Spoilers from BOP 90 and JLA 84 and 88.
Thank you, Djinn, for the beta and your gentle insistance that I not stop in the middle of this story.
You watch Dinah as Barbara fills her in on the case and try to pretend her presence doesn't affect you.
But it does.
She questions Barbara about logistics, and you watch her lips as she speaks. And you remember when those lips touched yours.
The kiss was her way of showing gratitude for your words of praise to Huntress. She was proud of you. And now her respect is suddenly important.
She's suddenly important.
But if you're honest with yourself, maybe it's not so suddenly.
There was another time. Another kiss when your loneliness drew you to her. When she doubted Ollie's heart.
She chose him over you then, and you convinced yourself that you never loved her.
Then she kissed you again.
Now you find yourself making excuses to see her. You know Barbara must suspect, but she hasn't said anything. Yet. But you know she will. She's always protected those closest to her. This time will be no different.
Dinah looks at you with a frown. "Why am I here?" She knows you can handle this case alone.
"I need your help."
You try your hand at humor. "It's been known to happen."
"Oh yeah? When?" She places her hands on her hips, and you realize she's not kidding. She wants an answer.
But you can't give her one.
She grins like she knows your secret. "Don't worry, Bruce. I'm in."
You see Barbara grin.
Then you remember Gotham and the tug of war she plays with anyone
who dares get in her way. Ollie played Dinah's heart against other
women. You will play her against an entire city.
So you decide to try and forget the kiss.
No promises have been made. No soft murmurings of love ever spoken.
Your destiny doesn't lie with her--just this city. And you will continue
to honor a promise made long ago. The guilt of surviving that hangs
around your neck like an anchor ready to be cast into the open sea will
make certain of that.
But then you touch your lips and remember. Damn.
Dinah opens the window of Oracle's lair, ready to jump into the night. "We ready to go?"
"Batman will meet you there, Dinah. We have some unfinished business to discuss."
Dinah arches a brow, obviously curious, but only nods, then turns to you. "See ya there, Bats."
When Dinah is gone, you turn to Barbara and wait. She wheels her chair in front of you, and you brace yourself for the inevitable.
She straightens, looks you in the eye. "Don't mess this up, Bruce."
"You have nothing to worry about." You won't take the chance of messing this up.
"You're giving up, aren't you? Before you even test the waters to see if there's something between you, you're giving up."
"I'm considering myself warned."
"I'm not trying to warn you." She sighs. "It's not just her I'm worried about. You deserve to be happy. But for some unknown reason, you won't allow it." She bows her head. "Okay, maybe I know your reasons. Even understand them. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try."
You've never been good at heart-to-heart talks. This time is no different. But you try.
You take off your cowl and kneel to look her in the eye. "What about you? Don't you deserve to be happy?" She's turned away from happiness, too. From the man who would make her happy if she'd let him.
"Like I said, I understand."
"But it doesn't make it any easier."
"No. It doesn't. All we manage to do is hurt the ones we love the most as well as ourselves. But I'm trying to change that. Dick and I are trying together. I don't see you trying anymore."
You turn away, ready to make your escape out the window. But something inside you makes you stay. You know she's right. You stopped trying a long time ago, and you're not sure why. You just know that you've been alone since the night your parents were killed, and there's some comfort in the familiar.
She rolls closer to you and takes your hand. "Don't throw away something that's potentially wonderful because you're afraid. It's not who you are. It's what was created by one event. Don't let the bad guy win, Bruce."
You close your eyes and whisper, "It's all I know."
"No, it's not. You've let some of us in. Just no one who you could share your heart with--your life with."
You turn back to the window and prepare to leave.
"She cares for your, Bruce. I want you to know that."
You shoot the line that takes you into the Gotham night, Barbara's words echoing in your mind as you make your way to where Dinah waits for you. And in what seems like an instant, you're there, hiding in the shadows, watching her fidget on the rooftop, obviously impatient for your arrival. You've always known she wasn't made for lengthy surveillance jobs. The thought makes you smile, then you remember why she is here in the first place, and you wonder what the hell you're going to do next.
But when she pauses to look up into the clear night sky, the moonlight surrounding her in its cascade, your breath catches at the sight, and without thinking, you're moving toward her. You reach out and touch her arm, and when she turns to face you, you pull her close.
You kiss her and she responds and suddenly you don't feel so alone. So lonely.
The thought makes you push her away.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
You turn around and speak over your shoulder, unwilling--unable--to face her. "Go home, Canary."
You move to the edge of the rooftop, ready to make your escape, but her silence makes you hesitate. You realize you're waiting for her rebuff, but there is none. You turn slightly and see her standing, arms folded as if she doesn't believe that you will run away. Doesn't believe that you will break her heart.
"Say something." Your voice is low and rough. Why won't she let you leave?
You remove your cowl and turn to her. She deserves to see your face for this. "This was a mistake."
She takes one step toward you. "Was it?"
Another step. "You sure?"
"Dinah. It's for the best. I won't make you happy."
"Because Gotham will always come first."
Another step. "Maybe I have some things I'll put first, too."
You say nothing and she takes one last step, standing directly in front of you. "We both have jobs to do, Bruce."
"Our jobs can cost lives if we're distracted."
"If you don't allow a few distractions in your life, you won't be any good in this job." She touches your face. "It's all right to be afraid. Just don't let your fear make you run from something that could be special."
You touch her hand on your face and look into her eyes. You are afraid and you can't seem to turn away, but you don't move forward, either.
It's your move, and she waits for you to make it.
And suddenly without thinking you move. Forward. Wrapping your arms around her, drawing her close to you. And suddenly everything is clear. Nothing has ever been so clear. Not for a long time.
"I'm bound to screw this up," you whisper, warning her. Giving her one last chance before you're unable to turn away from her.
"And I'm bound to kick your ass when you do."
You know she's serious, and the thought makes you grin. "I don't doubt it."
You kiss her again.