle.

What made Gordon's heart sink was that who looked like the leader still had one of those fancy Metropolis guns.

The leader looked back at the museum, then at the cops before him. He grinned, raising his rifle at the police...

"Leave him to me!"

Everybody turned to look in the air at this.

Somebody landed in front of the police - a woman in a bright red, blue and gold costume. Holding a metal circular shield.

Wonder Woman strode towards the crew, body language radiating authority. "This is your only warning, you will lay down your weapons and surrender immediately!"

As she expected, they didn't. They never did. Still, it was an unwritten rule to issue at least one warning, like the Miranda Rights.

The one holding the rifle fired, only to be intercepted by the shield that she carried. The metal of the shield was composed of the same material as her bracelets, which made Superman's dermis look like melted butter. However, the shield was a better choice against superheated gases projected within a magnetic bubble, because her bracelets would have protected her wrists, but leave her arms and face covered in third and fourth degree burns.

Before the shooter could think to target her legs, his weapon was snagged by a gold rope, and snatched out of his grasp.

Wonder Woman absently stood on the weapon as she advanced. The smallest of the gang walked towards her, pulling on ... some mechanical gauntlet?

Without ceremony, the individual drew back his ...no her, Diana now noticed her feminine form ... fist, and hit her across the chin.

A bright flash lit up the front of the museum, when everybody's retinas cleared, Wonder Woman had been thrown clear across the street and landed in the front window of a health food store.

The gauntlet had once been a set of brass knuckles, now it was a rudimentary low-powered antimatter generator. Across the knuckles, single anti-particles were contained within low-level magnetic fields. Whenever they came in contact with anything solid, the magnetic fields would blink out, and release a single anti-particle.

Wonder Woman got up, on shaking legs, her jaw sore, several teeth feeling loose, and the copper taste of blood pooled in her lips.

She leapt into the air, and flew towards the celebrating criminals. They found themselves knocked to the ground, with the exception of the female, who somehow had been drop-kicked into the windscreen of a police cruiser.

Wonder Woman wiped the blood from her lip, then hauled up two of the criminals. "I believe you wanted to speak with these gentlemen...?"

The police immediately swarmed over the crew, handcuffing them and leading them to the awaiting cruisers. Wonder Woman walked towards Gordon, shaking his hand. "Commissioner James Gordon?"

"Evidently."

"Dumb bitch..." This comment was being made by one of the thieves, being marched past them. "Her boyfriend's probably got stuff in here ... saving his investments..."

Wonder Woman gave him a bland look before turning back to Gordon. Then her eighty-five pound, solid indestructible-metal shield somehow slipped from her grasp, and landed edge first on the objector's foot.

He gave an agonised howl as she picked up her shield, her face a look of innocence. "Whoops."

"Whoops what?" Stated Gordon. "I didn't see anything."

"Same here."

"Ditto."

"See what?"

The man was hopping, complaining loudly. "Abuse of authority! I can't believe you'd let her do that!"

Bullock pushed his head down, to guide him into the cruiser ... but somehow managed to slam his head into the doorframe instead. "Welcome to Gotham."

***

While the police were securing the crew, Wonder Woman was led by Gordon into a nearby alleyway. "I assume you wanted to say something to me?"

She looked at Gordon, suddenly embarrassed. "It's ... well, it seems I'll be spending more time in Gotham than usual."

"I heard."

"I'm not going to be here all the time, Commissioner, but when I am here, I'm would like to help out. Before I do that, I'd like your official sanction."

Gordon looked at her, and gave an odd smile. "You trash a bunch of hoods that could have wiped out half the force, and you're asking my permission to do more of the same?"

"I take it that's a yes?"

"Hell yes. However, I'm too sure that I'm the one who's approval you should be seeking." He raised his voice. "What do you think?"

The dark voice split the shadows cleanly. "No objections whatsoever." Part of the shadows moved, slightly. "She's a trained warrior. Proved herself over and over again." The shadow grinned. "Also, her reputation would enhance your career rather than drag it down."

"Ever since No-Man's Land, I've gotten three book offers and a security directorship at LexCorp." Retorted Gordon. "Wonder Woman, the GCPD offers it's full public support."

She formally shook his hand. "You won't be disappointed. Batman, I have to discuss a few things...?"

The shadow was moving up the side of a building. Just before she decided to follow, she looked at Gordon. "How did you know he was behind you? I've never been able to catch him."

The Commissioner, possibly the closest thing to a friend that the Batman had, started moving away. "I never have either. Just assume he's there when there's something interesting going on, and you'll rarely be wrong."

Wonder Woman lifted into the air, after the shadow.

***

On the roof, the Batman was waiting for her.

Diana landed on the roof, a few feet away, looking at him.

His voice suddenly took a less grating timbre. "Looks like you impressed the locals."

"Hope so..." she moved her jaw around experimentally. "I'd hoped for a less violent introduction into Gotham's culture."

"That was a less violent introduction into Gotham's culture." Batman moved over to her, leading her to sit down, then examining her face with the care of a paramedic. "Next time, don't test out new and unusual weaponry on your chin."

"Only when you stop taking on seven armed bandits with only a piece of rope and a nifty cape." She stated.

"Point taken." He finished his examination. "Nothing broken. How does it feel?"

"I got worse when I was a teenager."

"Somehow, it's hard to imagine you as a teenager."

"Imagine a girl, with a single mother, and five thousand younger aunts, with no other boys and girls to play with."

"At least you bypassed the pre-pubescent gender war."

Diana looked at her boyfriend with the fond/exasperated smile that was becoming common whenever she was around him. "That is the first time I have heard the 'boys are icky' phase described so clinically." She raised her hand to her mouth again. "It feels like they've increased to three times their size."

"Cheaper than collagen."

"I can hardly see supermodels lining up to get punched in the face."

"I can see people lining around the block to volunteer."

"Bruce, I was thinking..."

"Go on."

"I'd like one of those cupboards that's empty in your house. To keep a change of clothes, my toothbrush, some weaponry ... stuff like that."

"Of course." He suddenly stopped. "You can keep your weapons in the cave, if you want. It's safer."

"If somebody else is in the house when an emergency is announced?" She pointed out.

"I'll buy a safe then."

"I like that ... someone who isn't afraid to spend his money on my problems."

Batman traced her cheekbones, faintly grinning. "According to half the media, you're only after my money. Better give them something to write about."

"I really like the sound of that." She felt his arms curling around her waist. "And I'd better start fulfilling every carnal urge you've ever had."

"You're half way there..."

Wonder Woman suddenly leaned in, kissing Batman, not giving him a chance to escape ... but at this point he wasn't inclined to try. After a full three minutes, she gently leaned back, looking at his face. "I just realised, we've never did that while wearing full costume."

"What about the first..."

"I had a dress, and you had your mask off. Didn't count."

"Oh ..:" He thought for a moment. "Is there anything else you want to do, while we have our costumes on now..."

"A few things ... but none of them are legal in public."

He grabbed her closer. "My average patrol violates at least seven federal laws every night."

"Did I ever tell you how much I like the way you think...?"

As Wonder Woman moved towards his face, the Batman moved a hand to his ear. "Damn."

"What?" Diana had a sinking feeling.

"The Riddler. Left one of his trademarks where VX gas was stolen." Already he was moving to the edge of the roof. "He'll probably won't set them off, but he's not as experienced with chemicals as Joker or Ivy. Could kill the entire city's population by accident."

Reality intervened again. They were still attached to their 'careers', and whatever time they spent together was dictated by their duties. They didn't have the luxury of knowing that tasks could be delegated or bought off. If they missed a deadline, somebody would die.

"I'll take you there."

Before he could voice an argument, she had hoisted him under the armpits and flew him into the air.

"It's not necessary."

"Yes it is. Besides...Bruce, I think we're at that point where we should talk about certain topics."

"Cohabitation?"

"No ... I still like sleeping alone ... occasionally."

"Meeting each other's friends and family?"

"I'll let you off because of that beating my mother gave you."

"Well ... what then?"

"Have you ever considered some therapy?"

***

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