With the fight over, the villains imprisoned, and the insurance companies notified, the Justice League retired to the Watchtower to dress their wounds. Some of them had more wounds than others.
Wonder Woman's had healed, fortunately, by the time she reached her quarters, but that didn't make the experience any more enjoyable. Given the level at which the League fought, she was used to muscle soreness, fatigue, even the occasional bruising; but it still made her uncomfortable to see the red-tinged water swirling down her shower drain. For someone who was, under ideal circumstances, immortal, it was a disturbing reminder of mortality.
"Come to Man's World," Diana muttered to herself. "Meet interesting and exotic people, and break their legs. See marvels of architecture, as they're being pushed on top of you." And find out that despite the wild claims made by manufacturers of hair care products, every single one of their offerings is ineffective at getting out caked blood.
Big, fluffy bathrobes, however -- ah, now *those* Man's World had gotten right. The bunny slippers weren't bad, either.
The knock at the door caught her by surprise. She cinched the robe and peered into the corridor, where a urban legend stood, looking slightly worried.
"Are you all right?" said Batman.
"I'm fine, thank you," said Diana. "I'm just lucky you had that handcuff key in your utility belt."
"Luck had nothing to do with it," he said.
It was a very Bat thing to say. "'Chance favors the prepared mind,'" said Diana. "And the paranoid perfectionist."
"Guilty as charged. Are you sorry?"
"Not in the slightest," she said. "Please, come in." She stepped back from the door, leaving it open for him.
After a moment's hesitation, Batman entered the room. He took everything in with a glance -- and stopped cold. "Bunny slippers?" he said.
"Yes," said Diana cheerily. "They're terribly comfortable. You should get some."
His expression didn't change. A small, strangled noise, barely perceptible, came from the depths of his throat. "I'll think it over," he said.
Diana fought off a smile at the image. She had to throttle the giggles quickly, or he'd stalk out of her quarters in a huff and glower at her at every League meeting for the next month. "Thank you for checking up on me," she said. "I healed very quickly."
"I was worried," he said. "I'd never seen you get caught like that before."
"And by friendly fire, on top of everything else," said Diana. "The poor security guard was was terrified. He caught a glimpse of me in the shadows, went for his gun, and grabbed the handcuffs by mistake. I think he was just as surprised about it as I was. Then, before we could rectify the mistake, Luthor's robot caught up to me and -- well, you know the rest." The robot had pummeled Diana mercilessly before tossing her aside to focus on Superman. It wasn't one of the prouder moments of her career. When Batman had caught up to her, she'd barely been conscious.
"I'd have gotten to you faster," said Batman, "but I've seen you bench-press a Volkswagen. I thought you'd just break the chain."
He didn't know. That had never occurred to Diana. "I couldn't," she said. "It's my weakness."
"Weakness?" he said. She could tell he hated having to ask. Superman hated dishonesty, the Flash hated freshly-waxed floors, and Batman hated, hated, *hated* not knowing absolutely everything. Wonder Woman decided to make the explanation as short and sweet as possible.
"When a man binds an Amazon," she said, "she loses her strength."
He stared back at her, expressionless as ever. She wished his jaw would drop, or his head cock to the side, or something; when Batman stared like that, she was never sure whether he was close to turning his back in disgust or just fighting off laughter. If he laughed. The League had doubts.
"You're kidding," he finally said.
"It was a curse of Zeus," she said. "His son Hercules needed to make amends for misdeeds, so Zeus condemned him to a year as the servant of Queen Omphale of Lydia. But Omphale let it go to her head. She was of Amazon blood, and she remembered how Hercules had treated the Amazons. She made him spend that year in women's clothing, sewing and spinning." Diana shrugged. "Zeus was humiliated by proxy, so took his revenge the same way."
"That's disturbingly perverse."
Now Diana stared back at him. "Well, we *are* talking about a god who impregnated women by manifesting to them as a river, a swan, and a shower of gold coins."
He sounded uneasy. "Does talk of gods make you uncomfortable?" she said.
His jaw set so fast she heard his teeth click against each other. "You getting beaten, then tossed into a cinderblock wall by an eighty-foot robot makes me uncomfortable," he said.
"It wasn't particularly comfortable for me, either," said Diana. She decided not to mention the caked blood on her shower drain. "Should I carry a handcuff key?"
"What about ropes? Chains? Padlocks?"
"You *are* paranoid," said Diana.
"Am I?" he said. "As often as the members of this League get bound, tied, or otherwise restrained, I think I'm taking a decidedly optimistic view. You didn't just lose your strength when you were handcuffed. You lost your speed, your agility, your resilience. You can't afford to wait for help from one of us. If an opponent manages to bind you, you could easily be killed."
"I can be killed out of bondage," she said.
"You've thought about it, have you?" she said. He didn't say anything to that. The corner of his mouth quirked for a split-second. Oh, she thought. He has. Apparently, he *did* plan for every contingency. She wasn't sure if the thought was comforting or terrifying.
"What do you think I should do?" she said.
"Train," he said. "There are skills. Ways to escape from ropes, to pick locks. Look into it."
"Will you teach me?" she said.
He looked almost startled at the question. For someone capable of identifying two and two separately, he didn't seem to think of adding them to make four. Unless -- "You do know how to do those things, don't you?" she said.
Now he looked affronted. "Of course I do," he said.
Diana raised her hands in a placating gesture. "All right," she said defensively. "I didn't know. You used a handcuff key, after all. For all I know -- "
"I could have gotten you free in as little time in three different ways *without* using a handcuff key," he said harshly.
"So show me," she said.
He stood there silent for a long moment.
"Tomorrow night," he said finally. "In Gotham. We'll run through some basics, to begin with. It'll take some time. You'll have homework."
"All right," she said. "How often? Every week?"
He looked at her as if she'd just suggested they take a skiing holiday. "Every day," he said. "There's no sense wasting time. We'll take a few days off in between once you get your sea legs. But that will take at least a week."
A trip to Gotham, every day? Diana raised an eyebrow at that. "That's quite a daily commute for my lessons," she said.
He looked back over his shoulder as he left, with a grim half-smile. "I'm worth it," he said smugly.
As the door closed, Diana's eyes shot daggers at his back.
Diana was caught off-guard when he handed her the blindfold before they'd even left the Watchtower. "Are we starting already?" she said.
"No," said Batman. "I just take my privacy very, very seriously."
"We're flying to Gotham? You don't want to use the new transporter?"
"I have to take the Javelin down for a minor refit, anyway," he said. "Besides, *I'm* not going through that thing."
"Because it's alien technology?"
"Because I'm still not convinced that it doesn't atomize you, then replace you on the other end with an exact copy that has all your memories."
He sounded dead serious, and Diana was taken aback. "You don't really think -- "
"No. All the same, I'll let Flash go through it a few more times first."
He was gentler than she'd expected fastening the blindfold. Diana realized, once his hands were gone, that the blindfold smelled of him. Leather and plastic, and a man's scent under that. And clinging to it, she was surprised to note, was a whiff of women's shampoo. She recognized the scent from her shower; it was one of the products the manufacturers insisted on sending her, free of charge.
"Do you do this to all the girls?" she said jokingly.
"No," he said. "I gas some of them."
Diana didn't think he was joking.
The Batman was a good pilot, at least. The flight was smooth, and faster than she'd thought. The end of it, though, was unnerving. Even blindfolded, she could tell when the outside light abruptly vanished. A chill shadow fell across her skin. And still the ship descended.
"You can take the blindfold off, now," he said.
Wonder Woman had never seen the Batcave before.
She'd heard of it, from Superman, but that hadn't given her a sense of just how... how *much* of everything it was. It was huge. It was oppressive. And yet Batman, who was already sweeping his way from their landing pad to the catwalk leading to the cave proper, wasn't dwarfed by the setting. If anything, he loomed larger than ever. Diana wondered how he did that.
She kept wondering, because the cave got only more bizarre. A massive computer mainframe, with the biggest displays she'd ever seen. A giant penny. A robotic dinosaur. Souvenirs of cases, no doubt -- but those monstrosities were bizarre choices to fit into a hole in the ground; he must have called in favors from Superman to get the moving done. They didn't seem to fit Batman's "late industrial grim" motif. Either Batman was schizophrenic (which she wasn't ruling out), or he'd had help decorating. From somebody who thought giant pennies and robotic dinosaurs were cool.
She wondered if that unknown party were responsible for the trapeze.
Batman's gymnasium was admirably equipped. The trapezes were only a small part: she saw parallel bars. And rings. And free weights. And wrestling mats and punching bags and uneven bars and --
"You take this very seriously, don't you?" said Diana.
"I'm in a crime-fighting society in which each and every other member could beat the snot out of me in three seconds without trying hard," he said. "I have to do something to try to keep up."
Diana was trying to remember everything she knew about Batman. It wasn't much. Superman had said something about an assistant, once -- a sidekick -- Robin, was it? Maybe he was the one behind the giant penny, and the dinosaur, and the trapeze. She had a hard time picturing Batman willingly spending time with anyone who had such an adolescent mindset. Then again, he had teamed up with the Flash.
"We'll start with rope," Batman said. He picked up a small length of soft cord that had been draped over a rail. "The secret to escaping rope is in controlling slack. If you have enough slack, you can get free without bothering about knots. Example." He held the rope out to her. "Tie my hands in front of me," he said. "Just loop the rope around and knot it tightly. Then hold on to the ends of the rope to keep it taut."
It was an unusual sensation to have the Dark Knight restrained at her hand. Diana had played her share of prisoner games as a girl among the Amazons, but that was long ago. As the book Superman had lent her had said, she'd put away childish things. Now, though -- the rope was tight around Batman's wrists, and she knew she'd tied good knots. The ends of the rope were in her hands, and she was far stronger than he. She was in absolute control of the situation, and he wasn't going anywhere.
She realized just how vulnerable he was in this moment, and that (the blindfold episode aside) he'd placed a considerable amount of trust in her. By giving her power over him. She found it quietly thrilling.
That lasted all of three seconds. Then, in an instant, Batman had ripped his hands free and was wadding the rope into a ball.
"A cheap trick," he said. "Houdini used to do it, to get a laugh. Here's the secret. Do it again." She took the rope and repeated her actions. This time, Batman parted his hands in the direction of her face, rather than the ground. Diana watched as he stole a loop of rope with his little finger, then tucked it into place between his palms. "When I let go --" The loop sprang free. Now he had enough room to withdraw his hands. "You try," he said.
She was ridiculously nervous. It wasn't a question of trust: they'd saved each other's lives too often for that. But Diana had never willingly held her hands out for someone -- anyone -- to take her strength away.
Batman dealt with her trepidation by not noticing.
His grip on the ropes was firm, professional; he was deft with knots, despite his gloves. The trick was easy. She performed it twice in rapid succession.
"Good," he said. "Of course, that trick doesn't work in any other circumstances or positions. Most of the time, escape will be more difficult, and you'll be able to steal much less slack. The techniques involved are more subtle. And, of course, if you're bound while you're unconscious -- most likely, in your case -- you won't be able to steal slack at all."
It was a challenge. Wonder Woman felt up to it. "Show me," she said.
They started with ropes and worked down to finer cords. He taught her how to bunch her muscles, how to subtly shift her position in order to make things more difficult for whoever was tying her, and -- above all -- how to hide what she was doing from an observer.
"Let them underestimate you," he said. "Make them believe you're more helpless than you are. Then they'll pay less attention to you once you're out of the way. Less attention means more time. And escape from any bond is possible, *if you have the time.*" With rope, the keys to escape were slack and time. He taught her to steal both.
"Cross your wrists in front of you," Batman said brusquely. "Keep your muscles tense. Try to steal as much space between your wrists as you can get away with."
He wrapped the rope around the outside of her crossed wrists, then the inside, between her hands. His knots were tight. He did it quickly, as if he were tying up a boat. And just like that, she was helpless.
She tried to calm herself by thinking of ways she could use her legs and body to take Batman down. That helped. Then she remembered that, right now, he was much stronger than she was. He could hurt her very badly, if he wanted to.
She moved faster than she'd meant to, twisting her wrists, trying to exploit what slack she'd managed to secure. There wasn't much. The ropes refused to budge. She strained harder. Once, then again. Nothing. When she stopped straining, the sudden shift in her weight nearly threw her off balance. Batman stopped her fall. She hadn't seen him move.
"Easy," he said. "Don't force it. This isn't about strength. Here." He stepped behind her. The swirl of his cape brushed it against her calves. He gently gripped her upper arms. His fingers were strong. "Kneel first. It gives you a stable platform."
Diana knelt before him, facing away. She felt slow and clumsy. Surely the bonds couldn't have affected her that much.
"Now close your eyes," Batman said. "Take a deep breath."
She did. His fingers slid clear of her arms, and he stepped away. She could hear his steps, long and measured, on the floor of the cave.
Kneeling there, in the dark behind her eyes, she remembered how oddly exciting it had felt in those few moments she'd had (or thought she had) Batman bound. She wondered if he felt that way, to see her now. Diana wasn't sure how that idea made her feel. She knew she trusted him absolutely. She found it was possible to fear him at the same time. And that her vulnerability went beyond the physical.
Batman's voice cut through her thoughts. "Start slowly," he said. "Remember, you're not stressed for time, not now. Take your time. First, find the limits of your movement."
Diana tested the bonds, carefully. Side-to-side, up-down.
"Now look at your bonds. Consider the problem. Where is the knot? Can you reach it? Can you escape some or all of the bonds before you attack the knot? Can you do anything to give yourself more slack?"
Yes, she thought. If she rotated her arms medially, so her wrists lay side-by-side, she could try to move slack around on the rope. Gather it in one place. Tackle the problem one loop at a time.
"Then do it," he said. "But slowly. Carefully."
And she did. The rope burned her wrists, but she managed to get the loops free. Then she had room to move. Then she loosed the knot's position. And then she was free.
Now that Diana had her strength back, she could laugh at herself. "I was nervous," she said. "Isn't that funny? When you tied me. I wondered what you'd think of me for it. But you didn't even notice."
"I noticed," he said. "I just didn't care."
Diana's jaw dropped -- and then she realized it was a joke. She tossed the rope at him. "All right," she said. "Give me another."
He gave her another. And another. It really wasn't hard, once she contained her initial surge of panic. Who'd have thought of treating physical confinement as an intellectual puzzle to be solved? Batman would, of course. But he was an extremely unusual man.
"Do you know what I just realized?" she said.
"That cotton rope is more difficult to unknot than artificial fibers?"
Diana hid her smile. "No," she said. "It's just that this is the longest amount of time we've spent in each other's company when the universe wasn't about to end, or a parallel world invading, or a giant monster laying waste to Metropolis."
"Luthor's robot is still out there," he said. "Don't be too optimistic."
"Yes," said Diana, "but the last time we saw it, it was nowhere *near* Metropolis."
Was that the ghost of a smile? She bent down and scooped the rope lengths off the floor. "C'mon," she said. "Give me something without slack."
"Are you sure?"
"You pointed it out yourself," said Diana. "If I do get tied up, it's likely I'll be unconscious or close to it at the time. I won't be able to steal any slack. So I'd better learn to cope with that possibility."
He considered briefly. "All right," he said.
Two minutes later, Diana lay on the floor of the batcave in a modified spread-eagle, with her wrists and ankles tied to small pitons Batman had fired into the cave floor from one of his grapnel guns. There was no slack. There was no play in the rope. There was no way for her to get to any of the knots. After ten minutes of effort and concomitant rope burn, Diana reached the conclusion that she was well and truly screwed.
Batman offered no advice. He stood there and watched her struggle.
For a while, she had tried to take cues from his reactions. That didn't work. He didn't have any. So she'd closed her eyes and ignored him. Tested the ropes. Moved this way, then that. She'd wondered -- could she try to sit up? Just a little? Get access to the knots that way? And she'd tried. And tried. But absolutely nothing had worked. And the Batcave floor was cold.
She opened her eyes and turned to Batman. He hadn't changed position at all. He still hadn't said a word. Diana began to feel annoyed. Although -- was it her imagination, or was his breathing a little heavier than usual?
Then she realized what she must have looked like, writhing around on the Batcave floor. Men were such visually-oriented creatures; she kept forgetting that. Diana felt little embarrassment for herself, but it was amusing to see that Batman had some human reactions after all. She couldn't resist the opportunity.
"If I didn't know you better," she said teasingly, "I'd think you were enjoying yourself."
His hand flew to his utility belt. The knife was out in a flash. Before she realized what had happened, he'd cut her bonds and was stalking away.
"Batman!" she said.
He stopped. Then, slowly, he turned and looked back at her.
"I'm sorry," Diana said. She brought a hand to her wrist and rubbed at the marks on her skin. "I do trust you."
Batman cleared his throat and looked away. "You can take the transporter back," he said.
Diana rubbed her wrists, where his bonds had been.
Her soft bed in the Watchtower couldn't have been more removed from the Batcave floor -- or the finest pallets of Themyscira, for that matter; her home island was unsurpassed in the armor it made, but it pained Diana to admit the textiles of Man's World were far superior -- but she still could feel the ropes on her wrists. She wasn't sure what to make of the experience. Or what Batman had made of it.
On one hand, he had told her to come back the next evening.
On the other hand, he'd told her to take the hated transporter back, and hadn't seemed especially worried at the prospect of her being atomized.
The marks on her skin had faded, but the memory remained. Diana wondered if there was a way to escape from that last set of bonds. How Batman would have done it. Perhaps he would tell her. Or -- she flashed again on the strange sense of power she'd felt at having him (however briefly) bound -- he might show her.
It would be interesting to watch him escape.
It would be even *more* interesting if he couldn't.
Diana grinned to herself and rolled over into sleep.