Fifth Conversation: Batman and Diana
Bruce Wayne opened his eyes and saw the most beautiful woman in the world peering down at him with a concerned look on her face.
After a few seconds, he managed to tear his gaze away from her and scan the environment long enough to determine he probably wasn't in heaven yet. He was fairly confident that heaven's interior decorating would not bear a striking resemblance to the layout of his beloved Batcave . . . although one never knew.
More to the point, he decided, was that he'd always had the strong impression that nobody ever felt weak and exhausted in heaven. Which he still did. And there was no way Wonder Woman was going to end up in hell, even if some foe had recently managed the remarkable trick of killing her . . . so by process of elimination, Bruce Wayne was still in the land of the living.
Gratified by this evidence that his deductive skills had not entirely deserted him, Bruce figuratively put on his "Batman hat" as he refocused his vision on the face of the aforementioned beautiful woman.
"Has anything terrible happened while I was out of it?" His voice sounded raspier than usual, but as far as he was concerned, that was all to the good.
"You mean, like an alien invasion, or a super-powered serial killer slaughtering world leaders, or someone poisoning a city's water supply? No, things have been as 'quiet' as they ever get in this sinful world. And your kids have been doing fine at covering for you here in Gotham."
"Then I don't understand why you're down here," he said pointedly. "I left strict instructions about keeping people out of the Batcave unless there was a calamity brewing!"
"Yes. Yes, you did. Oddly enough, Tim and Alfred didn't seem inclined to throw me out on my ear just because of some arbitrary rule you invented while under the influence of a mad scientist's latest concoction."
Ah, so that was going to be their excuse! Well, he'd settle their hash later. What was the world coming to when a man couldn't even trust his oldest friend and his foster son to keep a lovely, sympathetic woman from paying a sick call?
"Of course, the fact that you'd previously told Alfred to extend me every courtesy, practically as if I were part of the family, might also have played a small role in his decision to tolerate my presence," she speculated, and then fixed those cool blue eyes on him. "Funny how you never told me about my special status!"
Batman seriously considered having a sudden relapse and losing consciousness for the next couple of hours. With the biofeedback techniques he'd learned in the Far East, it would only take a matter of seconds for him to slip into a self-induced trance . . .
"Never mind," said Diana, ostentatiously brushing aside her last remark. "I'm not here to cross-examine you. Not right now, at least. Wouldn't be fair. Let's change the subject." Her gaze drifted to the bat-emblem on his chest and then slid back up toward his face. "You know, after I first saw you lying there, I was worried about the costume. It occurred to me that if it were still saturated with the super-allergen, your recovery might take an awfully long time. Alfred set me straight: You stripped off your old costume when you got home, stuffed it into a bag of things to be incinerated, then went through a thorough decontamination process, followed by pulling on most of a fresh costume, and then letting Alfred inject you with the antidote after you lay down on that cot!"
She paused as if waiting for some comment, but Batman didn't have any problem with what she had just said, so he simply gazed back at her impassively.
She clarified her point. "I'm not sure anyone else in the League would have taken the time to do it that way during a medical emergency."
"I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those drafty hospital gowns."
"How long have I been out?"
"It's been about three and a half days since you called the Tower to report your condition. I arrived the following afternoon."
He did the math. "Eighty-four hours?"
"Maybe a bit longer."
He scowled. "I knew the super-allergen would take a lot out of me, and the antidote would also be rough . . . but I still should have woken up much sooner. It's almost as if someone were dosing me with a powerful sedative . . ." His voice trailed off as he saw how Diana's lovely face had gone very blank; the same lack of emotion which you might see in a poker game when the guy across from you had just drawn a card that turned two small pairs into a full house and he didn't want the other players to see him grinning from ear to ear.
Batman peered at the IV needle going into his wrist, then at the bag of liquid at the other end of the tube feeding the needle, then glared at her. "You knew."
The problem with using his best glare on people who had known him for years was that they'd gradually acquired some immunity. Instead of flinching or making excuses, Diana shrugged expressively and smiled as if the matter were of no consequence. "It's all meticulously noted on this chart." She waved a clipboard in the air. "Alfred felt there was no point in having you wake up yesterday or the day before, when the lingering effects would still be painful. You didn't need the extra stress, so he made sure you'd sleep through the worst of it. Obviously you trust him to make big decisions about proper medical treatment—who am I to second-guess him on dosage levels?"
"So you didn't even try," he observed sourly.
"Bruce," she said, "do you remember the time when Copperhead sank his fangs into your shoulder and the venom knocked you flat?"
Rhetorical question, he assumed, but he bent over backwards (by his standards) by giving her a slight nod of agreement.
"We got you back to the Tower; we treated you; we put you in a bed; and Superman said you needed to stay on the sick list while the rest of us kept working the case. Given that he has X-Ray vision and all that, I think his opinion qualified as 'an expert diagnosis' instead of 'a layman's guess.' So five of us headed back down to Earth; J'onn stayed behind to man the fort . . . and what happened after the rest of us were gone?"
He wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of answering. It might sound as if he were getting defensive and trying to explain why he had done what he had.
Unperturbed by this lack of cooperation, Diana proved herself perfectly capable of carrying the conversation single-handedly if need be. "What you did was yank out an IV and head to the shuttle bay so you could fly down to Earth and work the case in your own way! J'onn didn't know you so well in those days; he made the elementary mistake of trying to reason with you about whether you were overdoing it. Specifically, he assured you there was no need to worry about proving to us that, despite lacking special powers, you were just as worthy a member of the League as anybody else."
That was close enough enough to the way Batman remembered that speech . . .
"But he was wasting his breath. You didn't even offer a counterargument; you just ignored everything he said and kept heading for the nearest Javelin! Making it clear that he'd have to use force to stop you— at which point he backed down. By the time J'onn told me about that little scene, he'd figured out his own mistake. You weren't pushing yourself extra-hard just to impress him . . . or me . . . or anyone else, right?" She paused, but Batman still wasn't in the mood to answer blatantly rhetorical questions, so she forged ahead. "J'onn finally remembered that you'd already been 'Batman' for years before anyone ever heard of a 'Justice League,' and you had a strong self-image to maintain. If you stayed in that infirmary bed for hours after you felt capable of walking away, you'd be profoundly disappointed in yourself. What anyone else on the entire planet would think of your job performance was never the point!"
He supposed that was true enough. When he'd heaved himself out of bed that day, it hadn't been with any thought to putting on a show for J'onn. It had just felt like something that needed to be done.
Diana was continuing: "I remember thinking that if it ever happened again, our best bet would be to dose you with something that knocked you out like a light for at least twenty-four hours while your body started the recovery process . . . and we could apologize later."
And Mr. Terrific wondered why I didn't want to be treated in the Tower's infirmary . . .
Diana spread her hands. "I don't expect you to agree with me. I just wanted to explain that I understand Alfred's thinking. But now that you are awake, is there anything I can do for you?"
To his horror, Batman found himself struggling with the temptation to put the "Bruce Wayne" hat back on and make some shamelessly flirtatious remark, much as he would have done if he'd been visiting a regular clinic and waiting for a cute nurse to give him a routine booster shot. He throttled the impulse and merely said: "A glass of water, please."
"Coming right up!" Diana moved across the room to a sink and filled a paper cup. Meanwhile, Batman forced himself up into a sitting position on the cot, which only took about three times as long as it should have and left him feeling light-headed.
Diana must have noticed the signs of strain. She insisted on placing a straw in the cup and holding it steady for him. The implication was that she feared he'd spill the water if he tried to handle the cup.
Batman would have protested being treated like a child . . . except for the nagging suspicion that if she took him at his word and let him handle the cup himself, he just might end up spilling the water all over himself. Which wouldn't do his dignity any good. Worse yet, it would give her a perfect excuse to rip off his wet shirt for his own good, and there was no telling where that sort of thing might lead!
Author's Note: As you've probably guessed, what I had Wonder Woman say about J'onn J'onnz's "second thoughts" about his chat with a recently-poisoned Batman (during Part 1 of "Injustice for All") is based on my gut reaction when I first watched that scene. The way I remember it, I wanted to say to J'onn: "Talk about missing the point! Batman isn't afraid of failing to impress you; he's far too busy living up to his own sky-high expectations!"