AN: This story's got lots of Batman animated series characters and references (e.g. Veronica, Andrea, Jason Blood). Since it's first-person Batman - who is pretty difficult to write! - feedback will be hecka appreciated.
but something beats within my shirt to prove
he is undead who,living,noone is.
I have never loved you dear as now i love.
- e.e. cummings
"Batman, I need to talk to you."
After the Founder's meeting we just had, I'm out of patience. I would do anything for Clark, but I would never let him run any meeting I'm in. Every irrelevant viewpoint is meticulously examined and debated; each aside is tolerated with a patient and expectant smile. The meeting was about the pre-emptive patrolling of a distant planet with a newly instated leader, but Clark let Flash talk for a good four minutes about the last time he went scuba-diving. He was careful to avoid me, or he would have seen me staring him down. He did catch Wonder Woman's eye, however, and her expression was enough for him to hurry through the rest of the meeting.
It was a waste of my time. I can't be later for patrol than I already am, but I'd be remiss if I don't give Diana five minutes. "That's fine."
Her eyes sweep around us. "In private, please."
I can hear Flash nearby wondering aloud to J'onn why fish go to 'schools', so I reach past her and punch in the access code for the meeting room we had just walked out of and follow her back in.
She looks a little anxious when the doors slide shut behind us. Crosses her arms and leans against the table. "I'm seeing someone from Gotham."
I admit: I've been expecting a conversation about this for a while, especially after last month's mission, which ended with us kissing – again. Wonder Woman and I tend to do that when we think the world is about to end, and situations like that are inevitable in our line of work. I've stopped trying to keep it a secret that I care about her a little more than I care about most of my other teammates, but I've also tried to make it clear that there's nothing between us beyond that. "We're not seeing each other, Diana."
"No, Bruce," she frowns. "Someone else. I've started dating someone who lives in Gotham. I'm telling you this so that you know that I'll be spending some time in your city. Socially."
I'm quiet as I search for a reason to object. "When were you in Gotham?"
"I wasn't," she says quickly, "I met him at one of Audrey's parties in Kasnia, and as it happens, he's from Gotham."
"Who is he?"
She stands up. "I'm afraid you'll have to find out with everyone else. What are your terms?"
In my mind, I'm running down the list of every male socialite in the city, but I can still bring up my fist face-level and hold up one finger for each condition. "You won't enter the city in your Wonder Woman costume. You'll avoid the paparazzi. You won't actively seek out contact with Bruce Wayne or Batman while in Gotham. You won't interfere with my patrol, ever."
"Of course," she nods. She looks relieved, I realize, with a stab of something that feels close to disappointment. "You won't even know I'm there."
- - -
I'm sore to admit that I was distracted during patrol after that. And all day today, the sentence I'm seeing someone from Gotham keeps cropping up in my thoughts. I'm allowed to be curious. Diana and I have a fraught relationship, in that we would trust each other with our lives but not our hearts. And on top of that, she's going to be in my city, and I'm allowed to want to know what's going on my city.
I just don't like that I have to convince myself so adamantly that it's okay to be curious.
I walk into the foyer as I'm adjusting the sleeves on a new sport coat that Alfred recently picked up for me. "I'm ready," I announce.
Alfred's already there waiting for me. "Very good, sir," he nods as he puts on his chauffeur's cap and opens the door. "And may I say that I am pleased to see that for once you aren't struggling to avoid a social commitment."
I grin. "It's Veronica, Alfred. I don't think I've ever missed one of her parties."
"Quite true. Even someone as vapid as Master Brucie must be allowed at least one true friend."
"Great, the butler has a sense of humor," I joke. He winks at me.
Veronica Vreeland is one of the few people among the bevy of Gotham socialites whose company I can stand. And after knowing her for as long as I have, I genuinely like her. Spending time with her will mean that I'll be distracted from what I've been thinking about all day.
Tonight Veronica has promised an "intimate evening with old friends," which really means a noisy bash with at least a hundred people and free reign for the press – it's just how she is, and right now I'm glad that she tends to exaggerate things. Being Ronnie's arm candy for the night under a strobe light of paparazzi flashbulbs should take my mind off of Diana's news.
But when Alfred pulls up at her mansion's front entrance, I see that Ronnie wasn't embellishing the truth this time – it's in fact a dinner for only twenty of her friends, and I'm the last one to arrive.
"You'll never guess who's here!" she shrills when she receives me, only slightly buzzed. I'm unnerved for a split second – what if she means Wonder Woman? But no, Veronica would never be able to keep that kind of news to herself for this long. After dragging me into the living room, she points to a man with a shock of red hair standing alone by the fireplace. "Look!"
It takes me a second to register him as Leif Thompson, Veronica's first fiancé and someone I haven't seen in almost twenty years. Leif recognizes me at once and gives a broad grin. We shake hands like old friends. Even back in those days being friends with Veronica Vreeland meant being friends with me. Once, Andrea and I even went out on a double date with them.
"You haven't changed a bit, Wayne," marvels Leif as Veronica shoves drinks into our hands.
"Right back at you. Are you back in Gotham for good?"
"For good, I think," smiles Leif, "I hope. I've been away long enough."
He has. The Thompsons were one of those prominent captain-of-industry families, and some of their business practices had started to take the heat around the time I left for Japan. By the time I came back to Gotham, things had taken a turn for the worse. One night, an angry horde of Thompson Industries employers stormed the Thompsons' family home and beat Mr. Thompson almost senseless. The Gotham PD had been at the scene, but that was before Jim Gordon had risen in the ranks, and back then they were easily bought off. They did nothing to stop this from happening.
Mr. Thompson died in the hospital a couple of days later from his injuries. His remaining family pressed charges against the protestors and the police, but media coverage against Thompson Industries was so vicious that finding an impartial jury was impossible. Soon after that, they disappeared from Gotham.
Around that time, Andrea had just left and I was at one of the lowest points of my life, so I barely noticed any of this happening. My only connection to the Thompsons was Veronica, who met fiancé number two (soon-to-be husband number one) right after Leif broke up with her, so she recovered quickly. Life went on for all of us.
I know what it's like to have a parent brutally taken away, so I'm glad to see that Leif seems to be doing well, considering the circumstances. I'm about to say something to that effect, but instead I nearly choke on my seltzer because I see Diana.
She walks into the room clearly searching for someone, and when she sees me stops in her tracks. We gape at each other for a good second before Leif follows my line of sight and waves her over.
Wordlessly, she joins us. Leif greets her by putting his hand low on her back and turns to me. "Bruce, I'd like you to meet Princess Diana of Themyscira."
Sometimes, when patrols are slow, I wonder what Bruce Wayne would say to Wonder Woman if he ever met her again in public. Now I'm relieved that I'm already prepared, because right now I'm angry with myself for not expecting this tonight.
"Of course! Wonder Woman!" I almost fall over myself in full Brucie mode and stick my hand out. "I'm Bruce Wayne! We danced together in Paris a couple of years ago. You probably don't remember." I give her a smile that usually makes half of the women in the city want to rip off their clothes and fall at my feet, but it had no such effect on Diana. Damn. She only looks mildly confused.
Yet without missing a beat, she shakes my hand politely. "Yes, I remember," she pretends to muse, "It was the night that the Kasnian special operatives decided to crash the party."
"You know, we never did get to finish our dance," I murmur suggestively.
It's a low blow. But I don't like the feeling that she's more in control of the conversation than I am. Understandably, given our history, Diana glares daggers at me.
"Whoa, whoa," giggles Veronica, "Easy there, tiger. You'll have to excuse him, Wonder Woman," she explains, "Bruce has a reputation for being a bit of a slut." She slaps her hand against her mouth. "Whoops! Am I allowed to say 'slut' in front of an Amazon?"
Diana smiles graciously. "I'm sure that Mr. Wayne is just very charming."
Of course the universe likes to conspire against my plans when it comes to her. I came to Veronica's to forget about Diana. And yet here she is, standing across from me in front of the fireplace. Eating across from me at the dinner table. Sitting across from me during Veronica's impromptu poker game.
I've hardly ever seen her without her armor on; tonight she has hair pulled back and she's wearing a black smocked dress that hints at nothing that's underneath. I can't remember seeing anyone looking so radiant in such simplicity. Can't stop stealing thoughtful glances at her.
It must have been another Diana who told me a few years ago (after Paris) that she was intensely curious to see what I was like when I was playing socialite; tonight she has her chance, but she's too occupied with Leif to look at me as much as I'm looking at her. They're sharing cards as it's Diana's first time playing poker, and whenever he reaches around her to guide her hand, her eyes shine. At one point, he rests his chin on her shoulder as he studies her cards and she tries to hide a smile, but I can tell that she's delighted.
I look over at my partner. Veronica, in the company of good friends and fresh from divorcing husband number five, is incontrovertibly drunk. Her legs are hanging from my lap and she's slumped against my shoulder, looking up only to laugh heartily at minutiae in the conversation around the table.
About an hour into the game, Leif quietly concedes defeat. "We fold." He and Diana excuse themselves and begin the process of see-you-soons, and I finally catch her eye. Something in hers flickers when she sees me, but she gives me a quick nod before she turns to take Leif's hand.
"We're going to see them everywhere," Veronica professes to me as she watches them leave. She insisted that she was sober enough to see them out the door, and now she's steadying herself on my arm.
"I didn't realize that drinking your weight in rum and diet coke made you clairvoyant, Ronnie."
"It doesn't," she says with perfect seriousness. "But Leif Thompson is doing very well for himself, and he wants to get back into the Gotham social scene after being away for so long. And having a sexy, famous girlfriend won't hurt matters any."
"You think he's using her?" I pretend to sound aghast.
"Ehh, no, he seems to genuinely like her. He's not a bad person." Veronica becomes quiet. "Do you think my life would have been better if I had married Leif? What if I had it right my very first time? What if he was—" she gives a dramatic pause – "the one?"
"You'll find true love yet, Veronica Vreeland," I assure her as I pat her hand.
"If only you weren't like a brother, Bruce. A promiscuous, boring brother," she amends, and winks fondly at me. "I'll see you this Friday at Paul Champe's fundraiser?"
"You know me, Veronica. I never miss a good party." It's strange, but this time I actually mean it.
- - -
And so begins a whirlwind of parties. Bruce Wayne attends almost every one of them. So does Leif Thompson, joined at times by his girlfriend, Wonder Woman.
Sometimes, I only catch brief glimpses of her through the throngs of partygoers. Other times, I'm part of the small group that she and Leif are mingling with at the time. And there are some times when I spend all night looking for her – even at the expense at starting patrol late – only to find that she isn't there at all.
Diana is in my city. I have the right and responsibility to know what meta-powered superheroes are doing in my city. I can't tell what Alfred thinks about all of this. Not sure I want to find out yet. Tim and Barbara, on the other hand, enjoy toeing around the subject of my suddenly more active social life. Barbara has taken to now greeting me over the comm. link with: "Hey, are you free to fight social evils or are you too busy creating them?"
Tim is a little less direct. This morning at breakfast he spilled his juice on the Gotham Gazette society page and cried out, "Now how the heck am I going to find out how many blonds Brucie went home with last night?"
They can have fun for now, because they scare easily. As long as Dick doesn't join in.
Diana only comes to events in Gotham that aren't overrun with the media, which means that she hardly comes to fundraisers. When she shows up at a cocktail party, even then she stands in a corner with Leif and a few others, hardly drawing attention to herself.
After just a couple of weeks, the social elite of Gotham accepts her as an only slightly remarkable fixture at their gatherings. As a well-behaved member of the Justice League, she garners less attention than a "real" celebrity (or even Bruce Wayne, for that matter).
Now I hardly see her at the Watchtower unless J'onn sends us on a case together. We used to always run into each other up there (and I'm sure that much of it was premeditated). It's different even on missions; when I see her I think of her in some pretty dress laughing along with Leif. I think of how frustrating it is for me to see her in Gotham but not having a valid enough reason to keep her out of it. I know I'm more sullen than usual, and she responds by pretending not to notice.
I come home from a garden party one night (she wasn't there) and instead of heading straight for the cave, I go to the living room. Tim's unfinished homework is scattered on the ground. The television remote is on top of his algebra book. I pick it up and sit on the couch, but I don't turn on the TV.
"Master Bruce?" asks Alfred after some time.
"About a year ago, Diana approached the subject of having a relationship with me," I say before I've finished deliberating whether saying it aloud is a good idea, "I told her that an immortal warrior princess and a troubled rich kid could never make it work. And now…"
"Now she happens to be with another 'troubled rich kid,' and you're realizing that your objections aren't as well-founded as you initially thought."
I look at him. Alfred doesn't judge me, not through words anyway. Why would he, when I can read his eyes perfectly well? "Gotham is my responsibility. That means knowing what meta-powered humans are doing here."
"But this isn't just any meta, sir," says Alfred with a hint of pursed mouth, "This is Miss Diana. She is respecting your boundaries, so perhaps your time would be better spent finding crime on the streets rather than trying to find nonexistent transgressions in her behavior."
He sees right through my excuse, not that it's a particularly good one. But that's what it is – an excuse. When I saw her at Veronica's that night, I realized something, and every night since then, I've been trying to convince myself otherwise. I decide to tell Alfred. "Diana and I could have dated. It would have been easy. Easier than I thought."
Alfred puts his hand on my shoulder, though he says nothing.
"But it's too late now." Tim will already be waiting for me on patrol. I get up and head to the cave for the night.
To be continued.