When he sends her the flowers, he isn’t quite sure how she’ll take it.
She’s…what? An immortal warrior? An alien goddess? He’s not really sure how to classify her. The fact that she’s a woman is the most puerile, shallow definition he can come up with, but he has to start somewhere.
It’s not like the gesture is even born out of any basis for romantic interest. It’s curiosity. What she’ll do. How she’ll react. He isn’t sure how to treat her, and after everything that went down with the Man of Steel, he’s keen to try a little subtlety.
So he sends flowers. Large, impressive, and expensive (of course) because he’s never sent flowers before and so the only experience he can rely on is Bruce Wayne’s.
She doesn’t send a thank you. He receives a text notification that she signed for the delivery, and then a week later she sends him his own bouquet. It’s just as large, just as expensive, and just as useless, delivered to his main office at Wayne Enterprises.
A rare smile flickers over his features.
He sends a gift of encrypted data a month later. It’s nothing to do with the metahuman project, but rather a dossier compiled by various federal and outside sources on one of the men in the group photo that Luthor had. The man that was standing next to her-- Colonel Steven Rockwell Trevor, of the US Army Air Corps.
In the body of the email, he types a short message that advises he removed all trace of the file from LexCorp’s server as well as the other data dump sites that LexCorp operates.
He sends the email a little after 3 AM, but her reply pops up only a few minutes later. It’s two words.
He stares at it for a minute before adding the information (her response, the time stamp, the appreciation) to his mental file, as well as his copy of Trevor’s dossier to his own, much more secure, database.
His invitation to the winter gala at the Gotham Museum and its upcoming exhibit on Greek and Roman architecture, sent on Wayne Enterprises stationery, is resoundingly ignored.
Six weeks later, she finds the bug. It comes back to him in a small box, the kind used for jewelry, smashed to pieces.
It also comes when he’s at dinner with the mayor and several prominent city council members, brought to the table by a stone-faced waiter. Of course, leads to some very interesting questions that it takes about ten lies to get out of. It’s a small bug, but she’s left it intact enough to make it obviously interesting and suspicious.
By industry standards, though, the bug isn’t special. He hadn’t even done any modifications to it. It could only pick up conversations within a few feet of its position and only transmit back to him if he was in close enough range.
But then, the information it was gathering was hardly the point.
Just like the fact that she’d known his knowledge of her Metropolis apartment location was meant as its own message, he recognizes the manner of this delivery as a threat.
Well, actually two threats, because there’s a note, too. Scrawled on a plain piece of white paper, tucked inside the box.
Try it again, and I’ll do the same to all the bones in your hands.
He doesn’t bother to catalog sentiment, so it’s unnecessary to register the fact that he likes this woman.
There’s no contact for months after that. She hasn’t left the country-- he would’ve gotten an alert-- but she’s been relatively silent after relocating from Metropolis to Star City. She’s good at covering her tracks, but she’s also used to concealing herself from people who operate within a certain set of rules.
Her new place of residency isn’t useful to him yet, so he files away the information for another time.
Late one night, she sends an email to his secure server with a data file attachment. It’s a large scan of some archaic text, but what catches his attention is that it appears to be encoded with several key markers that are familiar.
Translation? Is her only message.
It must be worthwhile if she’s going to the trouble of asking for help, so he starts running the decryption program almost immediately. But he also picks up the phone, punching in the number he’s memorized from his files.
She answers on the first ring.
“This is supposed to be untraceable.” It’s 2 AM, but he notes that she doesn’t sound tired.
“It is,” he says. It was. By most people. “Where did you find this?” There’s a moment of silence on the other side of the phone, so he adds, “The line’s secure.”
Another second of hesitation, which tells him it isn’t security she’s worried about. “An artifact from…my people. I noticed some similar symbols in the LexCorp data files. But those are more…evolved.”
“This has commonalities with Ancient Greek.”
“That was my thought.” Now she sounded a little tired, her faint accent stretching along the vowels in her speech. “But it’s unlike any dialect I’m familiar with.”
“I can run a decryption program,” he says. “It’ll take a day. But that’ll give us enough time.”
“Oh?” she says, a shade wary. “For?”
The implication that this is a condition of his help remains unspoken, but he knows she understands it by the note of perfect annoyance in her response. “Please do not tell me this is-“
“Of course not.” His response is smooth and terse.
There’s a moment of silence on the other end of the line, but he’d calculated her answer when the request was coupled with the caveat that it’s not for any romantic motivation. So he’s not surprised at her reply.
What does surprise him is that he takes brief, momentary pleasure in it, but he brushes that away.
His first inclination is to take her somewhere public, but that of course lacks the degree of privacy that they’ll need. He doesn’t want to spend two hours filled with shallow small talk or trying to speak in code, and he doubts she does either. So, with a small amount of reluctance, he asks her to the manor. It’s still an arena he knows well. There’s no reason to give up an advantage.
She’s gracious and polite to Alfred, who Bruce can already tell is nearly falling over himself with approval. He resists the urge to roll his eyes. Alfred knows better than that.
She scans the inside of his home with the casual grace of a socialite, but he also notes from the way her eyes linger on the doors and hallways to the other rooms that she’s making a map in her head almost unconsciously. Preparation. Anticipation. It’s a skill born out of training that came so naturally now he only could recognize it because it’s the same for him. He hasn’t worn the suit to dinner, of course, and so the assessment almost feels like a compliment considering she could’ve probably crushed him in a head-to-head brawl without the suit.
Well, maybe. He's never without a contingency plan, after all.
“So,” she says, meeting his eyes as they both sit down. “Any luck?”
“It’s not a code.” He’d spent most of the afternoon with it, and that was the first thing he’d determined. “Can you understand any of it?”
“A little,” she says.
He waits, but she only smiles enigmatically at him.
He’d managed to translate a handful of words on his own. One was particularly easy, considering it appeared on dozens of conspiracy theory websites. And mythological texts.
“Atlantis isn’t real,” he challenges, when she still doesn’t respond. “It would have been discovered long ago.”
“I am from a place that is-- was-- thought to be mythical as well,” she says, and sips her wine. Her face is enigmatic.
He doesn’t know why this has him feeling so unsettled. His worldview has been rapidly expanding since the introduction of Superman, and he’s prided himself on his adaptability. Everyone on Earth has been forced to acknowledge, rather abruptly, that aliens and other worlds exist, and people are handling it...to various degrees. But for a man who’s spent a good portion of his life dedicated to science and rationality, he is finding it more difficult to adapt than to other situations he has been thrown into. It is as if he has spent his life devoted to a single book, learning everything he could about it, only to realize he is standing in the middle of an endless library with more knowledge than he could ever hope to consume.
Frustration is an enemy of adaptation, though, so he tries to put it aside. Atlantis and unicorns and fairies? Fine. He can learn.
His expression must have given something away, though, because Diana laughs. It’s a kind laugh, but still a laugh. He manages to force his face out of its grim expression. “I’m beginning to come to terms with it.”
“I imagine it a daunting quest,” she says. “Much like your quest to understand me.”
He doesn’t deny it. He only shrugs. “What the mind doesn’t understand, it fears. Or worships.”
“I have no desire to be worshiped.” Her tone is wry. “Or feared.”
“Fear can be useful.”
She acknowledges that with a slight nod, but then shrugs. “Then not feared by you. Ask whatever you like.”
For a minute he mulls that over. There are a thousand questions he’d like to ask, after all, but there are other significant parts of the metahuman case that felt more pressing than trying to figure out the woman sitting across from him-- she, at least, has been identified, if not quantified.
“The problem with asking questions is that I’ll only learn what you say,” he finally responds, giving her the practiced smile.
“The truth.” By the slight drop in her tone, he can tell she hasn’t appreciated the suggestion that she may be dishonest. That’s interesting.
“What you believe is the truth."
“It would be better than any silly recording device,” she says. He raised a brow, taking a sip from his glass. “Unless,” she says, narrowing her eyes. She’s almost there. He waits. “The information it provided wasn’t what was useful to you.”
Bruce smiles. It’s more himself than the practiced one, and only slightly grim.
“You wanted to know if I would find it,” she says. “Perhaps how quickly?” Diana’s expression holds slightly more interest than before. “Do you play games like this with everyone you meet?”
“And how often are you surprised?” she asks.
“Not very often.”
Diana smiles a little at that. “I don’t suppose I want to know what you learned.”
There is a flicker of irritation in her voice, but he can sense that it's more directed at herself than at him. He thinks back quickly to their previous interactions, to every word exchanged, scanning and analyzing in the few seconds he gains by pretending to turn his interest toward his wine. With him, she has actually been remarkably straightforward. The challenge has been to realize the lack of deception in her.
Maybe he has been in Gotham too long.
“If it helps, I’m in constant reassessment.”
Alfred arrives, bringing in dinner, stalling Diana’s reply. The butler's wearing a look Bruce can recognize a mile away. It says: I hope you’re behaving, Master Wayne.
The man is transparent.
Diana smiles graciously, charmingly. The dichotomy of this-- the woman and the warrior he’s seen in battle-- also interests Bruce. It’s not a façade that she puts up, not a mask like he wears in public. He watches as she thanks Alfred before the older man sweeps out.
This is as much a part of her as her ability with a sword, he thinks.
“You know,” she says, once Alfred’s left. “I’ve known of you longer than you’ve watched me. And from what I understand, you aren’t a man who does well playing on a team.”
He considers that. He can’t fault her for that analysis. After all. it’s unsettling, realizing what she could have been witness to-- the rise of Batman, the vendetta he’s waged against crime over the past decade. The triumphs. The failures. The devastations.
“I do admire what you’ve done,” she continues, and he blinks. “The strides you’ve made are very remarkable, for a mortal, even if your methods are a little…unconventional.”
He manages a faint smile. “My methods are usually under reassessment, as well.”
“I did notice that. When you began your...campaign, I don’t remember you being so...forceful.”
There’s a little twinge in his gut at her words, but it’s been a long time since he’s let things like an ethics debate interrupt his one-man war against a city that seems intent on plunging into darkness. Bruce barely manages to suppress a frown, picking up his silverware. “I’ve adapted to do what is necessary.”
“Ah,” she says. “So I am not the only one who has lost faith in mankind.”
Inwardly, he bristles. Lost faith. It’s not entirely inaccurate. For a moment, he’s not staring at her face across the table, but a boy’s bloodied, battered one. He tamps down the rage that threatens to surge up at the memory, rage that’s controlled but still sometimes slips into his nightmares.
“And you?” he challenges. “What made you decide to…leave?”
“There were many reasons.” She doesn’t seem perturbed by the sudden shift from him to her, although she does look away, toward her meal instead.
“And you’re back now?”
Silence. Mentally, Bruce awards himself a point.
“I don’t think you’ve been watching that closely,” he says, after a moment of thought. “Or you would have seen that you were needed. Like you do now.”
“So what do you want from me?” she says, raising a brow, her tone a tad impatient. “I don’t think you’ve identified this evil we may have to face.”
“Nothing, yet. Maybe just reassurance that you aren’t going to disappear to wherever you came from.”
She considers it. They’d spoken of this at the funeral, but there was hardly a commitment. She isn’t the kind to make it lightly. Neither is he. Her assurance feels like more than just a promise of assistance.
“Fine,” she says. “You have my word, if you trust it.”
“I suppose I have to.” This he says without thinking, almost to himself. But strangely, he does. This woman may still have many unknown factors, but this feels instinctual. He tends to trust his instincts.
The email pops up in Diana's inbox at 4 AM. There's a string of numbers, and one word.
31°13'03.4"N 24°14'53.6"W. 11/17.