A/N: It's been a loooooong wait! I apologize for the lag. I've seen all the reviews and messages about this story and they have keep me motivated to continue hopefully this will be worth the wait! Thank you for all the support!
"It's really not that strange…"
"Sure it is, you just don't see it. You, me, here… together…?"
"Well anything is strange if you say it like that. 'Pizza, sauce, Pepperoni… together…?' See?" Despite his protest, Dick does see Barbara's point. They managed eventually to develop a friendship after their romantic entanglement, but it was a friendship based on them never being alone together. Especially not out of uniform.
"Nice try, Grayson, but you know I'm right." Barbara sits back and sips the herbal tea Alfred made her. Barbara has been recovering from her encounter with Deadshot and Killer Croc and Dick has been at her side since. The Titans' were on their way to their HQ when Nightwing intercepted them and brought her back to the Batcave. After tending to her injuries, something she could have and has done herself, he set her up in one of the spare rooms. Now he supplanted Alfred in the kitchen and was making her breakfast. Of course she refused to stay in bed and be waited on, so she staked out a spot on the couch in the seldom used living room. "You don't really need to stay… I mean… Alfred's here… and really I'm just a little nicked up…"
"You really know how to make a guy welcome Babs!" Dick says laughing, from the kitchen. He'd seen her hurt before, it was an occupational hazard, but given all that has been going on recently, he was concerned about her. Things were escalating and if what happened to Diana wasn't proof of that, Arkham certainly was.
"Don't be a jerk, Dick!" Barbara protests. It always infuriated her when he pretended to be ignorant. He was one of the most insightful men she knew, so she knew he realized how awkward this would be for her. "You know what happened the last time you and I were alone in Wayne Manor…"
"I know Bruce wouldn't look me in the eye for a month after he walked in on us…" Dick walks in with a veggie omelet on a plate and hands it to her. After sitting next to her carefully, he takes a sip of some of Bruce's Peruvian blend. "But I get it okay? I don't plan on staying here all day; I've still got some leads I have to follow up on from the Arkham fallout..."
-Iron Heights Prison, earlier-
With Arkham destroyed, Iron Heights and Blackgate were the last two places equipped to house the escapees. Strangely enough, not every prisoner at Arkham fled the scene.
"I would have thought that I would be spending most of the night hunting you down, Ivy."
"Something I'm sure you would have enjoyed," Ivy muses, crossing her legs gracefully. She was one of the few that didn't immediately run for the hills once her cell was opened. In fact she sat calmly on her bed waiting for Gotham PD to arrive. Once they did, they were surprised to see her and even more surprised at how little resistance she put up.
"It makes sense though, that you didn't run I mean…" Nightwing offers standing in front of the villain with his arms folded. When Gordon radioed Batman that Ivy was among those recovered by Gotham's finest, both men were intrigued. But Batman knew Ivy was unlikely to cooperate with him, given their history. Nightwing however, always had a more amicable relationship with the former botanist. As amicable as one could be with the criminally insane, that is.
"Do tell," Ivy smiles leaning forward in her shackles, causing the guard to stiffen in anticipation. "Thrill me with your acumen."
Nightwing returns her smile, and turns to the guard."Give us a moment, Hal?"
Hal had been working here long enough that when one of the men in tights made a request it was best to just comply. Despite how he may have felt leaving the two of them alone; he leaves the room with a nod and positions himself outside.
"Don't get my hopes up, Nightwing, I don't like to be teased…" Ivy flirts licking her lips. Batman and the man before her had been the only men with the strength to resist her manipulations. It both infuriated and enticed her.
"You prefer to do the teasing?" He posed it as a question, but it was a statement of fact. In some of his weaker moments Ivy had managed to pop up in some very explicit dreams of his youth. "But to my point; you know what all of this is about. It's why you didn't bother trying to escape with the others."
"Oh?" Ivy smirks, wondering just what he knew.
"You've always had your own agenda." Dick continues. "You only partnered up with Joker to begin with to get access to his resources. You knew that whoever was backing his play was someone who had aspirations beyond robbing banks." The ingenuity of hiring Hiro to develop the duplicates, the complicated heists, Joker was a pawn in this, nothing more.
"That much is obvious, but go on." Ivy leans back in her seat waiting. It was Harley, not Joker that approached her with the prospect of escape. Had it been otherwise, Ivy would have likely refused.
"The Charity Ball was your trial run. You wanted to come up with a formula stronger than just persuasion. You wanted people to retain their free will but be forced to comply. And Ares and Lyta stepped right in with the answer didn't they? The results were better than you hoped, so you robbed Wayne Pharmaceuticals for materials to mass produce your concoction."
"Concoction is such an ugly term…" She spat, insulted. The formula was the most incredibly complicated serum she had ever created. She couldn't be more proud of the accomplishment then if it were her own child. Because, unlike offspring, this would be everything she hoped it would and more. Ares may have shown her the way, but she was the one who made the formula a reality.
Ignoring her protest, he continues. "You knew that whole incident would be forgotten given the fallout of what came next. For Joker, it was chaos for the sake of being chaotic; he doesn't need a reason to hurt, just opportunity. But you, you've never been about hurting people, have you Ivy?"
That simple truth shook her for a moment. She hated being involved in any way with Joker, especially given his treatment of Harley. "… are you going to be arriving at a point sometime soon?"
"You used Joker and his benefactors long enough to complete your own designs. You didn't expect Batman and Talia to catch up to you so quickly, but you planned for that. You could afford to be captured again. Of course the explosion was problematic for you. You couldn't leave all your work behind in the Arkham evidence lockup and no one was going to help you carry it out of there. You weighed your options and decided that wherever they took you, they were bound to take all the evidence with them."
"You're making me out to be some sort of diabolical mastermind…" Ivy chuckles.
"Mastermind? No. But you are an opportunist. With the city's law enforcement struggling to keep Gotham from devouring itself, you could take your time figuring out who the bent screws are around here and experience has taught you there was always more than one. A couple of guards who'd salivate at the prospect of making a few extra dollars would suit your purposes. Once you got out with your serum, found yourself a solid delivery system, like say Metropolis, you would be sitting pretty. Well I should say you would've been until thirty minutes ago…" The smile quickly fades from Ivy's face and Dick chuckles softly. "Yeah, the second I checked in, I had them destroy it."
Ivy lunges against her shackles, disappointed that Nightwing doesn't flinch.
"I guess the model prisoner act is done now?" Nightwing states firmly pushing Ivy back into her seat. "So let's talk deal."
"Deal?" Ivy snarls turning away from him. "There's nothing you can offer me and there's no way in hell I'll help you!" She couldn't believe that it was gone.
"Yeah, well… you say that…"
-Wayne Manor, now-
"Need some back up?" Barbara asks enthusiastically, sitting up quickly and covering the grimace on her face with a mouthful of food. It doesn't go unnoticed by Dick.
"Yes I do." Nightwing stands up, kissing her on the forehead tenderly. "That's why Huntress is gonna back me up."
"Back it up on you, is more like it…" Barbara mutters. The Gotham Gazette did a feature on the vigilante pair, showing exclusive photos of their "crime-fighting" exploits. Black Canary even showed her a YouTube video of the two of them that was just barely legal.
"If I didn't know any better- and for the record I do know better- I'd say you sound a little jealous…" Dick smirks before catching a couch pillow in the face for his trouble. She groans with the effort, pulling on her obviously sore ribs.
"If I determine that you are undermining Miss Gordon's recovery, you will be leaving sooner rather than later." Alfred has spent the better part of the last decade, caring for and patching up the residents of this home so he takes his duties very seriously.
"Come on Alfred!" Dick groans. "She's the one who threw the pillow in the first place!"
"Provoked by you, no doubt… Now, didn't you mention you had some leads to follow up on? Perhaps some time on the Cave computers will yield more positive results?" Dick knew Alfred well enough to know that this wasn't a suggestion, it was a demand.
"You know," Dick finishes off his coffee. "If you guys aren't careful, you're gonna lose me…" He knew that Barbara was in good hands, but seeing her like this was stirring up some old feelings. He supposed it would always be that way between them.
"Promise?" Barbara teases. She felt a mixture of relief and disappointment that he was leaving. She knew that nothing would ever happen between them again, but that didn't stop her from thinking about it from time to time.
"I'm gonna head down to the cave, not because you say so Alfred, but because I do have some work to do…" Dick turns towards the clock in the center of the room and activates the switch to the cave. "Seriously though, Babs, if you need anything…"
"Yes! Will you go already?" Once Dick leaves, Barbara finds Alfred staring at her with a smile. "What?"
"It warms my heart to see him so concerned and to see you being the object of his concern." Alfred had been around for both the beginnings of their romantic relationship and the end. The end had been painfully awkward and was one of the factors that lead Dick to leaving and taking up residence in Bludhaven. To see them on such good terms now was encouraging.
"So you're saying I should get hurt more often…?" Barbara teases as she takes a bite of her omelet. Dick was a lot of things, but a good cook he was not. Alfred winks at her before taking the plate away and replacing it with a breakfast he'd prepared.
"That is not something any of us would be an advocate of."
"Great. Gangs all here to fawn over poor Batgirl…"
"For the record, I do live here…" Bruce chuckles toweling off his damp hair coming up through the same entrance Dick just used. He had every intention of getting an hour or so of sleep but he wanted to check on Barbara first. There had been way too many close calls of late for his taste.
"… didn't think we'd be needing those shackles you and Mister Miracle created so soon, but I'm glad you whipped them up."
Batman nods as Superman continues to give his report from the incident on Themyscira. He wished he could have been there to help, but he was glad that Superman and the others had managed to subdue Darkseid. Although the victory came with a cost. "How many Amazons?"
"Darkseid brought a legion of his Parademons with him, but the Amazon's managed to repel them all… they… fought bravely…" The discomfort in Superman's voice is only enhanced by his anger. He wanted more than a piece of Ares for setting this whole thing in motion. "How are things on your end?"
"Everyone but a few accounted for… the emergency rooms of Gotham are filled with the injured, but no deaths so far." Batman removes his cowl and rubs his eyes. He was exhausted, but that was probably Ares' plan. For the last few weeks they went from one crisis to the next with no end in sight. He didn't have the time to really dig into Ares like he needed to; he could only hope that Fate and Zatanna came back with something good. "What do you plan to do with Darkseid?"
"Convince him never to return." Superman states simply.
"And how do you plan on managing that?" Batman asks with a small smirk. "Intimidation has never been your strong suit, Superman."
"I think I've had a pretty good teacher," Superman offers with a smile of his own. "Besides, what he's after isn't here. Once I convince him he's been duped –again- it's unlikely we'll have much more trouble out of him." He wished there was a more permanent solution to Darkseid; something to keep from ever setting foot on earth again. Plans were in the works for it; but not soon enough for his tastes.
"I'm surprised the Amazons let you take him." Given the damage he caused this time and the last, he would have expected nothing less than a straight execution. Try as he might, Batman couldn't see the downside of such an occurrence.
"It wasn't their first choice," Superman admits. "And if he does wander into their land again, I doubt I'll be able to persuade them."
"Where will this… discussion take place?" Batman asks curiously. "You cannot take him back to the Watchtower…"
"I have someplace in mind…" Superman responds, looking over his shoulder. "I think he's waking up. I'll keep you posted." The video screen turns off and Batman switches the autopilot off.
"You don't look like you just got good news." Peter speaks for the first time since strapping in. He'd been wrapped in his own thoughts until Superman called in. He'd been going over the fever dream again and again, trying to make sense of what he saw. He couldn't shake the feeling that what he imagined was more real than simply an illusion. If the Scarecrow's latest batch of fear toxin managed to tap into a part of his mind that up until now had been closed off to him, he wondered what more he could learn.
Batman ignores Peter and types in a few commands on the console in front of him. The video screen pops up again, this time to reveal the solemn face of J'onn, the Martian Manhunter.
"Has Zatanna or Dr. Fate reported in to you yet, J'onn?"
"No. And I haven't been able to raise either of them on the con." Silence reigns in the cockpit as Batman considers this information. Mystics were unpredictable at best, unreliable in his opinion, but Zatanna and Fate were an exception. "Do you wish me to…?"
"No." Batman knew he was offering to telepathically search for them, but he also knew he was taxed from coordinating all of the efforts in Gotham. "I have another way of contacting Zatanna… what's the status on Lantern and Atom?"
"Terrible patients as you might expect, but recovering. Tornado is on the mend too… though it will be a while before he feels up to duty…"
Having someone wind you up to hurt your friends would take a toll on anyone. "I'll report back in when I have a line on our missing mystics…" Batman shuts off the communication and turns to see Peter stifling a chuckle. "What?"
"Missing Mystics… Please don't try to tell me you don't see how that's funny…"
-Wayne Manor, now-
"And what's your excuse…?"
"I get all my mail and free meals here…" Peter answers from his position on the ceiling. Both Alfred and Barbara sigh audibly.
"Must you, Master Peter?" Alfred asks annoyed. The young man had developed an aggravating habit of walking on the ceiling. Tracking dirt in places Alfred was unaccustomed to cleaning.
"Sorry Alfie," Peter announces leaping down from the ceiling. "How's my favorite Commissioners' daughter?"
"She's wondering if you would be asking that question if I had a penis …"
"Well to tell you the truth, I would, but it would be after I asked how you managed such a great set of legs…" Peter quips, stealing a piece of bacon from her plate. "Maybe as a follow up I'd also inquire about your larger than normal-"
"Careful there Bug boy…" Barbara interrupts blushing. "Why don't you fill me in on what happened with Slade? Heard you took him and Deadshot down single-handedly. Wanna tell me how you managed that?"
Barbara notes that Peter and Bruce share a disturbing look before Peter shrugs. "Luck?"
"Okay… pretending for a moment I believe you, how's Rose?" After seeing him lose control with Croc, she had an idea of how things may have gone with Deathstroke. Slade may be one of the most dangerous men she'd ever faced, but with Peter's abilities and his training it was obvious even he would be outmatched. And judging by the look Bruce just gave him; Peter must have come dangerously close to crossing the line. Just as they all had at some point.
"Like you, a little bruised up, but she'll be on her feet soon…" Peter answers smiling a bit. "And hey, we all know you're the toughest thing on high heels, but that doesn't mean we can't worry."
Barbara playfully slaps Peter's hand as he reaches for another piece of bacon. "If you want to worry about something, worry about keeping that hand…"
Peter laughs and rubs his hand. "Jeez, someone was never taught how to share!"
"Artemis! I need a little help over here!"
Artemis and Flash set up a triage unit using the equipment from the plane. The combination of Flash's speed and Artemis' strength made the work quick, if not enjoyable. Those that didn't need immediate treatment were put to work and while the Amazons were not comfortable following the orders of a man, they didn't dare defy Artemis.
"I am on my way Flash!" Artemis yells from across the open area they set up to treat the wounded. She was just finishing up stiches on a very nasty gash. The woman had lost a lot of blood, but thanks to the Justice League's equipment she stood a good chance of recovering.
"Why do you let him speak to you like that, Artemis?" An amazon named Keera asks, while she wipes the brow of her wounded comrade. "He is just a man. A mortal one at that!"
Artemis whirls and faces Keera, pulling her close. "That, man, as you call him, risked his life for mine multiple times. And he is the reason you are able to breathe your insults. Have care how you speak!" Artemis whispers harshly, before jogging over to Flash.
"Help me set this bone." Flash asks without looking up. He heard her defend him, but knew better than to thank her. He had no doubt she would take offense to the notion of gratitude given the situation.
Artemis helps Flash hold down Dimitra as they twist her leg back into place. Dimitra is so weak she only manages a low groan as the leg is reset. "We'll need a cast…"
"Got it." Flash announces, producing a small aerosol can. He sprays the leg thoroughly with white foam.
Artemis looks on in amazement as the foam hardens. "There are a great many wonders in your world…" Hippolyta has always spoken of the outside world as a place full of violence and ruin, but could that truly be all there was?
"And a great many terrible things as well…" Hippolyta interrupts coming upon the two. Artemis bows respectfully while Flash nods. "How are things coming?"
"With Flash's help we've managed to save quite a few lives." Artemis answers with a look of pride. A look she quickly hides when she notes Hippolyta disapproval. In her eyes, the Justice League was as much the cause of their problems as they were the solution.
"Indeed." Hippolyta looks at the speedster move between the injured curiously. She hadn't expected him to stay and assist and was even more surprised at how useful he turned out to be. In her experience, males were more committed to destruction than to healing. "Flash?"
"Yes?" Flash sprints back over to the two of them.
"Surely that mask is uncomfortable in this heat. If you are worried over your appearance, my subjects have stared into the faces of ogres without pause… we will be respectful regardless of how you look…" Hippolyta quips in mild amusement.
Flash frowns. "I don't think I've ever been more politely insulted… Your majesty, we in man's world have these things called secret identities. You know my real name is not Flash, right?"
"And you know, Flash that regardless of who you are under that mask, none of us plan on reporting your identity to the poperratsos… or whatever…" Artemis smirks.
"It's Paparazzi, but yeah I guess you're right…" Flash peels the mask off his face and runs a hand through his sandy brown hair. Hippolyta was right; he was sweltering under his mask. "You're right that's much- Artemis?"
Hippolyta looks over at Artemis' face and recognizes the look immediately, even if Flash did not. She'd seen it before. "Perhaps you could bring some more water from the spring…?"
"Uh… sure…" Flash replies confused. "Guess in the gruesome department I've got the ogres beat…" Before Artemis can reply he speeds away.
"He thinks you find him hideous but that's not the case is it, Artemis?"
"My queen…?" Artemis had not been prepared for his soft brown hair, his deep blue eyes, or his chiseled features. Now, flustered as she was, she was even less prepared for her queens' question.
"There was someone… before your time on the island… who stirred similar longings within me." Hippolyta admits, with a sad smile. "But trust me; if you start down that path, it always ends the same…" Hippolyta walks away, leaving Artemis to her own thoughts.
Diana particularly enjoyed pitching the bodies of the Parademons into the fiery abyss of the volcano, but she would have enjoyed it more if they had still been alive. Her sisters fought valiantly against overwhelming numbers a fact backed up by those who survived the attack.
"It is a good thing that you arrived when you did…"
Diana tosses the last dead body into the volcanic maw before floating down to her mother. "I was quite sure you would say that it would have been better if I never left."
Hippolyta frowns and takes her daughters hand. The daughter she prayed for night after night for so long. "Am I so evil in your mind that you expect me to attack you at every possible opportunity?" Diana drops her eyes to the ground and Hippolyta lifts her gaze up. "Of course I would rather have you here, what mother would not? But I have long come to terms with your choices, even if I do not agree with them."
"Perhaps I no longer agree with them either…" Diana mutters ruefully.
Hippolyta nods, realizing how difficult the last few days had been for her daughter. Her blood still boiled over the villains' actions. Death was too good for one such as him. "You would be welcomed back."
"Truly?" Diana asks crossing her arms. She had always hoped for reconciliation, but didn't dream it would come so easy. "I've violated Amazonian law; multiple times. Would you welcome me back only to imprison me?"
Knowing her daughter is not being serious, she smiles. "Yes, but your sentence could be commuted due to good behavior…"
This time both women smile genuinely and mother hugs daughter. Hippolyta is surprised by the dampness she feels against her cheek. "Daughter…?"
-Wayne Manor, later-
"So… you've been giving me the silent treatment since we got back…"
Bruce managed to get in a solid two hours of sleep before he heard Peter pacing outside of his room. When he got out of bed and headed down to the Batcave, Peter followed him in silence. It wasn't until Bruce began to get dressed in a fresh uniform that Peter even spoke. He was surprised the young man held out this long. "I haven't."
Peter groans in frustration. "Come on man! I-" The look of irritation on Bruce face gives Peter pause. "I mean-"
"Peter," Bruce finishes locking in his gauntlets before standing in front of Peter. "What happened with Slade… though I may be disappointed, I understand. If it seems like I've been angry with you, that's not the case. If anything, I'm angry with myself."
Peter thought he could guess where this was going. "If you're thinking about grounding me-"
"I didn't take the time to really investigate where you came from and why you can't remember your past." Bruce admits. His encounters with Spectre seem to suggest something important, but so far he hadn't been able to uncover a reason for Peter being here.
Peter shrugs, trying to appear nonchalant. "It's not as if things have been exactly peaceful and serene since I've been here." Peter remembered well Bruce's promise, but he also knew that they had been thrown into one crisis after another.
Bruce shakes his head. "No excuse. You are burdened with amazing abilities that you don't fully understand. With snippets of a life that feels less real each time you attempt to grab a hold of it. I didn't prepare you for the difficulties in living this life. Especially without the foundation of a past."
"How could you have?" Peter argues desperately. "There's no handbook or manual for caring for your teenage metahuman amnesia sufferer; although given the number of times people have lost their memories around here, there should be…"
Bruce smiles at Peter's attempt to lighten the mood, but he had made up his mind about this already. "I know more than anyone how a person's past can shape them in ways they may never fully understand. I also knew that the stress of the life I live could eventually force elements of your past to manifest in ways you wouldn't be prepared to handle, but I reasoned that it was more important for you to learn control. To ignore what you don't have and focus on what you do-"
"What's wrong with that?" Peter interjects. "Every time I've tried to look into who I was, or try to remember I just end up more and more frustrated… more-"
"Angry." Bruce finishes with a knowing nod, because that was the point. The one thing all the really powerful superheroes have in common is control over their emotions. If they lose that control, people die; it's as simple as that. And by training Peter, he not only made him more dangerous, he made him nearly unstoppable. With his senses, speed and strength, he could be more deadly than ten Darkseid's. "And I gave you a channel for that anger, but I know better than to only treat the symptoms. What I've given you, is a temporary solution at best."
"It still sounds like you're telling me that I can't be Spiderman any more…" Peter grumbles. It seemed like a lifetime ago when he was telling the very same man he was done being Spiderman. Because now, faced with the very real possibility, he could not imagine giving up what he has become.
"I'm telling you can't be just Spiderman any more. Peter needs equal time on the surface." Internally, Bruce couldn't help but smile at his statement. It was the very same advice that Alfred gave him so many years ago, when he spent his days sleeping and his nights fighting crime. If Alfred hadn't been there to force a balance, he would have likely burned out years ago.
"That's rich, coming from you!" Peter lashes out angrily. "Bruce Wayne is just the mask you wear at board meetings and charity events; you are Batman! How can you tell me to be any different?"
Bruce slides the cowl over his face before responding. "I'm headed to Themyscira. I could make sure that you are unable to disobey my orders, but I want you to realize that I'm right and that you need to take more of an active interest in who you were. So you can become who you're supposed to be." He stands in front of Peter watching him closely to see if any of what he said is getting through.
"I don't even know where to start…" Peter admits, feeling a bit of hopelessness. He knew better than to assume that he could convince Batman to change his mind. Peter was convinced that the man's brain was a thousand times harder than any natural or unnatural material.
Satisfied his words have struck a chord, Bruce produces a piece of paper from his utility belt. It was an address he managed to get from his initial search of Peter's identity that he had meant to follow up on. With all that has gone on, he hasn't been able to check it out. "Start here." Batman hands Peter a piece of paper and Peter looks up at him with a look of confusion.
"Queens?" I thought you wanted to keep me out of danger?"
"Go in disguise… change your hair, eye color, maybe a pair of glasses and walk around see if anything jars your memory."
"This wouldn't happen to be the same advice you gave Superman on identity concealment?" Batman turns from his ascent up the Batwing steps to give Peter one final look of warning. "Fine! Okay! I get it!"
"Good." Batman enters the plane and maneuvers it out of the cave. Peter watches it leave and then stares at the piece of paper in amusement.
"I get to walk around the only place just as dangerous as Gotham while you visit an island of beautiful warrior women. Yeah, that's fair…"
-Fortress of Solitude-
"These bonds are impressive… Scott's work?"
"Darkseid. I'm tired of having this conversation with you," Superman begins flatly. "What you do on Apokolips is your own business, but you are not to set foot on this planet. I thought the last time we spoke, that was made clear."
"Someone appears to be dropping the Boy Scout act… finally… Kryptonian's were never known as diplomats, it must be aggravating having to keep up the facade." Darkseid strains against his bonds, only to feel them constrict tighter. His eyes were covered, so risking unleashing his Omega Beams was not an option. There was a good chance the energy would be fed into his bonds and possibly back into his own eyes.
"You should be thankful the act has held up this long." Superman cautions evenly. Even in their most violent confrontations, he still held a great deal of his strength back. It was a fact that few could understand. Under the yellow sun he could crack mountains, snapping the neck of the ruler of Apokolips would not be terribly difficult. "What you are looking for is not on Themyscira, you know that don't you?"
Darkseid smiles and struggles to get to his feet. "Oh, but it is. I have it on good authority-"
"Ares and Lyta tell you that?" Power Girl asks with a laugh. The smile fades from Darkseid's face as she continues. "Oh we know all about your partners in crime. How is it that someone as wise as you proclaim to be, continue to find yourself duped. Orion, Brainiac, now Lyta and Ares. You gave them technology and resources and what did you get in return? Nothing, as usual."
"They wouldn't dare…" Darkseid spats angrily. When they first came to him with the proposition of a partnership, they seemed to have knowledge of things that reinforced the idea they knew the location of what he sought. They knew things he had only recently discovered about the Anti-Life equation.
"Think about it Darkseid." Superman continues, picking up where Power Girl left off. "The Anti-Life equation will grant the user control over the minds and hearts of everyone in the universe. How would that benefit a God of War? Mindless puppets don't exactly have conflicts. And if the equation is as powerful as it is rumored to be, why would they place themselves in a position to be under your thumb? Even if you promised to leave this world alone, why would they believe you?"
"I gave them my word!" Darkseid hadn't meant to let that slip, but the frustration at Superman's words forced it from him. His desire for the equation had blinded him to the simple truth of the situation; if they truly knew where the equation was located, they would have used if for their own purposes. He had assumed that they didn't know how to use it, or were unable to procure it for themselves, but, neither of those reasons stood up. "I will grind their bones in my teeth and paint the walls of my throne room with their entrails!"
In a burst of rage, Darkseid nearly escapes the technology holding him. Thankfully the combination of Scott Free's ingenuity and Batman's resources proved to be up to the task of contain his anger. If just barely. Superman could tell from the readout that the limits were being sorely tested. He needed to wrap this up quickly.
"If you truly want revenge against them, allow us to capture them and turn them over to you." Superman offered. He discussed this gambit with Power Girl and she wasn't in favor of it. Like many others, she wanted to put an end to the possibility of Darkseid being a threat for good. This ploy was only a delaying tactic.
Darkseid snorts derisively. "You must truly believe I am a fool if you think I am going to fall for that! You would never turn your own over to me!"
Superman and Power Girl share a glance that Darkseid could not see. And that was a good thing because he would have known right away just how right he was. Instead, Power Girl speaks up. "They are not our own! One is a warmongering brat posing as a god and the other is a half breed child of immortals. Both have caused us nothing but trouble and we would like nothing better than to be rid of them."
"Then allow me to ferret them out myself." He had rarely been so thoroughly blindsided. He was seething.
"You wouldn't be able to get within a mile of them before every hero in the area descended on you to stop you." Superman announces crossing his arms defiantly. Desaad may be able to produce Parademons at a fast rate, but the Amazons had taken a good number of them off the board. Without that army, Darkseid was still formidable, but less so.
"They would try…" Darkseid smiles confidently. While it was true the Amazons had dealt him an incredible blow, he was prepared scour the earth to find them.
"And if they failed, just who do you think would finish the job?" Superman asks with equal confidence.
Darkseid falls silent. As much as he hated to admit it, the Kryptonian was a match for him in fighting prowess. Given enough time, he could overcome Superman, but there were too many others he would have to contend with first. The sheer numbers would do him in. The amount of resources he would need to conquer this planet effectively was not at his disposal currently. So he had to bide his time. "I have your word that you will turn the two of them over to me?" He knew it was a lie concocted to get him off the planet; he wasn't sure just what they would do if he refused. If they thought he was agreeable, they likely wouldn't give him another thought. Which would leave him time to prepare.
Superman lets out the breath he'd been holding and nods. "Once we have located them we will send them to Apokolips to do with as you please. On the condition you do not return here. Ever. Again."
"It seems you are getting the most out of this deal;" Darkseid chuckles darkly. "You rid yourselves of me and of two enemies who have dealt you a great blow…" If he were anyone else, he might be inclined to believe Kryptonian. But Superman did not share his view of balancing the scales.
"Let's not kid ourselves here, Darkseid. You are in no position to negotiate terms…"
"Perhaps not…" Darkseid rips himself free of the bonds holding him and faces off against Superman. "Then again…"
Superman doesn't flinch even as Darkseid walks over to the two of them. He was confident that if it came to it, he and Power Girl could take him down. After all he was weakened by both the battle and the bonds he just escaped. The amount of energy required to override the circuitry was tremendous. Deep down, he wanted Darkseid to try something. "Have we a deal or not?"
Darkseid sneers before sticking out his hand. "When faced with the alternative, what choice have I?" Superman takes the hand in his grip as Darkseid looks around. "If you don't mind, I prefer to wait in more… comfortable accommodations…" He hated the brightness of Kryptonian architecture. He'd seen it before their civilization collapsed.
Activating the mother box left behind on Themyscira, Superman opens a boom tube to Apokolips. Without another word, Darkseid disappears into the void.
"Man… you even had me convinced, Kal…" Power Girl admits once Darkseid is gone.
"That was the point." Superman crushes the Mother Box in his hands. The last thing he wanted was Darkseid to be able to trace back the coordinates of his fortress and come knocking at his leisure. "Hopefully by the time he realizes we have no intention of turning Lyta and Ares over to him J'onn will have our defense fields in place…"
"A little something Batman and Atom have been working on… it will block unknown energies from penetrating our atmosphere. We've been having too many off world visitors popping in when they please…" After the last visit by Darkseid, Atom and Batman had begun working on several theories about how to disrupt the use of the energy used by the teleportation devices of alien races. Batman believed if they were ever going to be able to effectively protect the earth they needed to be more proactive in their approach. Obviously a remnant of Batman's need to patrol Gotham; he preferred to find crime in progress rather than wait for bad things to happen. Superman had to admit it was a sound strategy.
"Nice. What now?"
Superman wasn't sure. He thought by now he would have heard something from Dr. Fate and Zatanna about Ares. With Gotham settled and Themyscira out of danger, the next thing on the agenda was to stop the one who set all of this in motion. But he had no idea how to go about doing that. "We head back to the 'Tower… for now that's all we can do…"
"You have not picked a good time to drop in, Batman."
Batman had expected to be greeted as soon as he landed, he just was unprepared for the scene in front of him. Across the sand he could count at least four dozen injured Amazonians being attended to by the red blur he knew to be Flash. "I understand, your majesty, I came to-"
"Batman? What are you doing here?" Wonder Woman drops from the sky and gracefully lands next to her mother. The expression on her face was one of genuine surprise and part of him was pleased he had managed to surprise her.
"Wonder Woman, I spoke with Superman in regards to the situation here and brought additional supplies to help with the recovery…"
"Perfect timing, Bats!" Flash arrives next to the three of them scattering a bit of sand in his wake. "Mind if I-?"
Before Batman can answer, Flash has most of the supplies unloaded and placed on a table they'd set up.
"We appreciate the gesture, Batman," Hippolyta states with a strained smile. She knew of her daughter's attraction to the man in front of them and considering her daughter's misgivings about returning to man's world, he was the last person she wanted to see. She knew he could convince her to leave the island again. "But you can understand how upsetting the presence of one man can be…"
"Let alone two?" Batman finishes nodding. Truth be told, he could have just as easily sent one of the female Justice Leaguers with the supplies. He considered it, but he was here for more than just relief efforts. There was something that he needed to find out. "I understand your highness…"
Hippolyta nods in relief until she feels her daughters' firm grip on her arm. "Surely mother, you will not simply turn him away after he has come all this way just to aid our people?" Hippolyta looks up into her daughters' warm gaze and is reminded of a time years ago when Diana had pleaded with her for a horse. Diana, never one to do things the easy way, wanted Cobalt, the wildest stallion in the stable. Despite there being several other choices.
"This is that damned horse all over again…" Hippolyta mutters with an angry smirk. A queen should never compromise her laws for her daughter, yet it was something that Hippolyta found herself doing on a fairly regularly basis. If she were to keep to the edicts she wrote, Artemis, Flash, Diana and Batman would all need to be driven from their midst, never allowed to return.
Diana blushes at the memory of Cobalt, the horse that remains in her mother's stables till this day, awaiting her return. He allowed no one else to ride him and only her other had been allowed to tend to his daily needs. "I fail to see the connection…"
"I'm sure…" Hippolyta smirks as Diana lowers her gaze to the ground. She notices that there is mild amusement on Batman's face as he watches the exchange and she clears her throat. "Your… raiment… though necessary in your world, it evokes ideas of dark forces among our people, you'll understand if I ask you remain in the background…?" Hippolyta doesn't wait for an answer, she simply walks away to check on her wounded subjects.
Once out of earshot, Diana turns to Batman and grabs his arm anxiously. "Ares?"
"No word back from Fate or Zatanna yet…" Batman answers shaking his head, leading Diana down the beach.
Diana nods disappointedly. Only Hippolyta and Artemis knew of Ares connection to all that befell them today; her mother decided it would be damaging to their faith if it became known that one of the gods they served had dealt them such a blow. "He must pay for this…"
The steel in her voice reminds Batman of why she is who she is. "He will."
Silence falls in between them as they continue to walk. The silence allows Batman to really take in the lush scenery around him. He'd been to the most lavish and exotic resort locales in the world as Bruce Wayne, but nothing could compare to the spectacularly simple beauty around him. He could see why Hippolyta wanted to keep this land unspoiled. "It is truly breathtaking here…"
Wonder Woman stops and wheels towards her teammate raising a suspicious eyebrow. "You speak as if you have not been on our shores before…"
"My previous visits didn't allow me to…" Batman looks over at Diana as she squats in the sand uncovering a small turtle. "… appreciate the beauty here…"
Feeling his eyes on her, fills her with mixed emotions. He's looked at her this way before; but never openly. She would catch him stealing glances, but now he seemed unconcerned that she knew of his attention. It both exhilarated and frightened her. "Ahem… well…yes… How fares Gotham?" She stands dusting off her hands. She watches the turtle scuttle off towards the ocean, keeping her face hidden.
"Still standing…"Batman answers coming up alongside Wonder Woman. "Out of immediate danger for now, it seems… but there are a few still unaccounted for…"
The firm set of his jaw, told Diana who might be among those few he mentioned, but she didn't dwell on it. Instead she gave voice to another concern. "What of Darkseid?"
A ghost of a smile lights his face as he answers. "Superman believes he has that situation well in hand…"
"Really?" Wonder Woman doesn't bother to hide her disbelief. Clark has never been one to get his hands dirty and violence is the only thing that Darkseid understands.
Batman nods, picking up on her confusion. "I was surprised myself, but let's not forget just how powerful Clark is…"
"Then it would seem that things are well in hand…" Wonder Woman stops along the beach spotting a piece of Apokoliptian armor. Pulling it free, she hurls it into the ocean. "All that's left is Ares…"
Batman notes the tension in her body and knows Diana is upset over more than just Darkseid's invasion. The last few weeks have been more painful for her than anyone else. Which was one of the reasons he left Gotham to come here. "And there is still the matter of the Anti-Life equation…"
Diana turns to Batman confused. "You do not believe it to be here do you? That was simply a ruse to lure Darkseid into a conflict my people!"
Noting her anger, Batman takes another tact. "Do you remember what happened at the charity event Clark and I attended in Gotham?" Diana nods, waiting for him to continue. She looks on with interest, knowing that he will no doubt deliver some nugget of insight. "We chalked that experience up to another distraction; something Ares put in place to keep us looking the wrong way. We were half right."
"What do you mean?" Some of the others would get impatient when Bruce would take his time disseminating all the facts of a situation, she never did. She thought it was simply amazing the way his mind could bring things together.
"It was meant to distract us; it's no coincidence that the attack happened on one of the rare occasions that Superman is away from Metropolis, but it was also a trial run of an even greater threat." Batman removes a readout device from his utility belt and holds it out in front of Diana. "What do you make of this?"
Diana studies the symbols on the display careful, frowning in concentration. "Some sort of equation?"
Batman returns the device to his belt and smiles. "Yes, but you were right to be confused by it. The composition of ingredients listed bear no resemblance to any known combinations."
"And you don't think Ivy is capable of this level of genius, right?" Diana asks picking up on his line of reasoning. "It makes sense that Ares would help her to get us occupied…"
"That's a piece of it," Batman agrees." The other side of it is twofold. First; even the most ingenious breakthroughs in chemistry, have a basis or foundation in something already known. There really is no such thing as a new discovery, there are simply new ways of using old compositions. The second is; the chemical laced in the champagne was not a mind control drug. It overrode our very will to disobey. We were completely aware of what we were doing and utterly unable to comply. Not even a little. It was this fact, which made Darkseid believe that Ares did know of the Anti-Life equation because he had seen elements of it that night."
Diana shakes her head. "No. The Anti-Life equation is supposed to be the death of all life… not some sort of enslavement drug…"
"What is loss of free will, but death Diana? Didn't your own people experience the pain of being under bondage? Don't they describe it as being like death?"
Diana ponders over Batman's words fearfully. If this was in fact true, it would mean that Ares has the ability to enslave the entire human race. But why hasn't he? Diana gives voice to her question.
"Perhaps the chemical portion is only a piece of the equation." Batman speculates. "After all, to deliver something like this on a worldwide scale you'd need a more powerful delivery system. Something more stable… more far reaching…" Clark didn't drink alcohol; it doesn't agree with his Kryptonian physiology. It was the only thing that helped stave off an even bigger disaster. "If this is supposed to be a universal agent, then there would have to be a better way of delivering it."
"And you believe the answer lies somewhere on this island?" Diana understood his line of reasoning, even if she didn't necessarily agree with it. "If that were true, why hasn't Ares come here himself in search of it?"
Batman knew the answer to her question, but was sure she wouldn't like it. Taking a deep breath he turns to face Diana, taking her hands gently. "Ares didn't send Darkseid here to simply keep us off guard; he was sent here to lay waste to your people, to your entire island."
"Think about it Diana; Ares finds out about this Anti-Life equation; he realizes that it's the only way he'd ever have a chance of achieving his ultimate goal. He covets the throne of Zeus but he also wants the loyalty that being king comes with. How does he get both?"
She knew he was pausing to get her to make the connection on her own. "He needs power to unseat Zeus, power that Zeus himself would fear and be unable to stop…"
"So he collects the artifacts; weapons powerful enough to cower gods…"
"But he knows that all the heroes of earth along with all the other gods of Olympus would never allow him to stay in power…"
Batman nods, happy she is beginning to see his reasoning. "So he spins us around like tops. Makes us exhaust ourselves in conflict after conflict while sending Darkseid here, to clear a path to-"
"Get the final piece he needs…" Diana finishes angrily. "Why would they allow something so dangerous to remain here and not tell us…?"
"If you knew you would guard it."
"Exactly!" Diana answers frustrated.
"The world's most amazing treasures are hidden in plain sight. Having sentries protect valuables simply invites thieves to try and steal them. If you don't know it's here, the hope is neither will anyone else. No one will steal it and no one guarding it will attempt to use it…"
Realization sinks in and Diana drops to the sand and sits down. "You must think we're a bunch of fools…" Diana mutters, bitterly. "We blindly serve masters who don't even show us the courtesy befitting a dog. Dogs at least in their loyalty are rewarded with knowing what they are protecting…"
While Batman may not have always agreed with her beliefs, he never thought it was foolish to believe. Some might think it foolish to think one man without any special abilities could fight against the darkness lurking in every corner of Gotham. Who was he to judge? Pulling free of his cowl, he takes a seat next to Diana and turns her face towards hers. "The fools are those up on that mountain who don't value you… and your people…" Batman clears his suddenly dry throat. "At the end of the day, all any of us have is the hope of something better…"
Without realizing it, Diana drifts closer to Batman, noting the scent of his aftershave, blending in perfectly with the smell of ocean and sand. All of a sudden, she's aware that the two of them are very much alone on this part of the island. "Perhaps then…" Diana whispers. "We are all fools…."
Caressing her face tenderly, Bruce smiles lightly. "Of course we are…" Their kiss is light and tentative at first, but as they continue, their passions increase. For Diana the floodgates of months of desire and frustration erupt as she nearly attacks Bruce's mouth. Bruce, the more experienced of the two guides her patiently, helping her enjoy the experience more fully.
Diana's nimble fingers locate the release latch to Batman's chest plate and it hits the sand revealing the Kevlar mesh beneath it. "Must you wear so much clothing…?" Diana asks breathlessly.
"Not all of us have invulnerable skin, Princess…" Batman chuckles at her frustration before planting a soft kiss on her neck.
Before she can feel annoyed over his nickname for her, the ripple of pleasure that runs through her causes her to shudder. She was beginning to understand the conversations she'd overheard on the Watchtower. When Hawkgirl or Black Canary spoke of men, she could never understand their infatuation with them. Why they seemed so enraptured by them. Now understanding dawns upon her. Now she could give voice to all the emotions that had been swirling within her.
She straddles Batman eagerly entwining her fingers in the dark locks of her love. Her excitement steadily increases and she feels her pulse quicken to an unbelievable pace. Pressing her chest firmly to his she can feel his own heart pounding, although it has taken on an unsual rhythm. "What-?"
Batman groans at the interruption, but knows that it is an important one. Only five people have the number to phone vibrating on his waist. Clark, Dick, Alfred, Gordon and- "Zatanna?"
"Are you all right Batman? You sound… off…"
Batman sits up slightly embarrassed, hoping that Diana doesn't notice the growing bulge beneath his waist. Her reddened skin and upward glance ends that hope swiftly. "I'm fine. What have you to report?"
"Fate and I met up with Ares on the slopes of Olympus. He was already engaged in battle with Heracles when we arrived. The three of us held him at bay before Zeus descended from on high and ended the battle."
"Ended it how?" Batman is surprised at this, given that he had not sought to intervene before.
"Stripped the power from the armor and weapons before banishing him to the underworld. Sort of anti-climactic, I know, but… at least the threat is over."
"What of Lyta, Ares' daughter? Was she with him?" None of this made any sense at all to Batman, but he would reserve judgment until he had all the facts.
"No. But Zeus assured us that she would be dealt with. Whatever that means…" Batman could hear Zatanna's own frustration over the matter. "Fate headed back to… well wherever he goes when he's not on the Tower… but I heard about Gotham and was on my way there. You need a hand?"
"No." Batman answers looking at Diana. "You should rejoin J'onn on the Watchtower, see if there's anything you can help with there."
"Right. No Meta's in your city… blah, blah, blah… later." Despite her attempt at levity, Batman is still unnerved by their conversation when he puts the phone away.
"Bad news?" Diana asks curiously. Her lips are still buzzing from his touch and as eager as she is to continue, she knows the mood is lost to them.
"Not at all…" Batman answers standing absently, obviously deep in thought. He should be relieved at Zatanna's news, but he just can't shake the feeling something is amiss. "Apparently Zeus interceded on the behalf of the dogs…" He relates to Wonder Woman all that Zatanna told him while reattaching his chest plate.
"And yet you seem in worse spirits than before…" Diana observes frowning slightly as he returns his cowl to his face, hiding the features she enjoyed looking at.
"The temple that Darkseid was attempting to breach… can you show me where it is?"
Hall of the Gods
"If you want this throne, my son, you will need to get through all of us!"
Ares smirks, looking around at his brothers, sisters, cousins, all of whom do not share the same sentiment of his father. They've seen what he was able to do to Heracles and how he cowered the armies of soldiers sent against him; they knew that he was close to an unbeatable foe.
"I didn't think the others are as confident as you are father…"
Zeus glances around at his subjects and notes how astute his observation is. So he tries another tactic. "What will you do once you've claimed your prize Ares? How will it go for you once you're seated here?"
Ares laughs and his sister loses her patience. "Father! Simply remove your blessings from the weapons! Surely there has been enough bloodshed?"
Ares looks at her in disappointment. "All of that "Wisdom" and you haven't figured it out yet? Shall I tell her father?" Zeus looks at Ares in wonder. "Very well then. Dear sister, Zeus didn't create these weapons. The first Zeus did."
All of the assembled stare at Zeus in disbelief hoping that we will stand up and end this but he remains motionless.
"You see…" Ares begins walking amidst his fellow godlings."We're not immortal. Everything that has a beginning has an end. He programmed us to follow in the footsteps of those that came before. Made us puppets in the grand tapestry of lies woven by those who seek to keep us in line." As his rage begins to bubble up Ares begins pacing with his sword drawn. "I've decided before I cut all of you free of the ties that bind you; I'll tell you a story. I will tell you, our story…"
Barbara, curled up on the sofa in Bruce's sitting room, was beginning to feel sleepy when the doorbell started her awake. Alfred had left to visit Leslie Tompkins at Barbara's insistence, Peter had been gone all afternoon and she had long chased Dick off; which meant she was by herself.
"Please don't let this be one of Bruce's infamous floozies…" Barbara mutters as she gets up to answer the door. The doorbell rings again and again impatiently as Barbara angrily flings it open. "What do you-?"
"And here I thought you domestics were supposed to be all cordial and whatnot? Good help is truly hard to find… maybe could help ol' Moneybags' maidservant learn better manners, eh Harley?"
"You got it Mistah J!"
A/N: Lots coming up! Peter's NY Adventure, Joker and Harley meet the commissioners' daughter, Batman and Flash share a unique experience on Themyscira and the origin of Olympus!