Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

The Unusual Mission

by Adrian Tullberg

The Batman.

Urban Legend to the rest of the world, cold reality for the majority of Gotham's criminal population. Nearly superhuman in his mental strength and physical endurance. He has defeated uncountable foes, personal trials and natural disasters. His ability and will have single-handedly held the most dangerous city on Earth together when the rest of the world wrote it off.

Only now, does he face his greatest challenge.

"The Horwester Charity function, sir? Tonight?"

The Batman sat at the newly refurbished computer system, updating the Criminals; Captured database. "I know, Alfred. The cause is officially Housing the Homeless, the reality being to re-introduce the Horwester family back into the Gotham social circles after they fled No-Man's Land. The majority of the amounts raised will be soaked up by the administrative functions and the catering, leaving only a pittance for those who actually need it…"

"I've written the check for tonight, and the order for three metric tonnes of foodstuffs to be supplied free of charge to the local shelters, sir."

Batman nodded. "Thank you, Alfred. Black tie affair, dinner and dancing, and a champagne which is bought by those who want to show off their wealth but actually know nothing about their drink."

"You mean, the brand you drink whenever you publicly entertain?"

"Precisely. Very well, set up the fine details. Wayne will have to be there in order to keep up the alibi that I was somewhere else during No-Man's Land."

Alfred took a deep breath. "There's a slight problem with 'the fine details'."

Batman gave his butler the terrifying stare that reduced criminals from the purse-snatcher to the world-conqueror to quivering wrecks, but not phasing the gentleman's gentleman for an instant. "This isn't a ploy to try and teach me to iron my own suits again, is it?"

A long-suffering sigh that Alfred specialised in. "No sir, we learned the last time that despite your enviable skills in the forensic sciences and the martial arts, setting an electric iron on 'wool' is mysteriously beyond you." Alfred waited for his superior, and his surrogate son to leap to the answer.

When Batman didn't, Alfred shook his head. "A dinner companion, sir?"

Batman blinked, a sign of sudden shock. "That hasn't been a problem in the past, has it? I mean…" Whenever Bruce Wayne usually went out, it was usually Alfred who contacted some of the more prominent young belles, in his role as unofficial social secretary.

"Sir, as I have warned you in the past - when your usual practice is to take a young woman on a date, swan around making unintelligent conversation, then leave her at home because you have to go on patrol, you are bound to alienate that young lady. You have proven an economic law by steadily using up a finite resource. You have aggravated, annoyed and disrupted every available woman currently within Gotham's city limits."

"Are you sure…"

"Master Bruce, I have spent the last few days trying to 'fix you up', and all I have to show for it is repeated refusals, ringing ears … and two tentative proposals for coffee on the weekend. Apparently, I'm quite the catch."

Batman slumped in the throne-like chair, considering the options. "Go by myself?"

Immediately, Alfred threw The Gotham Gazette onto the desk, the article about Bruce Wayne being secretly gay circled in red marker. "I know that you couldn't care less, but since the whole point of an unsavory public persona was to detract an otherwise determined member of the media from prying into your private activities…"

"…I know, I know, a secret Bruce is a public Batman. Anyone from out of town?"

"At this late hour? Not bloody likely … dare I say, what about young Miss Barbara?"

Batman's lips quirked upwards in a rare, split-second grin. "We did that four years ago, remember? After half an hour of being patronized and talked to very slowly, we had to leave under threat of her shoving her wheelchair…"

"Ah yes. That would have left a mark which your tights couldn't conceal." Alfred checked the time on the computer. "Sir, the JLA meeting?"

Batman glanced at the terminal and muttered a very nasty word in an obscure language. He got up, adjusting his utility belt and cowl. "More trivialities … "

"I scarcely feel that defending the planet against inhuman threats can be labeled as 'trivial', but you are the expert … perhaps you can use the otherwise wasted time to ponder the important issue for today?"

Yes, thought Batman. How the hell can I get a date?

***

The agenda of the meeting concerned recruitment standards, media relations and meetings with heads of states. All things that Batman, maintaining his 'urban myth' aura, had absolutely no interest in participating, but as one of the more dominant members of the JLA, was required to sit in on and add his two bits anyway.

Beyond the gruff 'yes', 'no', and 'don't even think about it, Plastic Man', his mind was furiously attacking the issue of who to ask, based on the criteria of availability (who was free tonight instead of those who were in a relationship, Wayne would occasionally take out a very publicly married woman to reinforce his image as a rake) and attractiveness (shallow, mused Batman, but then again, so was Wayne).

The tally in his head was very short. Batman felt a sinking feeling that snooping reporters were going to take a very close look at him for the next few months. Something that he did not need.

-Problems, friend?-

Batman looked up, to see the Martian Manhunter listening to the Flash's report on recruiting speedsters.

-Of sorts. Do you know anybody who'd be interested in going out with Bruce Wayne tonight?-

A smile creased the Manhunter's face. -The Batman asking me to fix him up. I hear that's a sign that the world will end again.-

-Well?-

The Manhunter's brow creased in thought. -There are a few, but questions would arise as to how the Manhunter knows Bruce Wayne…-

An idea appeared in Batman's head. -Maybe you can…-

-Monitor duty.- Batman was suspicious at the speed of that rejoinder and the sudden undercurrent of gratitude that accompanied it, but didn't press the issue.

The meeting came to an end, Batman getting up last, lost in thought. Flash and Green Lantern were bickering over the unfairness of the Academy Awards, a running argument that had been going on for weeks. Superman still had a cough, but was looking better than he had in weeks. Batman thought about how that man went on hoping that his wife was still alive, even when his own cold investigator's logic had whispered that he was looking for a corpse. Went on fighting for his wife even though he was being eaten from the inside out.

For an instant, Batman felt a stab of jealousy towards that man for having something he seemed destined never to grasp onto.

Movement at the edge of his peripheral vision jolted him out of his uncharacteristic self-pity, and looked up at Green Lantern. "Yes, Kyle?"

Green Lantern was, as always, marginally ticked that Batman had worked out who he was, and he hadn't one clue to the Dark Knight's identity. At first, he was proud that it took The Batman to find him out, but since his 'secret' identity had become widespread to the point where even his refugee coffee-shop owner landlord figured it out, that honor had become more tarnished.

"Er, Batman … Flash and me … we were wondering … do you … I mean…"

Batman gave the Green Lantern 'the look' until the young man took a breath and started again. "Do you know if Bruce Wayne is gay?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Superman react in shock, and Wonder Woman hide a grin behind her hand. "There's no evidence to that effect. Is this in any way important? I want you to think very carefully before replying."

Green Lantern remained momentarily motionless, then shook his head, backing away as Batman turned and left the meeting room.

Wonder Woman watched the dark figure head towards the inner recesses of the Watchtower, and began to follow him.

***

Batman was walking towards Steel's workshop, intent on discussing a new security filter design proposed after Kobra had stolen his body in order to access the Watchtower teleporter system.

He heard the footsteps, knowing immediately who was following him.

"Diana."

"I came to see if you wanted to borrow any of my Barbara Streisland CD's."

Batman didn't even react to this. "You don't own any compact discs."

Wonder Woman rolled her eyes. "Did you have that sense of humor surgically removed, or did it drop off at birth?"

"It disappeared roughly the same time you descended to making jokes about a social minority. Did you put Lantern up to that little remark?"

"I think he put Bruce Wayne living in Gotham, and the world's greatest detective operating in Gotham together. I also think that you're more troubled by that than you're letting on."

"Interesting deduction."

"Well, you would have stopped at the 'no CD's' if it wasn't bothering you." When Batman didn't reply, she pressed on. "At least once a year that rumor surfaces, roughly the same time that Cruise and Kidman are about to split up. Why is it disturbing you now?"

Batman looked at Wonder Woman, then scanned the area, surreptitiously triggering a device which generated a sound-canceling wave - too many people here had enhanced hearing. He gave her an abbreviated version of his current predicament.

Wonder Woman closed her eyes, shaking her head in amusement. "Great Hera … you're trolling for a date?"

"Unfortunately." Somehow, his voice had lost it's usual grating tone, and sounded … well, more human. Wonder Woman had to stop at this little fact.

Although her social schedule was … well, dead, she decided it couldn't hurt to help. Something was always better than nothing. "Aren't there some executives at Wayne Corp? Female." She hastily amended.

"Over fifty per cent. However, rumors about Wayne's private life have been distorted there to the point where most of the available women stay as far away from him as possible. Besides - during No-Man's Land, most of them were evacuated in order to continue lobbying Congress. They're still tying up."

"Oh." Suddenly, an idea came to her. "I'll go."

Batman blinked rapidly - an expression of extreme shock. "Excuse me?"

"I'll come along. On a date. With you."

The words had shocked her, but Diana felt that her own momentary disorientation was a small price to see Batman stunned.

However, that shock soon disappeared. "How would Wonder Woman have met Bruce Wayne? In any capacity whatsoever."

"Let's see … you met me just before No-Man's Land, in order to secure my help in lobbying Washington. You've just re-established contact, and I took pity on you."

Batman was still trying to get over this little fact. "Even so…"

"Bruce, it's either me, or J'onn, at this point." Something must have crossed his face just then. "You did, didn't you?"

Batman sighed. "Yes. Of course, you're right. How shall…"

Wonder Woman touched his arm. "I'll take the teleporter to the Cave at … eight?"

"Eight P.M. Eastern Time would be…"

"You're supposed to say 'eight is good'."

"Eight is good." parroted Batman. He unconsciously rubbed the back of his neck, wondering how the hell he got into this.

"Right … formal, is it?"

"These affairs usually are."

"Okay…" an embarrassed silence filled the area. "…I'll see you then."

Wonder Woman turned, slightly shocked at the turn of events.

"Diana?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

She gave a slight grin, then walked away.

Batman stood alone, in the middle of the corridor, knowing that he had to do something, but couldn't for the life of him remember what it was.

Green Lantern was heading for the park, intent on getting some good landscapes done, when he noticed Batman standing alone.

Despite his common sense screaming at him to leave the man alone, his sense of goodwill decided to find out what was wrong.

"Er …Bats?"

Batman's head jolted up. "Yes, Kyle?"

No stinging remark about the informality. He's really bothered by something. "Well … you were standing there … are you…"

"I was thinking."

"Ah." An awkward pause. "Was it anything I could help with…?"

"Probably not, Kyle." A breath. "There's a … dangerous situation tonight that I need to deal with the utmost tact and discretion. If I handle it incorrectly, my actions would jeopardize a long-standing alliance, maybe destroy it permanently."

"Whoa." muttered Lantern. "I'll … let you figure it out by yourself, okay? Sounds pretty serious. I mean, you're probably trying to save the world … and the last time I ever did something like that was when I asked my best friend Susie Connor to the prom."

It was a testament to the awesome willpower of The Batman that he didn't swallow his own tongue right then and there.

"Someone spiked the punch … think I made a pass at her … punched me out." muttered Lantern, oblivious to the Dark Knight's accusatory stare. "I think I should call her, what do you think…"

Batman had taken the first opportunity to make one of his trademark turn-your-back-and-he's-gone exits.

"One of these days … I'm not going to be so freaked when he does that."

***

Bruce looked at himself in the mirror, examining his features. The bruising from several point-blank-range shots into his armored cowl had disappeared entirely, and his teeth had recently been re-whitened.

Alfred came into his employer's bedroom unannounced, as always. "Unless you have managed to solve this little problem yourself, Master Bruce, it's either going alone and risking tabloid exposure, or asking Miss Barbara and risking an embarrassing personal injury."

"I've arranged for a dinner companion."

"With all respect, a paid escort could be worse…"

"I'm not paying her … although, if some of the others hear about it, money will be changing hands." Bruce had a vision of Oracle recording the bets, Clark placing a fifty on Diana publicly dousing him with her drink, J'onn laying three twenties on her not showing up at all, and Deadman popping up and placing the lot on a wild one-night stand.

He placed aside the scenario, and reached into the cupboard to fetch one of his newer tuxedos. "It's Diana, Alfred."

"Ah." The butler knew whom he was talking about. "Will she be in costume, or formal attire?"

"She probably has clothes of her own … but get something ready just in case. Discretely."

Alfred nodded, already running through his mental catalogue of women's clothing within the mansion, something fashionable for a 5'11 muscular Amazon…

He wasn't particularly worried - Master Bruce had faced graver situations, and was still alive … although his luck had to run out sooner or later.

***

As Bruce went into the ensuite and prepared his shaving paraphernalia, a wave of terror welled up from his stomach, forcing him to clutch at the mirror.

Bruce Wayne was going to be seen with Wonder Woman, of all people! How the hell could he do something that stupid? Why didn't he wear his costume along with her on his arm?

Call her now, tell her it's a stupid idea, don't risk it.

Bruce looked up at himself, and took a deep breath. Relax.

Her idea was sound, simple and to-the-point. The best sort of lie. He'd better go over the details of their 'meeting', and leak it to the media after tonight. Insinuate that he wanted her to tie him up with that lasso, like he'd seen a hundred prostitutes in cheap costumes re-enact in seedy motels, then deny it publicly. Diana would deny it - her statements, like Clark's, were taken as gospel truth. Preserve both their reputations.

Bruce was slightly annoyed at his panic, but was pleased that he managed to control it. As he soaped up his shaving brush, he went over the list of people who would be there, and how to warn Diana off the more … intolerable of the social set.

***

Diana looked at herself in the mirror - a dress which she only wore for social occasions and had been gathering dust was now covering her form. The fact that she was fairly immortal and her body rarely changed meant that it still fit, but she was wondering if it would still stand up in social circles.

A redheaded woman, similar in build and height to Diana, looked over at her self-examination. "Why are you preening?"

"I'm going out, Artemis."

"Ah, an 'undercover' mission?"

"No, a social occasion. I'm going on a date."

Artemis looked at her fellow Amazon strangely. "A…date?" The Amazon hadn't been in Man's World as long as Diana, but knew of the social customs … if a secret fetish for daytime soaps can be called 'knowledge'.

"Yes, a date. Two people, in this instance, a man and myself, will attend a social function together."

Artemis walked over to Wonder Woman until their faces were nearly touching. "Who is this man?"

"He is Bruce Wayne. A man of…"

"Aha!" The Amazon's cry of triumph shattered the silence of the WonderDome. "A man who has been reported of having numerous affairs and intercourse with small animals! Who uses his wealth to escape prosecution for his crimes against women and other innocents!"

"Where did you hear that?"

"From the courageous reporters of 'Entertainment Tonight'!"

"Artemis … when did you start watching 'Entertainment Tonight'?"

"I was … the commercials … that doesn't matter! This man is a menace!"

"Do you think my judgement would erode to the point where I would let a man like that take me out?"

"Perhaps … the report was very detailed."

Wonder Woman turned around to the mirror, and started fitting two gold earrings … the only other pair she owned. Her thoughts were running over whether to get a new wardrobe when Artemis broke in again. "Are you sure this man is honorable?"

Diana thought back to the numerous times she saw the Dark Knight facing up to entities that would break Superman's back, go out of his way to help innocents, and continue in situations that she had labeled hopeless - and win. "That is one of the few things I can be absolutely sure about."

Artemis leaned in closer. "He might appear honorable. What if he tries to … 'put on the moves'?"

Diana suddenly had a vision of Batman, in full costume, asking her what was her sign, then moving out, John Travolta style, onto a disco floor.

The laughter which she suppressed nearly bent her double, Artemis watched her in confusion. "Diana?"

"I…it's nothing. Just…I don't think that he'll 'put the moves' on me on the first date, okay?" She straightened herself up, and put a coat on - not that she needed protection against the elements, but to protect the dress. Just to annoy her ally a little more, she shouted "Don't wait up!" before launching herself into the sky.

Diana headed for the UN building down below, where a teleporter tube was located, where she would manually program the co-ordinates for the Batcave instead of using the pre-set commands. Batman's paranoia made it very hard for convenient travel … a situation that he probably preferred.

She had a brief sensation of surreality as the building came in sight - she was going out with the man consistently voted Most Anal Personality of the JLA, even when he resigned. Considering the competition of Orion, and more recently, Aquaman, that was a pretty impressive track record.

What possessed her to ask out Batman, of all people?

As Charon had pointed out, she was becoming lonely. Trying to bring peace to Man's World was a trying, and emotionally draining task. At first she had thought it was an issue of re-educating the males of the world, an illusion shattered when she saw "Jerry Springer's Greatest Catfights". It was like putting out twenty wildfires while teaching a kindergarten full of pyromaniacs not to touch the matches.

Being desperate and dateless was not a real excuse, for going out with the one person in the world who had the ear of the most powerful beings on Earth, and stubbornly not ask for help when his spine was damaged. Didn't she make the 'World's Most Beautiful People' list last year…or the year before? The actual …getting a date should not be an issue.

Diana saw the mental vision of Batman re-enacting 'Saturday Night Live' in full costume and grinned. Perhaps that man's aloofness was the reason - she had never really seen the Dark Knight in anything remotely resembling a social situation.

The thrill of the challenge, and the creeping edge of boredom. Not exactly the best reasons to hit the town.

As she entered the building, and the secure room where the teleporter was located, she decided to see what happened … and enjoy herself, no matter what.

***

Diana emerged from the tube, looking around at the refurbished cave. Where was he, anyway…?

A discrete cough attracted her attention to a man in his sixties, in a tuxedo, hands behind his back. "Good evening, Miss."

Diana nodded. "Hello … Alfred, is it?"

A raised eyebrow. "My heavens, he actually talks about me."

She smiled, brushing her hair back. Was she actually nervous? "Not much … but what he says is always good. And Cl…Superman agrees. He says that you must have the patience of a saint."

"It's a pleasure to know that even Mr. Kent appreciates my efforts…" Replied Alfred, signaling that he was in the know. "…of course, he completely underestimates the resolve needed. Master Bruce is getting dressed … since he was trying on his third shirt when I last looked, it might be a while." The butler moved aside, showing a coffee set on a silver platter. "Would you…?"

"Water, please."

Alfred nodded, producing a chilled carafe from nowhere and deftly pouring into a glass that appeared by magic. "Ice?"

She shook her head while Alfred passed her the glass. She swallowed half the glass, then placed it on a computer terminal. "Will this dress suit the occasion?"

Alfred glanced down-up, then reached behind him. Somehow the glass had gone before it made a stain. "Those women hold the arts of insults and backstabbing as importantly as Master Bruce holds his … nocturnal activities. They will find something wrong with that dress, or anything else you might wear. I usually find that…" he held out a thin, flat box. "…distracting them with something they can't possibly have is usually an effective technique to deflect part of the critique."

Alfred opened the box to reveal a silver necklace, with an inlaid red gem half an inch wide in the center. "Half of those vultures would kill for this particular piece. The other half will hopefully die."

With that, he moved behind the Princess and deftly clasped it around her neck. The reflection in the massive monitor showed that the silver of the necklace matched her bracelets.

"It belonged to Master Bruce's mother … quite enchanting, in my opinion."

"Is there a…"

The butler produced a small mirror from behind his back. As Diana took a better look at the jewelry, she glanced upwards at Alfred. That patient look was virtually the same as Br…Batman's when he was waiting for something.

"You've been with Bruce for a long time, haven't you?"

"There are times when I remember not being a part of his life. They are few, and far between. Good thing too … when I have to work elsewhere, he survives on pizza and whatever a delivery boy can be bribed to bring up here."

Alfred looked around the cave while Diana digested the mental image of Batman trying to solve a crime while eating an everything-but-the-anchovies. "Rather than embarrassing him behind his back … may I show you the cave?"

Diana thought for a moment. "Can't we do both?"

"Miss Diana - I can't fathom any reason to stop. Shall we migrate to the gymnasium and those first attempts at toilet training, or the trophy room and the baby photos?"

***

Bruce descended down the hewn stone staircase, looking at the central systems. Where was she…?

"…we spent three hours on the winch trying to free that blessed thing from the rubble…"

Alfred. Bruce followed the voice towards the trophy room, situated on the lower levels along with the Cray processors. Striding quickly, the voices became more and more distinct as he progressed.

"…it's on an angle…"

"I know. Master Bruce is going to help re-align it tomorrow night, after his patrol…"

The voice stopped, as Bruce entered the trophy room.

He saw Diana floating up to the top of the giant penny, taking it in one hand, and shifting it. When they had recovered it from the rubble of the quake, and re-positioned it, the lettering of the coin ended up an inch or two on an angle. He had been meaning to winch it up, and re-align it, but other matters had been pressing.

Bruce saw her flying … her dress was billowing gently in the air conditioning, the look of concentration on her face as she re-set the multi-ton weight.

For an instant, he was frozen at the sight.

Diana looked at Alfred for confirmation, then landed next to him.

"Thank you Miss Diana … you have saved an old man's back."

"He doesn't make you do something like that, does he?"

"No … but it doesn't mean I can stop him."

Diana jumped slightly, then turned around to give the Batman, the one person who could consistently sneak up on her, a piece of her mind.

She saw Bruce Wayne, notorious charmer, and living up to every rumor, in one of the world's most expensive tuxedos, with a faint, nervous smile on his face.

This stunned her more than anything else … was this the Dark Knight she'd propositioned earlier today?

From behind his back he produced something - a single-stemmed rose in green tissue paper. He presented it to her with an attempt at ceremony.

"This … is unexpected." Diana took the rose, and inhaled the scent. "I expected to be thrown in the back of the car as soon as I got here."

"With all the time I've spent training him in manners?" stated Alfred. "Probably ignores it as soon as my back is turned…"

"Thank you Alfred … we can wait a while before leaving, if you wish. I've developed a reputation of rarely arriving on time."

"There's even a running bet on how long he's going to be late."

Bruce gave him a quick not-now-or-ever glare. Alfred, unfazed, nodded to Diana. "I'll get the limousine ready … just make sure he doesn't try anything while I'm gone."

Alfred left while Bruce tried to compose himself. Diana gave him a slight smile. "Clark was right … he is extraordinary."

"Most of the time. He's enjoying the fact that you're not a debutante or society belle. Hates the entire social scene … more than I do."

"So basically, I'm here to reinforce your image in a crowd of people you hate."

"Yes." His tone was apologetic. "You can back out, if you wish."

"I've already hired a babysitter."

Bruce was about to react, then got it. "Have you seen the cave yet…?"

"Alfred showed me most of it."

"Oh … you haven't seen the manor, have you?"

"I saw the Architectural Digest feature. Clark loaned me his copy."

"That's good, that's good…"

"Wayne … quit stalling."

"You're right." He held out his elbow. "Shall we?"

She slid her arm through his, and they walked towards the staircase. "Is there anything I should know?"

"Any urge to kill the hosts of this bash should be suppressed until there are no witnesses."

***

Bruce shifted in the backseat while Diana watched him. He opened a secret compartment in the driver's seat, revealing a Bat costume, checking the compartment in the utility belt one by one, then re-set the panel. He then looked at Diana, an expression of … apprehension, on his face.

"This is your last chance to back out of this Diana. This is not going to be pretty."

Diana gave a wan smile. "I've faced Doomsday, Mageddon, and the General. A society bash can't be that hard."

"Believe me, in half an hour you'll wish you were facing every supervillian on the planet again." muttered Alfred. "The things I've heard from the other drivers…the things I could tell you…."

"Thank you Alfred … I'm saying that this is a field of combat you're not entirely used to. Also … you'll see me act much more differently."

"Now I can't resist." stated Diana.

"We're here." stated Alfred, the limo pulling to a halt. "Once more into the breach…"

A flash of intuition made Diana look at Bruce. His usual dour expression was there … until a shutter seemed to slam tightly shut behind his eyes. When he looked at her again, his shoulders were slightly slumped, the usual fierce intelligence gleaming from his eyes was non-existent, and a slightly dopey smile made Diana nearly collapse in shock…good thing she was sitting down.

"Diana! Shall we…?" He held out his hand, which she numbly took.

The door was opened, and bright piercing lights strobed into the interior of the car. Bruce, obviously used to this, gently escorted her out of the car.

The lights were the flashes of paparazzi, lining the sides of the hotel entrance. Bruce started waving to a few, obviously 'old friends'. Diana regretted not carrying weapons.

Her enhanced hearing picked out a few stray words in the crowd's roar. 'Is that…?'

'…definitely her…'

'…thought she was shacking with Supes…'

'…goddamn rich bastard ruining it for the rest of us…'

'…does she use the rope?'

She suddenly heard Bruce talking softly, lips not moving, in the way he'd directed her and Clark countless times on the battlefield. "Turn at the same angle as me and smile at them, hold your pose until I move. Then face the other side and repeat." A pause. "You're doing fine."

Diana followed the instructions, even pressing in a little. Bruce gently led her towards the entrance. "That was the easy part."

"Great Hera, I'm blind."

"Keep your eyes closed for twenty seconds."

Diana let him lead, keeping her head bowed. When the elapsed period finished, she found herself going through the doors.

Inside was a massive ballroom, nearly the size of a football field, filled with people in expensive clothes, and a low, respectful hub of conversation at a slightly louder tone than the orchestra.

A woman who was in her forties but presenting it well suddenly swanned up to Bruce, with an excited squeal and air-kissed him on both cheeks. "Bruce! Darling! I thought you weren't going to make it!"

"Greta, do I ever miss a party?"

She gave a mock pout. "My Cancer function three years ago."

Bruce gave a 'offended' look. "That was a matter of life and death!"

"Really … how old was she?"

"Eighteen. That's what she said, anyway."

'Greta' gave a slight titter, a rapid staccato laugh. "Oh, you're so naughty! And you haven't introduced me to your friend here…" She peered at Diana, confused. "…have we met…"

"Unlikely." Said Diana, smiling, hating her already. "Diana of Themyscira."

This rung a bell for Greta, but she didn't get the tune. "Were you on the news?"

"I'm the ambassador for a small island nation." Pressed Diana. "I also do some PR work for the JLA."

"Oh, I see!" said Greta, obviously clueless. "Well … I hope you enjoy your stay in Gotham…"

"I intend to." said Bruce, taking Diana's arm. "Diana, there's somebody I simply must introduce to you. If you'll excuse us…?"

As Diana and Bruce moved on, Diana took a deep cleansing breath, the sort that promises to dispel anger but utterly fails to work. "That woman is…"

"I know. Unless it's on the social pages or prime time, she's utterly oblivious."

"How long until she realizes?"

"Well, she'll be asking her secretary, Betty by now, who keeps up with everything. And Betty will be getting over her shock and telling Greta just about…"

A suppressed squeal made a few heads turn towards the entrance.

"She'll be trying to get you to be the guest of honor at one of her luncheons. Avoid at all costs."

"Her or the event?"

"Both."

***

"So you're Wonder Woman?"

This was delivered by a large man, with an English accent, babyish face, and large moustache.

"Yes, I am." Already she had been headhunted to do four commercials dealing from being the face of a large emerging software company to public service work for yeast infections. She made a mental memo to kill Booster Gold at the earliest opportunity.

Not to mention the eleven different charity luncheons, functions, soirees for everything from breast cancer to the newly-popularized Parkinson's disease. Her polite refusals were already earning her the ' uptight bitch' and 'slut' slurs from all over the room. And everybody thought that Superman had the monopoly on super-hearing.

"I'd like to know, since it's my field and all that, how do you super-people handle funding and all that?"

Diana blinked. A half-way intelligent question.

"The UN delivers a funding grant every year … most member nations deliver a voluntary contribution to our organization every year as well. Mostly, since we use minerals from space and material contributions such as advanced technology from other sources, such as other planetary governments, our budget is very low, comparatively speaking."

"That's strange. Here I was, thinking that you'd have multi-billion expenditures because of all that property damage you fellows do, and all that. Well then-" he produced a small business card "-if you need investment advice, tax havens, and all that, just give me a call…"

"Diana!" called Bruce materializing beside her. "Sir Gregory here isn't trying to steal you away from me, is he? You old fox!"

"What, me? My wife wouldn't let me for starters. Pity, though, she'd be a lot more interesting to be around if she did though. I mean, in the seventies, I was considered…"

"Sorry, Sir Greg, but I promised to introduce Diana to an old friend over there. Catch you on the course!"

Bruce swept her away with a speed that bordered on the ruthless. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Hera will thank you."

"Trying to get your investment portfolio?" Bruce's tone was that of the 'public' face - the party was in full swing, and he probably didn't want to scare anybody with his 'Batman' voice.

"The JLA's"

"One of the rare breed of investment bankers; an honest man … can't balance a checkbook to save his life though."

Diana was stunned by this. "Then how is he-" she consulted the card "-VP of New Developments, and a majority stockholder?"

"Deeply inside the Old Boy's network in London. That means unparalleled contacts within Europe's, and the world's financial community. Worth any amount of incompetence he's capable of, but he knows his limitations, and delegates most of his work."

Diana wondered about the illogicality that composed Man's World - never would something like that exist on her island - but then again, a strict royal matriarchy in a warrior society consisting solely of women made an 'Old Boy's Network' a virtual impossibility.

"Bruce?"

"Yes…?" That vapid grin was incredible. If she didn't realize just how much of it was an act, the urge to punch it would be irresistible.

"I have to … freshen up?"

"I'll be waiting…" A slight suggestive leer that communicated the intent, but just not visible enough to convince the jury.

***

Diana entered the lady's room, and saw several women standing around the mirror. They looked at each other guiltily, and hastily exited, some forgetting their purses in their rush.

Hmm, just whom were they talking about? Thought Diana, deciding good sarcasm was wasted without an audience.

These systems didn't exist within her island world, and never would. A strict military hierarchy precluded cliques and elites - even the 'officer' mentality was non-existent due to the heavily ingrained doctrines of sisterhood. She took a breath, and looked at herself - she would probably never fit in properly back on Themyscira, or here either.

Perhaps this was what it was to be truly alone - surrounded by hundreds, but incapable of talking to any of them.

Deciding not to dwell on this solitude, Diana stood at the mirror and experimentally fluffed up her hair. Satisfied, she produced her lipstick and started re-touching. Normally, she wore no make-up, but putting on a shade of 'Passion Red' was her only concession to formality.

A woman who had just entered the women's room came up behind Diana as she blotted. "You are Wonder Woman, aren't you?"

Diana assessed this person - forty-five, fifty, touched up her brown locks but otherwise all natural. Probably used a Stairmaster every day. "Yes, I am…you are?"

"Rebecca Stanton. I just wanted to ask…."

What? What's Bruce like in bed? How much is he paying you? Does he really use small animals in that way?

"…what's Batman like?"

This question shook Diana. In her experience, mostly JLA press conferences, the media avoided asking, or mentioning the Dark Knight, because their reputations as 'serious reporters' weren't worth indulging any curiosity in urban legends. The general public usually followed this line. But then again, it had been a while since she had been in Gotham…

"I thought everybody considered Batman a myth."

Rebecca smiled. "Oh, we know. We don't like to talk about him … you don't believe in the bogeyman, but there are times when you just don't want to look under the bed … do you know what I mean?"

Diana, with her strict Amazon warrior upbringing, had no idea whatsoever. "Yes, I think so … well, Batman is … he's…" Diana realized that defining Batman was a major task in itself. "…can you imagine a workaholic, the kind that would rather die before leaving his work unfinished?"

"My husband."

"Well, if you multiply your husband by ten, and if he was a policeman … you might understand what Batman was like. Why…?"

The older woman looked at the mirror, and examined her features while she talked. "My husband was mugged two years ago. There were five of them, and they wanted … needed, to use their knives. They were just about to touch him when…"

"Batman."

"Hospitalized all five of them. I found out later that they had killed every one of their victims, so that they wouldn't be identified." She turned to Diana. "Sometimes my husband won't go away from a task, will spend days without sleeping at his desk … but there's those times when he looks at me, and others, little things, I guess … could you thank Batman for me?"

"As soon as I see him." promised Diana.

Rebecca turned to leave, then back to Diana, placing a comradely hand on her arm. "I know he's good looking, but you can do better than Bruce." She raised her hands to ward off Diana's anticipated objection. "I know, half the things they say about him aren't true, and the other half are wild distortions … but that man simply doesn't use what God gave him. Unless he gets his act together … I don't know, one of these days, he's going to wake up, and realize how lonely he is. Don't wait until then."

With that, she left the bathroom, leaving Diana to ponder this new perspective.

***

She entered the ballroom, ruthlessly using her meta-level strength to navigate the crowd until she found Bruce. He was describing, with great animation and excessive volume, how he almost made par on the thirteenth hole.

Diana came behind him, looping her arm through his. "Bruce?"

"Hmm … oh! Diana! I'll just recap quickly for you…"

"I hate to steal you away, but there's something I have to talk to you about…?"

"Ah … well …I…"

The others were enjoying his discomfort. "For god's sake Wayne, it's not like we haven't heard this before!"

"Oh, well …I'll see you later then…"

Bruce was led/dragged through the room, looking suitably stunned, but still interacting, waving at somebody, Diana recognizing a national TV sitcom star. "I met a Rebecca Stanton in the bathroom?"

Bruce's voice kept up his conversational tone. "Oh yes? Her husband works at the local LexCorp facility. VP of Sales, trying to headhunt him for years."

"She asked me about Batman."

Bruce's face never shifted, although a faint tremor lanced though his bicep - nearly imperceptible, if you didn't have enhanced senses to compensate for super-dense bodily tissue, and weren't looking for it. "Oh, really? Never figured Becky for tabloid gossip."

"She wants me to thank him for saving her husband's life."

Comprehension 'dawned' on Bruce's face. "Oh! Yes, I heard about that! Escaped from some knife-wielding muggers a while back. Nasty, very nasty."

"She wanted me to thank Batman."

"Well, you do that … and tell him to meet me on the course tomorrow, would you?" That line was delivered in a condescending tone that made Diana want to hit Bruce very hard, and it was a testament to his acting skill that it came closer to succeeding than anything else in this evening.

"Bruce, talk to me like that one more time, and I'll feed you your utility belt." This sweetly delivered remark took a full half-second to register, the realization as effective as a crowbar between the eyebrows.

Diana, ruthless warrior she was, pressed her advantage. "We've spent enough time here, don't you think? You've got five minutes to get us out of here…"

"Or…?"

"…or I start talking about how you asked me out simply so you could get some time alone with Superman."

Her features were friendly, but her eyes conveyed the seriousness of her threat.

Bruce gulped, theatrically, and headed over to Greta to make his excuses.

***

They were walking outside the hotel, into the massive parking lot. Bruce knew that he had made an enormous faux pas in there, but didn't have any idea of how to fix the situation.

"I couldn't stay there much longer myself…" Bruce produced something that looked like a pager, and a car's lights turned on in the parking lot.

"Alfred stays out there?"

"I've told him to go home, but he likes to read mystery novels … his current addiction in Patrica Cornwell." Bruce's tone was losing the 'idiot', and gravitating more to the glimpse of humanity she saw at the Watchtower. "I was going to go on patrol … do you want to come along?"

"From what Clark and Kyle say, any other hero that dares come to Gotham isn't partnered with you … more like chaperoned."

Bruce gave Diana a strange look before reaching the limousine, Alfred already opening the passenger door, letting Diana slide in first.

Bruce waited until the car started before resuming the conversation. "I'm inviting you along because … because I'd like you to come with me."

This statement sounded forced … she had just seen Bruce stonewall, hedge, avoid the topic and downright lie twenty-seven times tonight with Academy Award winning skill, so this wasn't a performance. Diana let a perfect eyebrow raise, keeping the ball in Bruce's court.

Bruce tried to re-arrange his words … why was this so difficult? "Back there … it wasn't me. I'd like to show you what I really am … well, what part of me is Gotham."

Diana was intrigued, this was as close to a personal confession as she'd ever heard from this man. "Buy me dinner, and you're on."

***

Twenty minutes later, they were sitting on the roof of Wayne Tower. Diana looked down at the paper sack with two large Big Mac Meals with drinks - Batman had bought the meal, climbed up the side of the building, not spilling a drop, and the meal was still warm. And all without been seen. Not bad for a man who couldn't fly.

Diana took her fries, looking at Batman - somehow, it was impossible to think of him as Bruce while he wore the costume. He was tapping a control panel on his belt, setting up the police scanner while checking his burger.

"So…" she said, tapping excess salt into the air. "…do you come here often?"

The split second grin was nearly imperceptible. "Fairly often. From here, you can reach the entire city." A bite and quick swallow as he pointed to an overhanging gargoyle on a concrete strut, nearly a hundred meters below. "If you jump off here … and snag that … you get enough momentum to launch to that flagpole … and then you reach the Von Grunwald Tower. Less than a minute."

Wonder Woman devoured a handful of fries as she pondered the physics. "Terrifying."

"At first. Then you use the fear. Let it drive you."

Diana sipped her coke, as she watched the expressionless face of the Dark Knight eating a Big Mac. "Did you know that there's a running pool as to when you're going to get an ulcer?"

"Clark scans me every meeting. Flash has been placing twenty dollars every month, Green Lantern has been thinking about it, but his financial situation prevents excessive expenditure."

Diana shook her head. "You know, acting like a human being wouldn't kill you."

"I have a city to defend. I am currently the only non-powered Charter Member of the JLA. Acting human wouldn't be advisable."

"Would you ever give this up?"

"Would you give up your mission in 'Man's World'?"

Diana cursed herself for falling into an obvious trap, and was thinking of another tactic when Batman spoke. "Why did you ask me out then?"

"Well … at first, I wanted to see if you could act … normal. Also … we don't spend much time doing anything remotely non-work related."

"I'm sorry."

This was the last thing she expected - Batman never apologized for anything, usually because he was usually right, and always stubborn. "What for?"

"For bringing you into that…" A gauntleted hand pointed towards the hotel they had come from. "…for treating you like nearly every other woman I've … used, to reinforce Bruce Wayne's image." Batman's shoulders slumped slightly. "For not … for not realizing until today that I've aggravated every woman who would speak to me." He looked at Wonder Woman, his face drawn.

"To answer your question … I don't know if I can ever give this up. No matter what it does to me. You can't give up a lifelong obsession just like that."

"That's the first step."

"What?"

"Admitting you have a problem."

Batman growled. "Perhaps. Maybe that idea of yours has merit."

"What was that?"

"More social activities."

Wonder Woman thought on this topic. "The JLA goes bowling."

"Plastic Man would cheat."

"Maybe hold the meetings somewhere new … don't you have property in Metropolis?"

"Clark's apartment."

"I don't think Lois likes me."

"She didn't like Clark, at first."

Diana nodded, polishing off her burger - Batman had finished, and was sipping the drink without the straw. "Anyway, that's a moot point - Luthor is trying to litigate the apartment building out of my hands. I own the land and property, but he's threatening to cut off all basic utilities until I hand the deed over free and clear."

"Somehow I'm completely failing to be surprised … what are you going to do?"

"That building is the only access I've got to B13 technology. If I'm going to operate in any way in Metropolis, I have to keep part of it from Luthor. Right now, I'm considering investing in SteelWorks …"

"Bruce?"

"What?"

"Talk about something else. Anything apart from-" she sat down, legs crossed, facing Batman. "-work, our … obsessions that make us wear fancy dress. Do you like music? Movies? Theatre? Sports?"

Batman opened his mouth slightly, then closed it again. Diana saw an expression of desperation cross briefly. "I … I liked 'The Cherry Orchard' once. It's a play, set in pre-revolutionary Russia … I haven't seen it in years … forget who wrote it." A wry smile crossed his face. "Robin likes alternative music … don't understand it myself … Alfred tried to make me listen to opera when I was younger … much younger. It's very good when you're in a contemplative mood…and I play the worst game of golf in Gotham."

Diana grinned slightly at this. "We're getting somewhere. What about movies?"

Batman darkened slightly … Diana saw him retreating back into his old persona. "Not since that night."

Wonder Woman knew what he was talking about - she had gotten the story out of Superman during a sudden attack of curiosity; eight-year-old Wayne watched a gunman execute his parents in a botched robbery, and devoted his life to vengeance on all crime from that moment on.

"How is your own social life, then?" His voice sounded more hurried than usual, attempting to change the subject.

A wry grin crossed her face. "Hardly better than yours. I train. I try and stop wars. Occasionally, I meet Julia and Valerie, or Helena … have lunch, or coffee. I think I'm becoming addicted to espressos."

Diana stood up, and stretched. "I heard that Gotham had more to offer than just one tower. The view's marvelous, but isn't there any more to your city?"

Batman triggered a button on his belt. "Follow me."

With that, he ran to the edge of the building, and leapt into space.

Wonder Woman felt the winds lift her into the air, and floated after the Dark Knight, watching him travel his city in his preferred manner.

The Batman traversed the rooftops effortlessly, with the ease of total mastery of this art.

He first ran across the flat portions of the city, at incredible speeds. He would then launch himself into the air, throwing a batarang towards any extending piece of foundation - he seemed to have memorized every anchorage point in the city. The projectile would catch, and then he would be swinging, using the momentum to propel himself faster across the urban landscape than any human without a metagene had any right to move.

He then leap to the ground, to where a long, sleek black car was waiting, engine purring. As Diana descended, she realized that it was the latest incarnation of the Batmobile.

The roof slid open and Batman landed next to the vehicle. Wonder Woman wondered why he didn't enter the vehicle - until he extended an arm for her to enter first.

"At least you remembered your manners, Mr. Wayne." Murmured Diana, as he helped her into the seat.

"Alfred would never let me forget it if I did." Responded Batman, as he crossed into the driver's seat.

The cockpit closed, and the car took off. Immediately the police band filled the interior.

"Most people use music on a date." Stated Diana.

"We're not most people." Murmured Batman. He did, however, touch a switch which muted the volume to a background level.

"So … do we go to Makeout Point?"

"Only on Fridays … " Batman began, then stopped himself. He turned to Diana, a slight smile on his face. "If I knew I had a chance, I would have used the Lamborghini."

"Why Mr. Wayne … do you get lucky with that car?" Diana was beginning to enjoy this flirting … okay, it was probably on par with kids in junior high, but she was going to flirt, dammit.

"Truth be told … I haven't tried … in that area … for a long time."

"That was completely unsurprising."

"No … I guess it isn't." Batman was silent. "Only today I've noticed what I've been missing."

"Careful … people might think that you're human."

Since that first confession, it seemed earlier to continue in that vein. "For the first time, I envied Clark … for his marriage."

Diana gave Batman an odd look. "Most men envy Clark for his powers."

"I don't." A pause. "Have you ever …regretted…?"

"A lot." Diana shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. "I've seen friends find somebody … get married … you read about how you're supposed to have wild affairs with some of …or the most powerful man on Earth, when in reality he's found somebody years ago, and you're all alone …" she trailed off, wondering at the venom in her own voice.

"I … I can sympathize. Parts of it, I mean."

An uncomfortable silence filled the Batmobile's interior, until Batman broke it. "It appears we have something in common."

Diana nodded, trying to smile. "We're married to our … jobs. At the expense of our personal lives."

"Somehow I doubt that anybody would ever suspect we're workaholics …. with these outfits."

A slight snort indicated Diana's suppressed laugh. "Batarangs and Mylanta."

"Bracelets and therapy." Murmured Batman, a slight smile on his face.

"I think you need it more than I do."

"After Hugo Strange …"

Suddenly the background murmur of the police scanner turned to full volume. Batman's eyes widened at the report, and he flicked several switches while sending the Batmobile into a screeching 180.

"What is it?"

"Robbery of a liquor store. Silent alarm's been tripped. We're closer than any patrol car."

Wonder Woman was feeling decidedly naked … this was meant to be a date, not a battle, and the only weapons she had were her bracelets.

Batman must of noticed her trepidation. "There's weaponry in the storage space behind you … nothing that you're familiar with though…"

Wonder Woman looked in the back, and pulled out a compound bow and arrow. She examined it, then took an aluminum arrow with a stubby, conical point on the end, and hefted it experimentally, before tossing both of them away. "What's the plan?"

***

The youth, K to his friends, was looking around the store, the adrenaline rush mixing with the crystal meth he'd taken earlier tonight.

The college kid who'd taken the night shift for book money was lying down in a pool of blood, the .357 round passing through his left lung nicking a vein.

His compatriots, Kev, Stills and Wes, were going through the cash register, as well as all the top quality booze in the place.

Suddenly, a woman opened the doors, and walked in like she owned the place. "There you are. I'm looking for a nice white … my date is expecting me soon, but doesn't know a thing about his drink. Got anything good in stock?"

She wore a red dress, and weird armbands, and some kind of funky accent … French, maybe?

But … that neck-thing - too thick to be a necklace - had a big jewel in the middle. Had to be worth something.

And the bitch looked like a supermodel as well. Okay, her arms were thick like those girls on Monday Night Nitro, but the rest of her …

She seemed to ignore the other guys, and the guns, and went right up to the counter. "Hello? Any service?"

Then she saw the college kid.

She didn't seem scared, though. More angry, than anything. She jumped over the counter, and checked the guy out like those guys on ER.

K drew his gun - not as smooth as he'd like, it kept on snapping in his pocket - and pointed it at her. "Okay, bitch, I want the jewel, and the cash. Hand it."

She looked up from her examination. "This man needs help. Put down your gun and help me."

K laughed. Uptown bitch who liked to give orders. "Now you look! This piece says that you get away from that piece of meat there, and …"

She moved.

Somehow, she grabbed K's wrist behind the gun, and squeezed with her thumb and index finger. The pain made K shriek and instantly drop the gun.

The others saw what happened, and drew their weapons, firing.

Then the woman started … punching the air in front of her, at incredible speed. Sparks flew in the middle of the air where she punched.

K realized, as he grabbed his dropped gun with his left hand, that she was hitting the bullets before they hit her, and bouncing them away.

The woman was advancing as she intercepted the bullets, and grabbed Kev's by the neck. She immediately threw him into Wes, sending them crashing into the ice-freezer.

Stills ran out of ammo. He grabbed a liter-bottle of Jacks, and ran towards her, bottle hefted like a club. If he could get one shot in …

The woman turned, quicker than he could register, grabbed the bottom of his denim jacket, and pulled up, enveloping his arms and head in the cloth, just before head-butting him.

K had taken three bottles of 140-proof Polish vodka, and poured them into a bucket. When the woman had finished with Stills, he threw the contents of the bucket over her.

She looked slightly surprised when soaked by the cold liquid. K then tossed his Zippo on her.

Like he imagined, she went up like an oil-soaked rag.

But unlike he imagined, the wall of fire she became walked unhurriedly to the nearest fire extinguisher, and calmly played it over herself. She seemed to take more care with her clothes and jewelry than her own flesh.

The woman was blackened, covered in soot, her makeup burnt away. Nothing a shower wouldn't cure. She examined her dress, what parts weren't burnt away was blackened, completely carbonized, and filthy.

"This … this was my best dress."

She moved towards K, films of dirt falling off her.

"My only formal dress."

K moved away, trying to back off as quickly as possible.

"Welll…" he was trying for bravado that he didn't really feel "…whatcha gonna do about it?"

The woman gave him a chilling smile. "I'll give you to my friend. He's just behind you."

K was about to sneer when he heard a dry chuckle behind him.

He turned, slowly, to see a dark shadow, in a cape and wearing a symbol of a bat on it's chest.

The youth immediately fainted.

***

Diana looked at Batman, standing over the youth. "Now I see the advantage of trying to intimidate everyone you meet. So your enemies just pass out in front of you."

"It helps."

"I wish they'd do that for me. Saves a whole lot of actual fighting. Did you get the man behind the counter out?"

"Just before Sleeping Beauty here decided to set you alight. He's stabilized within the car. You didn't have to…"

"Batman … who was most capable of surviving whatever these people threw at us?"

He was about to argue, when he shook his head. "You're right. Thanks for your help, Diana."

Diana looked down at her dress, mournfully. "Can we get back to the cave? I think I've had enough of Gotham's nightlife for one night."

***

The Batmobile entered the Cave, and Batman got out, Diana following without waiting for Batman, neither of them saying anything, the awkward silence filling like a mist.

Batman pushed back his cowl, trying not to convey his nervousness. For some reason, Diana wasn't looking directly at him.

They were walking to the teleporter tube situated somewhere in the more distant recesses of the cave, the silence growing more deafening with every step. Bruce suddenly stopped, Diana pivoting to face him.

"Diana … the holdup notwithstanding … this was one of the better evenings I've had … in quite a long while."

"The firefight was probably better than a movie."

"You're probably … thank you, again. I owe you … well, something large in return."

Diana cocked her head in amusement. "Bruce, would you have ever refused me anything?"

"At least … I can replace that dress."

She looked up, an anticipatory glean in her eye. "A designer label?"

"I can have one shipped from Paris." A pause. "Tailor made."

"I'll see you at next week's meeting, if not sooner."

Diana moved in, to deliver a small kiss on his cheek, out of courtesy rather than anything else. At the same time, a slight sound made Bruce turn his head to see if Alfred was there.

Whether by accident or design, their lips touched. Melded.

It lasted for half a second before they broke apart, looking at each other, wondering what had just happened.

Wordlessly, Bruce's hand tentatively touched her face, while she clasped the back of his neck.

Then they closed in again, making this action longer, deeper, now aware of the other's heartbeat, their breathing, the heat of their bodies.

Diana was debating whether to ask what was going on, but at this point in time she had ceased to care.

Bruce was wondering how his arms were reaching up and cradling the back of her head, but the instinctive part of him - long dormant - snuck up behind his rational self and clubbed it senseless.

Diana found herself pushing against Bruce until they were leaning against the wall, their lips slowly moving against each other.

Through the haze of the moment, Diana felt that his hands had reached her waist, and were slowly inching downwards.

The Batman is trying to grope my butt.

It was that realization that forced her to break contact, the laughter welling out of her mouth.

Bruce was more dazed than her by the turn of events, and tried to regain focus, wondering what the hell was happening now.

"Sorry … it's just…" She stopped, hiccuped, and looked at Bruce, grinning like a hyena.

He was still looking at her, immaculate hair now sticking up in all directions, confused, but he was doing something unprecedented that stopped her urge to laugh.

"Bruce…?"

"Y…yes…?"

"You're … smiling."

He reached to his face, like there was a piece of food to eliminate, but she grabbed his wrists. "No … don't move…"

Diana carefully examined his face, trying to memorize the expression - there was a very good chance that what she saw might never happen again. "I never knew you could smile like that." She let go. "Sorry about laughing like that … I just realized who was doing what to me."

Bruce nodded, his smile increasing. "I guess I've shattered enough preconceptions for one night."

"Were you expecting…"

"I was happy enough that you didn't walk out on me during the function."

Diana brushed part of her hair back, trying to get her thoughts in order. "W … obviously … was that because you were … and I was here…?"

Bruce moved an inch closer. "Diana, if it was just that … I mean, I don't want to sound conceited, but I've had a more than a few offers. Some of them are people I've met."

"According to what I've heard at that party alone, you've fathered half of Gotham."

"That's probably why I've been so tired lately."

Diana grabbed his arm, a wry smile on her face. "If you've had so much practice…" she let go of him. "Great Hera, the Batman's cracking jokes."

She looked at him, wondering what to do next.

Bruce found himself speaking. "I didn't set out to do this, my main concern was making sure you didn't want to kill me afterwards … but I … I want to do this again. Be with you socially."

Diana waited until she was certain he was finished until she replied.

"Bruce, you're possibly one of the most noble men I've ever met. I've seen what you like the world to perceive you - either a rich himbo or a borderline fanatic. Now … there's also a part of you that is repressed further than anything else I've ever seen before … and I'd like to see more of that."

Bruce felt his mouth stretching up again in that unfamiliar expression. "Do … do you want to do this again? Go out on another date?"

Diana shook her head. "I think I need to have my head examined." She looked up at Bruce, who was waiting, expectantly. "I get to choose the place next time."

"Of course."

"We'll discuss this later … if I stay out any longer, Artemis will tear Gotham apart looking for me." Diana leaned in, kissing Bruce at the end of his nose. "Remember, the meeting or sooner."

With that, she entered the tube, and disappeared in a haze of photons.

***

Bruce touched his lips, still uncertain what happened.

He had gone out on a date with Wonder Woman.

Not only had it not been a disaster, it turned out exceptionally well.

Suddenly, Bruce heard Alfred moving down the stairs. He pushed up his cowl, absorbing the happier, and slightly stunned Bruce Wayne, becoming the Batman once again.

Alfred stood, despite in his dressing gown, still the impeccable gentleman. "I take it that the evening was a success, sir?"

"She didn't try to kill me afterwards." Stated Batman, sitting down at the console. "I'll re-fuel the car and update Gordon on the robbery. The boy in hospital will have to deliver a statement."

"So you will be going out again?"

"Patrol was incomplete, and the night's young. There's rumors of an Ecstasy haul coming in from Bludhaven."

"Might I make a suggestion?"

"As always."

"Before I retire for tonight, I must point out, that to ensure the proper frightening visage that you employ to such effective use…"

"Yes, Alfred?"

"Remove the lipstick. It's simply not you."

As Alfred left the cave, Batman turned to the monitor, to see the smear of Passion Red all over his lips and part of his chin.

***

Why did I write this?

First off, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a half-decent romance story (if you haven't noticed, this is my first) and also a proper comic book story (ditto first status)

Second … like a serpent from it's egg, this idea has insinuated itself in my head for years … a mental purging, catharsis, call it what you will.

Batman; control freak of the JLA has no life apart from his crusade against crime (unlike me, who has no life, period.) is overdue for his nervous breakdown and midlife crisis (if a broken back can only induce a few negative thoughts before rushing half-way across the world to rescue his doctor, that does not count). I thought that a fan-fiction attempt at a normal life might send a message to the Powers that Be at DC Comics (Fat F#%*in' chance!) to get him a woman, or a sharp shock that makes him realize that his life outside costume is non-existent.

Wonder Woman; nun in a really tight outfit. She has less of a life than Bats does, even though she resembles the proverbial brick outhouse … since her entire romantic life seems to consist of her hanging around Superman on the off-chance that Lois might shuffle off this mortal coil, I decided to throw a spanner in the works. Besides, heroines are not meant to be that pathetic.

Since these two have no social life, I decided that they could get one together - besides, a few fairy tales have had Knights and Princesses living happily ever after, precedent does exist.

 
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