Justice League Cardinal Sins 7

Note: This is the fifth part of an ongoing series. The preceding installments are Justice League New Beginnings: DCAU Series Part 1; Justice League Second Strike: DCAU Series part 2; Justice League Past Imperfect: DCAU Series Part 3; Justice League Nuptials: DCAU Series Part 4. Events and personal developments from these installments will be referenced with little warning or back story given. If Part 5 raises any questions, I suggest you read the previous stories or private message me and I'll do my best to explain.

Additional Note: Reviewers will join the Justice League Auxiliary. Such members will assist the League as support personnel. They will also be privy to background information.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Justice League concepts, actualization, characters, or depictions thereof (such as the DCAU). All such intellectual and actual rights are properties of DC Comics and Warner Bros Animation which are both owned by Time Warner. I'm not making any money off of this. Hopefully I'm entertaining a few folks but that's it! Do not sue me!

Barbara Gordon descended the stairs into the Bat Cave. Bruce Wayne stood alone in its stygian depths. He silently stared at the Robin costume hanging in the display case. It was a spare, not the one worn by Tim Drake when the Joker and Harley Quinn had kidnapped him.

The Joker, utilizing the same conditioning techniques that he'd used on Commissioner Gordon but with even more time to cement the brainwashing, turned Robin into his ersatz "son." The Joker had even pitted Tim against Batman and Batgirl. He'd eventually broken the conditioning and killed the Joker rather than Batman but the damage had been done.

Leslie Thompkins stepped in to help ease Tim back into a normalized life. This would include foster parents. Bruce would cover all of the expenses. Tim was his ward and he would want for nothing. Nothing except Bruce's company.

"How long are you going to hide down here?" Barbara demanded, "You only go out to be Batman. Bruce Wayne has a life too. He has a wife or have you forgotten that?"

"I haven't forgotten but I have to go out." Bruce replied with conviction, "There are other children out there."

"Bruce, the Joker and Harley are dead. They can't torture any more children. Come out of the cave." She pleaded.

Bruce nodded and he escorted her out of the cave. Only, his heart and his mind stayed within its confines. He thought he was fooling Barbara but she knew him too well and it broke her heart.

Further up the coast Dick Grayson was enjoying a bountiful lunch with Ulla Paske. Both had hidden identities but neither one knew of the other's secret. Dick had been the first Robin and now he'd graduated into his own identity as Nightwing. Ulla was the former Danish superhero known as the Little Mermaid. Now she was a member of the Legion of Doom.

Originally she'd been a member of the Global Guardians. When the UN had shut down the Guardians in favor of granting their mandate to the Justice League, several of them had visited Bailya in search of a job. Bailya's Crimson Queen had employed them in her Meta-human Guard. She'd encouraged all of the remaining Guardians to hear her offer. Everyone that attended was recruited.

Later, at the Queen's behest they all joined the Legion of Doom. The Wild Huntsman had alluded to the fact that they served as a result of brainwashing. The counter argument was that they acted naturally and independently. Ulla was a perfect example.

She'd been a university student for four months now. She'd arranged bumping into Dick in the library and she'd immediately enticed him. With every passing day she was wrapping him tighter around her finger. The problem was that she was beginning to regret what she had to do to him.

Her relatively young age made her more idealistic than most. Still a teenager on the cusp of her twentieth birthday, Ulla still believed in defending life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. The Legion didn't stand for any of these things. She often reconsidered her decision to join but in the end she always inexplicably remained with the team.

She sat gazing out at the ocean. Dick had quickly picked up her affinity for the sea and frequently brought her to beautiful places to be near the water. She'd had to lie and say she couldn't swim in order to avoid having him take her into the water.

In the water, her legs became a fish tail with fins. Gill slits opened up in her neck and her half-Atlantean heritage was revealed for all to see. Her father had been a Danish lighthouse keeper and her mother was from Atlantis.

Because of her dual heritage, Ulla could only breathe water for a maximum of thirty hours and then she'd drown. She possessed a typical Atlantean's comparable "super" strength. She also had a limited sense of sonar. Above the water she could fly but rarely did so. The ability to fly was a mutation derived from her interspecies origins.

"I'd love to know what you're thinking about when you look at the ocean." Dick admitted, "You get this faraway look as though you belong there. Pretty crazy for a girl that can't swim."

"Maybe I do belong there…and here. Maybe I'm a child of two worlds. Never quite fitting into either but always wandering about looking for a place to call her own." Ulla replied. She saw Dick's reaction and she waved the thought aside, "Never mind me. Like you said, I'm crazy."

"It could be that you're from Denmark living in the States." Dick suggested even though he could tell that it went deeper than that.

"Sure." She flippantly agreed, "That's as good a reason as any."

"Ooo-kay." Dick desperately wanted to change the subject, "Since we're both done how about we take my bike and ride up to Wayne Manor? It's got an incredible view and a walking path that takes you down to a private beach and a rock alcove with a blowhole."

Despite her melancholy reservations the offer sounded too good to let go of, "All right. I'm game."

"All right!" Dick's enthusiasm was infectious and she hated what was going to happen later that night.

Back at the manor Bruce and Barbara were having another fight.

"Blast it Bruce!" Barbara yelled, "It isn't your fault. It was the Joker's fault and he paid the ultimate penalty. Let it go!"

"I put Tim in that costume." Bruce replied in measured tones, "I made him a target."

"I know what happened." Barbara snapped back, "I was there, remember? Tim begged you to let him be Robin. It was the greatest thrill of his life. He was more alive and freer as Robin than he was as Tim Drake."

"He didn't know what was good for him." Bruce countered, "I should have seen this coming. I just thought I'd always be able to protect him."

"You're an insufferable ass! Do you realize that? You want to horde all the grief and pain and wear it like a martyr." Barbara accused, "I love that kid and it's tearing me up inside to see him go through this but you know what? At least I see him! You sit in that cave blaming yourself and berating every decision you've ever made while that boy needs you. He needs Bruce Wayne not Batman. Do you think you could do that for him?"

Bruce was a silent statue. Barbara shook her head, "I'm going to leave before I say something I'll regret later. If you want me, I'll be at Leslie's. If you need me after that, I'll be in my townhouse. I knew there was a reason why I kept it."

With that said, she went out the front door. Bruce pondered her words but he realized that they were just fluff and nonsense. He was coping the best way he knew how. Tim didn't want to see him. He was the last person that Tim would ever want to see again.

Bruce went to the wall sized window that looked out at the eastern face. Dick was out there with a young, blonde woman. He assumed that this was Ulla Paske. Dick had said a lot about her over the last four months but he'd never brought her around. Bruce couldn't say much for Dick's timing.

Ulla turned and faced the house. She saw Bruce in the window and waved. Bruce's blood ran cold. He knew that face and it spelled potential trouble.

"Master Bruce…?" Alfred stopped in mid-sentence as Bruce ran for the clock door, "What's wrong?"

"Maybe everything." Bruce answered as he went through the entrance. He ran down the stairs and reached the sprawling computer that the cave housed. He pulled up the manor's digital security records of the last half hour. Ulla Paske was prominently displayed as Dick took her around the house to the sea wall.

Bruce isolated the shot where she waved at him. He cut her face and pasted it to the ID register. Next he began a search for corresponding people. The computer scored a hit within minutes. Dick's Ulla Paske was the Little Mermaid. There was no doubt about it.

The Wild Huntsman had accused the Mermaid of joining the Legion of Doom. However they Justice League had no confirmation of that. Amazo had been the one to pick up the Huntsman and his animals. The android had immediately detected the tracers and microbugs planted on them. He'd subsequently destroyed them all.

The Huntsman had also alluded to the fact that the Australian hero, the Tasmanian Devil, was one of three Global Guardians who hadn't joined the Legion. The other two were Fire and Ice. They were members of the League.

Another, Manticore, had died under mysterious circumstances. The African had been summoned to the Middle East to assist other former Guardians and he died "in action." The problem was that no one knew who or what the menace was or how Manticore died. Even his autopsy had been inconclusive.

If the Huntsman had been accurate then the Little Mermaid was a Legionnaire and she'd expressed an interest in his ward and costumed partner. Whether that interest was personal or professional would be the crux of the matter. Now, he just had to find a way to alert Dick without arousing the younger man's ire.

An hour and a half later Dick and Ulla climbed up from the beach. They were windblown and obviously had had a good time. Bruce went outside to invite them in for something warm. He could tell that Dick was suspicious but he went along with it for Ulla's sake. Little did he realize that Ulla could easily survive in temperatures that would plunge him into hypothermia.

Once inside Dick made the obligatory introductions. He was surprised by Bruce. Bruce was subdued but he was acting fairly normal. Or at least as normal as Bruce got.

They made small talk for half an hour. Ulla described her studies and how much she was enjoying the States. Bruce described corporate life and its pitfalls. Dick revealed that he was considering studying abroad.

Bruce knew that meant moving away from Gotham and working with the Justice League full time. Dick was starting regret having returned to Batman's periphery. Bruce regretted that. Dick and Tim had proven themselves beyond a shadow of a doubt when the Legion had laid siege to Gotham. The thought of Tim tore him apart all over again.

"Forgive me Ulla, but I need to borrow Dick for a moment." Bruce suddenly said.

Ulla was startled but she quickly recovered, "Of course."

"Can I get you anything else, miss?" Alfred was immediately at her side.

"Do you have any purified water?" she asked.

"But of course." Alfred smiled. He quickly bustled off and brought her a glass of water.

"Thank you." She said as she accepted it.

"My pleasure, ma'am." Alfred replied as he gathered up the abandoned cups and plates.

In the kitchen Bruce showed Dick the printout of the two photos side by side. He'd used the full torso shot of Ulla and a corresponding news clipping of the Little Mermaid. Dick was indifferent.

"So she's wearing a mask. We do it all of the time." He said dismissively, "It was probably some costume party."

"The news clipping is of the Little Mermaid. She's a Danish superhero. At least she was a hero." Bruce explained, "She was a Global Guardian. We know what happened to most of the Guardians."

"Let's just say Ulla is this Little Mermaid," Dick countered, "what kind of proof do you have that she means me harm?"

"I don't have any." Bruce admitted, "I just want you to know what you could be getting into."

"I think you're so torn up with self recriminations and grief you just can't stand to see anyone else that's happy." Dick retorted. With that, he stormed out of the kitchen.

He'd calmed himself by the time he reached the parlor. Ulla sat there waiting for him. Bruce followed at a slower pace.

Alfred returned to the room as Dick asked Ulla if she was ready to go. She took one last drink of her water and then rose and took Dick's hand. She said cheerful farewells to Alfred and Bruce. Bruce watched them mount Dick's motorcycle. She wrapped her arms around Dick and they rocketed off.

Alfred inquired as to what was wrong. Bruce showed his butler and confidant the photos and explained their significance. Alfred was alarmed but only to a degree.

"I'm sure that Master Dick has his head on straight." He said, "The young lady is quite charming. If she is this Little Mermaid person wouldn't it be reasonable that she would have already struck if she had a diabolical plan?"

"Depends upon the plan." Bruce opined, "I'll check on him later tonight when I go out."

"Very good, sir." Alfred said and then put away Ulla's glass.

Later that evening, before Batman arrived, Dick joined Ulla at her apartment. He'd brought roses but no chocolates. She hated chocolate. She did, however, adore anchovies. So he brought a basket full of the canned fish. It was a gesture made half in jest and half seriously.

Ulla opened the door and she was surprised, "Dick! You're early!"

He could have sworn he heard shuffling feet after she said that. He dismissed it. Ulla lived alone. She also lived well for a student.

Dick could have lived a luxurious life during college but he'd chosen to live in the dorms to learn the "common touch." Ulla apparently had no such compunctions. She'd told him about her father being a lighthouse keeper. She hadn't said much about her mother though. Maybe she had serious money and that allowed Ulla to live the way that she did.

"These are for you." Dick offered his gifts.

"Oh, really?" She accepted the flowers and the basket. Leading him into the kitchen she immediately clipped the roses' stems and put them in water. She shifted the tissue wrapping in the basket and she saw the anchovies. She laughed with delight, "How thoughtful."

She kissed him on the cheek and he held her close and he kissed her on the mouth. The kiss grew hungry and it took over a minute for them to separate. Dick grinned, "I should have done that a couple of months ago."

Ulla was blushing, "Oh Dick, you shouldn't have."

"You seemed to enjoy it at the time." He pointed out.

"I did!" she exclaimed, "It's just complicated."

"Trust me, I know about complicated." He sighed, "With a little faith and a lot of effort it can work out."

"I doubt it." She said miserably.

Dick hesitated, "Is this because you're the Little Mermaid?"

She gaped, "You know?"

"Bruce recognized you from old newspaper clippings." Dick confessed, "He's an amateur detective. It makes him a good corporate type."

Ulla tapped her watch and the dial face lit up, "I'm so sorry."

"For what?" he asked.

"For this!" she reached out faster than a human could and took hold of his shirt. She lifted him off of his feet, "All right gentlemen. He's ready."

The door opened behind Dick and Killer Croc entered in. Bane came in through the kitchen's other entrance. Dick's only chance was to kick free from Ulla but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He was falling in love with her and even in this situation he still had hope.

Croc got him in a murderous hold and they all went to the roof. Ulla activated a boom tube and the fateful trio carried Dick into it. For the first time he was grateful that he didn't wear his costume under his civvies like some of the other JLers. The Legion's plans for him would turn murderous if they knew his alter ego.

As things stood, they were probably taking him to Bailya. That meant that he'd be out of the League's jurisdiction and he'd be on his own. Or maybe not…there was a chance that he could talk Ulla into helping him. It was his lifeline hope and he had to make that wish come true.