Fandom: JLU Animated (right after This Little Piggy)
Bruce walked through the door held open by Alfred and stood stock-still, eventually letting his briefcase slip from his fingers and fall to the floor with a thump.
"A rough day at the office, sir?" Alfred picked up the briefcase and helped Bruce off with his coat.
The day had been long and grueling. The quarterly meeting of Wayne Enterprise's board of directors had established a new record, Bruce was certain, with eight hours, twenty-one minutes, and thirteen seconds of endless ramblings and mind-numbing analysis of everything from company futures to the overabundance of paper clips in the Research and Development department. It reminded him vividly of the bi-annual Justice League meeting Clark was so fond of.
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose and grunted his reply, then looked up when Alfred cleared his throat.
"What is it?"
"The Valentine's Day gala? Tonight?"
He sighed. "I don't suppose--"
"Not unless you don't want a brief reprieve from such events."
The annual Valentine's Day charity gala was the biggest social event of the year and an enormous opportunity for Bruce Wayne to be seen in all his foppish glory, thus allowing him at least a month off from Gotham's high society.
Bruce sighed. "Who am I taking?" Alfred was in charge of his social calendar, which meant he'd already secured Bruce's date.
"Your date will be here shortly so I suggest you waste no time in getting ready."
"She's coming here?"
"Yes, sir." Alfred offered no further explanation.
Bruce turned toward the staircase and pulled his tie loose. "Debbie?" He'd been seen with her recently, and she was good for the publicity--the paparazzi loved her, and she did have a movie due to be released soon. It must be Debbie.
But when there was no reply, Bruce turned to find Alfred already gone. "I hate it when he does that," he muttered as he made his way to his room.
Bruce listened to the police scanner programmed into his laptop computer and pulled at his tuxedo tie, already anxious to get the thing loose when Alfred entered the room carrying a box of candy and a dozen red roses.
The night was already abuzz with numerous domestic violence calls, usually heightened this day every year. He had several excuses at the ready to end the evening early. It was going to be a busy night for Batman.
"Your date has arrived, sir. She is in the den." Alfred straightened Bruce's tie and frowned in what Bruce knew to be disapproval, then picked up Bruce's jacket from the chair and held it out for him.
Bruce glanced at the items for his date. "Candy and flowers? A bit old fashioned, wouldn't you say." Bruce winked, which Alfred returned with a don't-you-second-guess-me-look that Bruce knew all too well.
Alfred handed Bruce the candy and roses. "It is unseemly for one to keep one's date waiting, Master Bruce. Even a billionaire playboy such as yourself." This time it was Alfred's turn to wink.
Bruce hung his head in playful defeat as he walked out the bedroom door and to the den.
At the den's door, Bruce took a breath, slumped his shoulders in the look of sheer boredom that personified his alter ego, and plastered on the lazy grin he'd become far too accustomed to of late. He suddenly wondered if there was a better way to hide the fact that he was Batman, something that seemed to cross his mind a lot lately. Bruce knew it was a distraction he would have to deal with--this secret longing for normalcy. It wasn't the first time he'd encountered this particular emotion, but he'd always been able to deal with it--to put things back into perspective. This time would be no different.
He sighed, opened the door to find--"Diana?"
His mouth went suddenly dry, and his voice cracked like he was a teenaged boy, picking up his date for the prom. But he wasn't a boy and this wasn't the prom, although he did seem to have a date with Wonder Woman.
She smiled. "Hello, Bruce."
He was going to kill Alfred.
"What are you doing here?"
"Alfred asked if I would be your date for a Valentine's Day party. He said something about Wonder Woman's presence helping to raise enough publicity for you to actually take a vacation from these things."
"Is that all?"
"No. I think he also thought we'd have a good time together. So here I am."
"Alfred was mistaken." Bruce turned to go.
He was almost to the door when he caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye. She looked, confused…crushed.
He stopped, his hand resting on the door handle. "There are reasons I can't take you tonight. And you know that."
"Let's see if I remember." She raised her hand and it looked as though she was going to count off his reasons on her fingers. "One; dating within the team would cause problems, two; I am a Princess from an island of immortal warriors and you're a rich kid with lots of issues, and three; my personal favorite, your enemies would use someone you loved against you." She sighed. "For the life of me, I've never understood your reasons."
He couldn't afford to get emotionally involved with her. "It's too dangerous."
"You date other women. So why not go out on a date with me? Or maybe you're not as interested in me as I had been led to believe."
"I didn't lead you on."
She frowned. "So are you interested in me or not?"
There was nothing he could say that would get him out of this one, so he said nothing.
She looked away. "It's all right. Really. I thought there might be something between us, but I guess I was wrong."
"That's not true--"
"Then you are interested?"
His hold on the roses tightened, and he pointed them at her. "I didn't say that."
She placed her hands on her hips, and her brows furrowed dangerously. "Then what exactly are you saying?"
"I'm saying this isn't a good idea."
"Alfred seems to think it's a good idea."
"Alfred has delusions regarding my future."
"Alfred wants you to be happy."
"Ergo, the delusions."
She cocked her head to the side, and he couldn't help but notice how cute she was when she looked confused. "You don't want to be happy?"
"Stop putting words in my mouth." Again, the roses were pointed at her, several petals falling to the floor.
He sighed, sat down heavily onto a chair. "This just isn't a good idea, Diana. Leave it at that. Please."
She didn't say anything, just stood there looking like a Greek goddess--a Greek goddess dressed to kill in red, but a Greek goddess nonetheless. He wondered if she realized what that dress did for her--or to him. "Say something."
"I have nothing else to say."
"Go find someone you want to be with tonight, Bruce. It's Valentine's Day, after all. You should spend it with someone you care about." She turned away.
Why didn't she understand? "I never spend this day with someone I care about. Only those I don't."
Her face softened. "You're afraid. Aren't you?"
"I just don't want those I care for used to get to me. It's safer to keep my relationships as shallow as possible."
"What about Alfred and Dick? Not to mention Robin and Batgirl. You care for them."
No one had ever pressed him on this matter before. He should have known Diana would. But he didn't have an explanation--not one she'd understand. He hardly understood, anymore.
She seemed to wait for him to say something, but there wasn't anything more he could say. So he stood, looked at the now demolished flowers, then left her alone.
Bruce sat at his computer, starring blankly at the screen. It had been a slower than usual evening for this particular night and he couldn't seem to get Diana out of his mind. The way she'd looked in that red dress when he'd opened the door, the look on her face when he'd told her their dating wasn't a good idea. It was for the best. But she hadn't understood. No one seemed to understand.
"Was it for the best, Master Bruce?" Alfred always seemed to know what he was thinking.
"Stop wanting a normal life for me, Alfred. I'm not normal. And I haven't been for a while now."
"So you don't have the same needs and wants as the rest of us…normal people?"
"You know that's not what I meant."
"Then why don't you enlighten me? I cannot read your mind, after all."
Bruce smirked. "Can't you?"
"No, I cannot. But I do see that you're not as different from the rest of us as you may think. And I can also see how lonely you've been."
Bruce stiffened. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I beg to differ." Alfred sighed. "And I think you've been having trouble ignoring it since Diana discovered your identity. You're not happy, Bruce."
"Batman doesn't need to be happy to do his job."
"I would counter that Bruce Wayne does."
He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I made sure of that tonight."
He heard Alfred sigh, then felt a firm hand squeeze his shoulder. "Miss Diana seems like the forgiving type to me."
When Bruce turned around, Alfred was already making his way back up to the Manor.
Would she forgive him?
This was the life he'd chosen, and when he'd chosen it, he'd known he'd live it alone. Sure, Alfred had always been there, then Dick came along, and Barbara, Tim…he chuckled. She was right about one thing, he had no excuse for allowing them into his life and not her. For loving them. So why not her, too?
The Watchtower had little activity at three in the morning, for which he was grateful. So he activated her comm. link, signaling an emergency meeting in the smaller conference room usually reserved for the core members of the league. As expected, she arrived within minutes.
She opened the door and stopped in her tracks. He knew the effect of over a hundred lighted candles would take her breath away; at least that was his plan. The two hundred roses were used to tip her over in his favor.
He hid in the shadows and watched her, not willing to move just yet. He could face down the Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, or even the Justice League itself, but she scared the hell out of him.
"You can come out now."
He stepped into view, wearing the tux he'd donned earlier in the evening.
She gestured about the room. "What is this?"
"Is that all?"
He moved closer. "No."
She stood her ground. She was not going to make this easy for him, it seemed. He didn't deserve for it to be easy.
"You were right earlier. It wasn't about the reasons. It was about you."
Her face fell, and he realized she'd gotten the wrong idea, again. It would be so much easier if she could just read his mind. "It's not that I don't care about you. I do."
"You have a strange way of showing it."
"I'm sorry." It came out as a whisper, but she must have heard him because she smiled.
He looked down. "You scare me, Diana."
"With you, I think I could be happy?"
"Being happy is a good thing, Bruce."
He sighed. She definitely wasn't telepathic. "The last time I was happy, everything I ever cared for was taken from me."
Her face softened. "I'm not going anywhere."
"You don't know that."
"Are you going to live your life based on what might or might not happen?"
He grinned shyly. "I have so far."
"And how is it working for you?"
He looked down. "It's not. Especially since you came into my life. Things are becoming almost impossible to ignore anymore."
He shrugged. "Feelings."
This time she moved closer, but stopped at a comfortable distance. "And your feelings are?"
He closed the gap, took her into his arms. "Profound."
She smiled, their lips meeting softly. "You owe me a dance, Mr. Wayne, since we never did make it to the ball."
He took her right hand in his, her left settling naturally onto his shoulder, and they danced to the music of their own making. "Happy Valentine's Day, Princess."