Dinah Lance, Master's in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology, studied her patient under cover of preparing her notes. She was moving papers about, tucking things into her folder, but really she was waiting for him to speak first. His eyes were skimming her bookshelves.
"This is a very nice office," he said.
She inclined her head. "Thanks. I put a lot of thought into it, actually. Less for my patients than for me, I guess; I spend all my days here, so I fill it with things that have meaning for me."
"There isn't anything in here that didn't come from Ikea."
"Well. I personally chose everything. From the catalog." She smiled, and there was the barest quirk at the corner of his mouth, but it might have been a tic. She had no practice in reading this face, because as well as she knew the man sitting across from her, she knew his face not at all.
He had chosen the chair by the window—not, of course, the sofa—and was studying her. His gray suit was somber, and no doubt cost more than all the furnishings of the room combined. No tie, though. She wondered if he did wear a tie to the office, or if he disdained them. Maybe this was his idea of casual.
"Not all your days," he said.
"No," she conceded. "Not when duty calls, obviously."
"Do you like this work?"
She considered. "It's important work. I'm not sure 'like' is the right word. It's satisfying work. Difficult work."
"Listening to other people whine all day is difficult work?"
"People don't come here to whine. Whining would be doing nothing about your problem. The people who come here want help, and are willing to work to get it. By definition, they're not whiners."
He was brushing something off his thigh in a long even stroke. "They work at getting help by whining. Does it work?"
"Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depends on what the problem is."
"But most of your patients are trauma victims."
She nodded. "That is my specialty, yes."
He cocked his head and looked out the window. It was just that his face was so damn unreadable. "Bruce," she said. "Tell me why you wanted to see me. Unless you want to spend more time demeaning my work, or criticizing my furniture."
An eyebrow arched up. "Was I," he said. "My apologies. Small talk is not my strength."
"You don't say." She tried another small smile. "So. Can you tell me why you called my office?"
"I called your office because I made enquiries and got a list of the best practitioners in the metro area. Your name was on that list."
"So were several others," she suggested.
"I needed someone I could trust."
"Well," she said. "Thank you. And you can. Nothing we say leaves this room, for any reason. It won't be discussed among my colleagues, and it won't be discussed in the Watchtower among League members, you have my word on that."
Another arch of his brow. "Oliver?"
"My work is not a subject of discussion between us."
"That must make for some silent dinners."
"We have pretty full lives, as I think you know." It was just that it was so hard to get her head around sitting here, in broad daylight, talking to Batman. It was strange, no doubt about it. She had never seen him outside of the Batsuit; had never seen that face anything but cowled. It was a startling, arresting face, but it was somehow more hooded when uncovered than when cloaked. His suit was beautifully cut, and that too was a cloak, hiding the enormous strength of muscle and leashed power beneath. She leaned forward. "Bruce. Tell me why you wanted to see me."
His eyes didn't skate away. "I have a problem, and I need it fixed. Can you do that?"
"It depends on the problem. Bruce. You said you trusted me. Can you trust me enough to let me know what's going on?"
He frowned, considered his pants as though more lint had magically appeared. "Psychological trauma," he said. "That's a feedback loop, basically. The brain making associations to a past event out of present material. Is that an accurate summary?"
"It is. Often that association overrides the sensory information the brain receives, supplants it. That's when functioning becomes a problem. That's what we call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."
"Is that what most of your patients have?"
"A fair number."
In silence, he regarded the bowl of wicker decorative balls heaped in an artful pile on her coffee table. He nodded, and then he rose. "Thank you for your time, Dinah."
"I—Bruce, where are you going?"
"Home," he said crisply. "I apologize. I thought I could do this, but upon giving it some thought it turns out I was wrong. Sorry to take up your time. I'll pay for the full hour." And he was actually walking out the door.
She tossed her pen on the desk. "Whining a little too much work for you?"
The back of his suit was stiff. "Something like that." And he clicked the door quietly shut behind him.
She had been going to leave it there. Really, that had been her intention right from the start, and not just because hounding a patient was an invasion of privacy: it was because the act of walking through her door was the first and most important step, the one she couldn't take for them, and until they could get through that door, until they had just that much resolve or determination or desperation, she wasn't going to be able to help them.
But he had gotten through the door, was the thing. He had made the appointment, he had come to her office, and something—something only he saw or heard, buried in the depths of his brain—had spooked him hard.
It was her responsibility to try to find out what that was. She tried to push aside that responsibility for several days, ignore it as best she could—after all, this was not going to be an easy patient, maybe one of her most difficult if every sign she had seen in her office was any indication, and she could be forgiven for not wanting to chase him down and beg him to come make her life harder. But after a few days, she hadn't been able to ignore the tug of that responsibility any more.
"Off your game, babe," Oliver had said one morning, as she stood abstracted at the kitchen counter, staring into space over her untouched cup of coffee. He wove his arms around her from behind, rested a stubble-scratchy cheek on hers. "Better take care of business."
"Oh, what would you know," she said sourly, and he had nipped the side of her neck.
"Hey, I'm the best therapist who's never hung out a shingle. I keep you on your feet so you can go fix all the crazies."
"Stop calling them that."
"Mm. Make me." His hand slid down the front of her robe, and she smiled into his mouth.
But Oliver always knew when her balance had been disturbed, and she knew what she had to do to right it. Which was why she found herself one early evening the following week at the doorstep to Wayne Manor, a steady drumbeat of this is insane this is insane beating in her head, and she put on her best, most professional smile when the elderly butler opened the door and stared at her, deadpan. An expanse of lofty, richly-paneled hallway loomed behind him. She was suddenly aware of the cheapness of her shoes.
"Hi," she said. "Good evening. I'm Dinah Lance. I'm a friend of Mr. Wayne's, and I was wondering if I could—"
"Black Canary," he said, with a slight bow. "Of course. We are honored. Won't you please come in."
She followed him into the hallway and past a series of rooms she tried not to glance at too obviously. At some point a serious collector must have lived here, but whether it was Bruce or one of his parents or grandparents she couldn't say. The art was exquisite, and there was clearly a guiding taste behind it all, with very particular likes and dislikes. Her attempt not to be overawed faltered at the Klee, however, set off by itself at the end of the hallway, a single light above it. "Oh my," she said.
The butler didn't sneer at her. He smiled, in fact. "I'm so glad you like that. It is one of Master Bruce's favorites as well. Deceptive, isn't it, in its simplicity. Hidden depths, you might say."
"Yes," she said, venturing a glance at him.
"Seen in the right light, it appears to be one thing. But if you were to take this painting into the sunlight, quite different properties would appear. Most people would walk right by it and never notice all that it has to say."
She wondered if they were still talking about the painting. "It has suffered, you know," he said. "Suffered a great deal. Plucked from the wreckage of Europe after the second world war. Master Bruce tried for a very long time to find the rightful owners, or their descendants, without any luck. Upon his death it is to be sold to a museum, and the proceeds donated to Yad Vashem. He is like that, you know, capable of the most extraordinary gestures."
"I know," she said, and the butler was watching her keenly.
"Great beauty can come out of great suffering, wouldn't you agree that is so?"
"In my experience, what comes out of suffering is more suffering."
His face softened, the lines relaxed. "That is very true." He stood there looking at her as though she had said something he approved of. "Master Bruce is right this way."
She followed him around a bend to the left. "I apologize for the lack of ceremony, receiving you in the back of the house like this," he said. "They are all in the kitchens. It is a birthday celebration."
All? she wondered, but "Whose birthday?" she asked.
"Mine, actually," he said with another courtly smile, and ushered her into the high-ceilinged kitchen, which was about twice the size of her entire apartment. She was greeted by laughter, and a loud voice talking over another one—"Tim, man, it is way past time for you to shut up, that is not what happened at all"—and the astonishing sight of this happy, semi-raucous group gathered over a kitchen table. Bruce Wayne's face was open and relaxed and wearing something close to an easy smile. Dick Grayson was sitting next to him, and his face lit up at the sight of her.
"Canary!" he called joyously, and Clark Kent turned from talking to young Tim Drake and arched an eyebrow of surprise at her. Tim was wrestling a dollop of icing away from a squirming fierce-eyed boy she did not know, but who had to be Damian.
"Hello," she said, and Bruce rose.
"Dinah," he said, "what a pleasure to see you here. Please, come share some cake with us. Alfred, it's your birthday, if you get up again to answer that door or do anything remotely related to your job, you're fired."
"A hollow threat, Master Bruce."
"I just can't seem to intimidate anyone anymore," he said, and brought a chair next to his own. "Dinah, please join us."
"Actually," she glanced around the table, and wondered what it meant that Clark looked the least glad to see her, his gaze a definite frown. Damian tried to reach across him for another swipe of icing, and Clark swatted him idly away. The two younger boys were regarding her curiously. "Bruce, I was wondering if I could talk to you for just a minute."
"Of course. Excuse us a moment. Tim, no thirds until everyone has at least had firsts."
"Come on, no fair," the boy called, and Dick aimed a cake-clogged birthday candle at his hair.
Bruce led the way out another door, one she hadn't come in, and through another series of rooms, with even more exquisite art. He stopped in a book-lined room, and slid the pocket doors shut. "That ought to give us some privacy. Now. What may I do for you?" His face was polite and shuttered, his hands in his pockets.
"I'm sorry to intrude on a family celebration," she said.
"It's all right, we're just having a quiet evening, Alfred doesn't like a fuss."
"He's been with you a long time?"
"Since before I was born, actually. My whole life." He was pouring something from a decanter-filled table, offering her a golden amber drink of some sort. She took it, and sipped it when it was clear he was waiting for her—the same instinct of manners that had made him first on his feet in the kitchen.
"So, you could say that he raised you," she ventured.
"You could say that, and you would be correct," he said, downing a healthy swig of his own drink. "I'm assuming you are here about the other day, and my somewhat abrupt departure. So much for nothing being discussed outside of your office, hm?"
"No," she said. "I'm not here about that."
"I see." He didn't make any move to sit down, though, or offer her a chair in here.
"I actually had something I wanted to tell you about." Now that it came to it, her palms had begun to sweat. Her heart started racing, and she felt her throat swell, just the smallest bit. Classic stress reaction. Garden variety and uninteresting. She kept her voice light and neutral. "It's about me, in fact."
His face remained blank. She would never say the words if she stayed standing, so she sat in a chair in front of the huge mahogany desk the size of a battleship and set her drink down. "When I was seven, my mother remarried. My dad had, I don't know, I think the reality of a family was more than he could handle. He was in and out for a few years, and then he was just gone entirely. We were on food stamps for a few years there, we lost our house, we were living in this sad little apartment." She reached for the drink, suddenly grateful it was there, and took a stiff swallow.
"Anyway. So when I was seven, my mother remarried, this wonderful man. He had lots of money, and suddenly we had a life again—this amazing life. I had an amazing life. Horseback riding lessons, and music lessons, and a private school, and trips to Europe, and a closet full of clothes, and oh, every staple of middle-class existence, basically, except to me it all seemed exotic and magical." She turned the drink, watching how the various shades of rich umber caught the light. Whiskey, maybe? She didn't know enough about liquor to tell.
"Except," she continued, "it came at a price. Because almost every night, between the time I was seven and the time I was twelve, which was when I finally got the courage to stop it, he would come into my room. And he would rape me."
She didn't look up. She had meant to offer more details than that, or maybe be less brusque. But in the end that was the way the words had come out. "I told my mother when I was twelve, she divorced him, and it turns out she took him to the cleaners, and used his money to set up her own florist shop, which she turned into a seven franchise operation. So I got to keep the wonderful life, it just came with less rape."
"What happened to him?" Bruce's voice was level.
"I don't actually know. He didn't go to jail, of course, because there was no trial, and in those days everyone just thought it would be best to move on, not let my life get bogged down, tell me to forget. He's dead now anyway."
The room was so quiet she could hear the thock-thock of the mantel clock. Some 19th-century thing, with a black carved figure leaning against it. She was starting to be able to tell which things he had chosen, and which things he had inherited. Yes to the Klee, no to the clock. There was a small rough sculpture resting on the bookshelf opposite her that she would have bet her salary was a Henry Moore. That would be him.
He set his drink down and walked to the window, tucking the heavy curtain back. "How many people know this story?" he asked.
"My mother. Oliver. And now you. So that's three, I guess."
"And your therapist."
"I didn't actually have one of those. When I got to college I discovered psychology, figured out there was maybe a reason I had been self-medicating. For about four or five years there, you could have built a ski slope on all the cocaine and heroin I was doing. It was like someone was answering questions for me I hadn't even known I'd been asking. Pursuing psychology professionally was an obvious choice. I never really considered anything else. Aside from what you might call my night job. There's not much of a career in being able to make people bleed from their eardrums with the sound of your voice."
"Tell that to airline flight attendants."
She was taking another swallow of her drink and coughed on it a little, because Batman had just made a joke. She smiled. Was he trying to put her at ease? That didn't seem like something Batman—Bruce Wayne—would do. Were they the same, or different? And how in God's name could she help him if she had no idea who he was? "You don't seem like you've done a lot of commercial flying in your life," she said.
"I have hidden depths of frugality." His small smile matched hers.
"Well. I need to get back home. It's my night to cook, and if I bring home Thai take-out one more time I think Oliver is going to stab me with a chopstick."
"If you won't stay for cake, at least take some home. A hungry man can usually be bought off with cake, and this is unusually excellent cake."
"No, really, we're fine, thank you. I can show myself out, if you want to get back to them."
"Four," he said.
"Four people know the story. You weren't counting yourself. You always knew it."
"Yes," she said, taken aback. "Yes. I suppose that's right." He remained standing there a moment, than gave her a little nod that was almost a bow—a gesture reminiscent of Alfred's. Well. He had been raised by an English butler, after all.
"Good night, Dinah."
"Good night, Bruce. And please, give Alfred my birthday regards."
"I will do that." He showed her the hallway to follow to the front of the house, more or less retracing her steps, and made his own way back to the kitchens. She let herself sightsee a little bit more on the way out, and she wondered if that was why he had let her show herself out, because he could tell from her surreptitious glances she wanted a chance to explore. She knew Chinese porcelains, enough to know the museum quality of some of what was displayed on banquettes and shelves around the rooms. She had wanted one last look at the Klee, but she wasn't sure if it was in this hallway or the other, and she got a bit turned around—she ended up at a door, but it wasn't the front one, it was a side door that led out to a garden.
She was going to head out it and just make her way around to the front, assuming there weren't attack Dobermans or poison dartguns aimed at the path, when she heard voices. She stopped in the half-open door, not sure if she should go out or in. They were angry voices.
"—just wanted to wish Alfred a happy birthday—"
"And I said, no! Jesus, why can't you listen for once in your goddamn life?" If it hadn't sounded so angry she would have said that was Dick.
The other voice was even angrier. "This isn't about him. What, I can't even say happy birthday to Alfred because it might disturb his fucking majesty, because he might have to scour the filth off his rugs if I stepped on them?"
"Will you stop that bullshit?" Definitely Dick. And the other voice—he sounded familiar too, like he rang some chime of memory Dinah couldn't place. It was past time for her to be edging back inside, but she was transfixed. "Just stop it. I'm just saying, not tonight, all right? Is that so hard for you to understand? Can't you just give him a break, for fucking once?"
"Give him a break, right. Because you're having a nice little family get-together, and it would be a shame for me to come spoil it. Jesus, this family couldn't turn its back on me fast enough, could it?"
"You're the one who's turned his back on everything this family stands for." Dick's voice spiked in anger. There was a rough scuffling noise. "Walking around in Gotham without the red hood like a fucking idiot," he said.
"Get the fuck out of my way, unless you think that what Alfred wants for his birthday is a nice fistfight in the garden, and taking Golden Boy to the ER to set his broken jaw."
"I'd like to see you try to lay a finger on me."
"Fuck you, I don't have time for this bullshit. This family's taken everything from me, I'm not letting you take Alfred too." And apparently he had shoved past Dick on the garden path, or Dick had let him go, because he had rounded the corner and was face to face with her before she had time to slip back inside: a tall young man with a shock of white-streaked dark hair, more unruly than Dick's, and feral eyes. He gave her a glance as he brushed past her. "Hey foxy, long time," he said. "Which one's fucking you?"
She was too astonished to reply, because his face. . . it couldn't be. It was some trick of the evening light. "Newsflash," he said, leaning close. "Dickie's a fag."
"Jason," said Bruce's grave voice behind her, making her jump. "Alfred will be glad you came."
"But not you, eh?" He pushed past Bruce. "Forget it, I'm here to see Alfred."
Jason. . . the Red Hood. . . it couldn't be. Her throat was dry, her chest pounding. They had all been there, at Jason's funeral. Had it been a trick? It hadn't been; she knew grief when she saw it, and Bruce's face, standing at the small graveside service in the Wayne family plot, had been a frozen mask of pain. He had looked like every inhale of air was knives in his lungs. All of them had been stunned, sick with grief: the first of the League to die, and it was a child, this bright precocious boy everyone had loved, Bruce's whole world. . . it just couldn't be.
Jason's funeral had been a bleak winter day, small dirty drifts of snow in the corner of the well-tended cemetery. She had wanted to say something to Bruce afterward, speak some hollow words of sympathy if nothing else, but Clark was at his back like a solid wall, and no one had dared to approach. When the coffin had been lowered into the ground, she had seen Clark's hand rest on Bruce's shoulder, firm and anchoring. Mainly she remembered that day because it had been the only time she had ever seen anyone touch Batman.
"Good night, Dinah," Bruce said, and she opened her mouth to say she hadn't meant to eavesdrop, it had been a mistake, it wasn't what it looked like, but he turned briskly away. She could see the way she should have gone now, left instead of right at the last hallway, and she went as fast as she could, her heels uncomfortably loud on the parquet, her head spinning.
Oliver would eat Thai and like it, because damned if she was cooking tonight.
She had instructed her secretary that if Bruce Wayne called to re-schedule an appointment, she was to give him not first available, but an appointment that very day, even if she had to stay late to see him. Of course, she didn't think he would call. Any progress she might have made, trusting him with her story like that, had been erased by what had happened afterward. She had seen something she had not been meant to see, and for a man who guarded his privacy like Bat—like Bruce did, it had to have been devastating.
She was right that he did not call.
He walked into her office during what was supposed to be her lunch, which she was eating at her desk, right in the middle of a huge bite of her Cuban sandwich. "Arielle," she called to her secretary in a threatening voice. It sounded less threatening because of the mouth full of ham and pickles. There was a bit of lettuce stuck to the corner of her lips. Arielle bustled in while she tried to wipe her mouth. She made a mayonnaise smear instead.
"I'm so sorry, Dr. Lance, he just walked right past—"
"It's fine, just close the door on the way out." She coughed the last bit of lettuce into a napkin. "I do keep an appointment book," she said to him.
"This won't take long." He had seated himself at the sofa, and had a folder whose contents he was spreading out on the coffee table. "I have copies here, if you want them. Your stepfather's obituary, and the coroner's report from—"
"What are you doing," she said, her throat spasming in panic.
He looked up at her. "You said last night he had died, which was true. But you omitted the whole truth, which was that Oliver hunted him down and killed him."
The room was quite still. No ticking clocks in here. Jesus Christ, what had she done. "You come for Oliver," she said levelly. "You hurt him in any way, and I will destroy you. I know how to do it now."
"Yes, you do. But you misunderstand. I have no intention of turning Oliver in to the police."
She folded her hands. "All right."
"If you're interested, I have records of all his marriages here. You and your mother were part of a series of victims. He looked for women with pre-pubescent daughters, women in vulnerable financial situations. Records exist of five marriages, but I'm willing to bet there were some others I haven't tracked down yet. Here are copies of the marriage licenses." He spread them out.
"His most recent marriage was actually just a year and a half before his death. There were twins, a boy and a girl, four years old. It's an interesting statistical fact that pedophiles hone in on younger and younger victims as they themselves get older. Predators don't age gracefully."
"Please put that away," she whispered, and he did. "Why," she began, and cleared her throat. "Why did you bring this here."
There was a small stiff-necked cock of the head that she recognized. Batman did that all the time. She had always assumed it was because the cowl held his head that way. "It was a puzzle," he said. "Solving them is what I do. I found it interesting."
"Yes, and helpful, actually."
"Helpful. . . in what way?"
"I'm not going to turn Oliver in because that would be hypocrisy. I am the same as he. If Oliver is a villain for doing what he did, then he is one-seventh the villain that I am."
"I don't understand."
"In Tibet, I killed seven men. I didn't leave Tibet because my training was over, I left because I had to. They were rapists, and I thought that they deserved to die. I was young enough to think I knew who deserved life, and who deserved death. So I executed them."
"I see." She knotted her hands.
"According to your professional oath, I am a proven danger to society, and as a mandatory reporter you must contact the authorities. Are you going to do it?"
"I knew the story you told me last night. I knew how your stepfather died. That's why I chose your name off the list."
"You. . ." She shook her head like there was a fog settling around it. "There is no way you could possibly have known those things."
"I have a file five times this thick, on every member of the League. It's my job to know our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. Knowing that Oliver Queen is willing to kill is useful information."
"So, in your world, is 'willing to kill' a strength or a vulnerability?"
There was an odd downward tug to his mouth, like this was a question he had been asked before. "It depends on the battle."
"Bruce. Who did they rape, those men you killed?"
"I think you know the answer to that."
"I do, now. But I need you to say it."
"And that is the magical path to healing?"
"That is the magical path to being able to have coherent conversations about this."
He stacked the folder's contents and tucked them inside the crisp manila. "This is for you," he said, "but I would shred it and then burn the refuse. Oliver's alibi is not as airtight as he thinks it is, and the method of execution he chose was far too distinctive. It wouldn't take much prosecutorial digging to discover that it wasn't a stray knife in a barfight that pierced your stepfather's throat, but an arrow."
"Tomorrow," he said. "I'm not free until the end of the day. I'll come then." And he was up and out of her office, leaving her to stare at her uneaten sandwich. She swept it into the trashcan, her stomach still churning. This was going to be hell on her appetite.
And so it was that she acquired the most unenvied job in the world, right next to Lindsay Lohan's personal assistant and Chris Brown's publicist: Batman's therapist.
For two solid sessions, they talked about Tibetan history.
Or rather, Bruce talked, and she listened. He told her about the schools of warrior monks associated with the various monasteries, and how there were as many different schools as fish in the rivers, and how many monasteries taught more than one path, and how the monasteries were dominated by the leaders of these paths, and often riven by infighting, to the chagrin of most monks. He spoke classical Tibetan as well as standard Tibetan, because his teacher had made him converse only in classical and write only in standard, which was the opposite of what most people did, so that when he finally came to read the great texts in classical Tibetan, it was as easy and natural to him as reading a newspaper, and he caught nuances most native-born students did not.
He told her about the war between the monks of the Chang Hu Xin Yi and the Dan Dao, and how it had raged for decades at the cost of hundreds of lives, and he related the burning of the Dan Dao temple with such vividness that when she got home she googled it to see pictures and discovered the whole thing had happened in the eighth century. "This guy is going to be the death of me," she moaned into her laptop, and Oliver looked up from where he was reading on the sofa.
"Not going so well, with the new patient?"
"Well. I guess you could say that. Right now he's talking about anything and everything but the reason he's actually in my office. But I'm learning tons about current events in the first millennium."
Oliver snorted and dog-eared the page of his book. God, she hated it when he did that. "So, who's running these appointments, you or him?"
"I'm just saying, babe, I've never known you to have trouble taking command of a session."
She rolled her eyes. "It's not that simple. When you're—" She paused. "Actually," she said. "Actually, you know what, thank you." She got up and went into the bedroom, where she spread her case notes on the bed and pored over them. Case notes rarely correlated to what a patient said in session; for that she had recordings. Case notes were the connections she made in what she heard, the words a patient didn't say, the hidden language most sessions traded in. She scribbled, circled, drew arrows from one page to another. She frowned at the knock on the door.
"Hang on, I've got notes spread out here, don't come in."
"Any chance I'm getting my bed back so I can take a Saturday afternoon nap?"
"Your bed?" she called back. "I think you're mispronouncing my desk. Sorry, I'll be done in a sec."
"'Kay, I'll just be curled up on the rug here by the door. You'll take me for a walk if I'm good later?"
She rolled her eyes, trying not to smile. "I will, I swear, but no chewing the leash."
She could hear him leaning against the door. "You haven't forgotten what we're supposed to be doing later today."
Shit shit shit. She had, completely. "Of course not," she said. "I'm looking forward to it. Apartment hunting sounds great, it'll be fun."
She could hear his deep laughter. "You're a rotten liar, babe, which ought to be some consolation but is actually kinda disturbing, for a psychologist. Hey, if you're such a good psychologist, tell me what I'm thinking right now?"
"That you're happy to let your wife finish her work in peace and quiet even though it's a Saturday and she's worked late every night this week and is completely strung out with her new patient and is a terrible cook and fell asleep while making out night before last?"
"It's like you're a mind-reader," he said in that slow-smile voice of his, right against the door. In answer she slid off the bed and opened the door. She closed it behind her and leaned against the doorframe.
"Don't use that tone with me," she said in her best you-are-about-to-get-schooled combat voice.
In answer he lifted her up by her ass and pressed her back against the door. Positioned like that his cock was in perfect alignment with her cunt. She could feel the stiffness, feel him pulsing. "I've been hard for you all morning," he was murmuring against her neck, and it wasn't fair, wasn't right, that even after all this time together that was all it took to get her dripping wet, running for him like a faucet.
"Then get in me," she murmured back. "Just go ahead and fuck me."
"You got it," he gasped, and he had them on the floor and their clothes shoved more or less down in four seconds, and he was in her in one long stroke in another second. "Fucking God," she moaned. "Jesus, I'm gonna come hard, don't worry about me, just get yourself off, fuck yes."
It took them less than five minutes, start to finish, and when they were done they slid off each other, panting. Graceless, rough, and unromantic: in other words, pretty much the hottest thing ever. She crawled over and flung her head on his chest. "Should have made you wear a condom so I'm not leaking come all day," she husked.
In answer he rolled her off him. He tugged her jeans further down, and brought his mouth to her cunt. "I am a problem-solver," he said, and began licking at her, tongue-fucking her, finger-fucking her, cleaning her, sucking and nibbling until she came again, hard, grinding into his face. She pulled him up and licked the wetness of beard, kissed his mouth.
Sometimes it made her bones shake, how much she loved him. He caught her shudder and misinterpreted it as an aftershock, so he brought his hand to her cunt and pressed hard, as hard as he could, the way she liked during aftershocks. No one had ever made her come like Oliver, no one made her chest writhe and collapse like Oliver. Was it like this for everyone? That was one of the things she had never been able to figure out, in all her years of practicing psychology. She had always wanted to know. At first she had thought it was, that love was kind of the same for everyone, to one degree or another, but she was old enough now to know what kind of hand the universe had dealt her when Oliver Queen had walked into the room and given her a quick assessing glance, and just how damn lucky she was.
"I don't want to go apartment hunting," she said.
"You don't say." He was nuzzling her neck.
"We don't need a bigger place."
He raised his head and looked about him. They were sprawled in the hallway, and their feet were sticking out into the living room/dining room. Oliver's head was resting on the threshold to the bathroom. "Really," he said, and she laughed.
"Okay, maybe a slightly bigger place. But it's not like we—" she turned her face sharply away, because she had thought it would be easy to say it, after all this time, after all the doctors, but it wasn't, it wasn't at all, and her throat had betrayed her.
"Hey," he was whispering, kissing her face, her jaw, her neck, any part of her he could reach. "Come back to me baby, hey, I have you, I have all I need, I don't need any more, come back to me."
"'S okay." He was continuing to nuzzle her hairline.
"I love you," she said, and she felt the small tremor run down his back. "And I like our place just fine. Like I said, we don't need anything bigger. We don't need to spend that kind of money."
She felt his sigh, too. "Babe. Do I really need to remind you for the seven thousandth time that you are actually rich as fucking shit?"
She shifted him off her slightly. "No, you are. And we don't need the money. Money never does anyone any good. Money makes people—it just makes me uncomfortable. I don't know why, it just does. I—"
"Yeah," he said, his voice a rich warm rasp as he rolled over and pulled her back on top of him, letting her cushion on his broader bulk. He stroked her hair. "Yeah, that's a total fucking mystery, why you would hate money."
That silenced her. She was supposed to be the psychologist, and Oliver was the one who saw right through her, read her like a book. All these years, and she thought she was free of all that, that what had happened was—not an irrelevancy, but an event whose quantities were known, whose properties were labeled, whose place on the shelf predictable. That it could occasionally escape out of that careful box and continue to invade their lives frightened her. What must it be like, then, to live in a space where there wasn't even a box to pack things like that into, where all those demons were loose and rocketing around your head, and no one to help, no Oliver with broad arms to beat back the demons?
"I have to get to work," she whispered, and he sighed, shifted.
"I know," he said. "Think you can help him?"
"You mean, my new patient?"
"Yeah, that's the one. The one whose name I absolutely do not know because I have no investigative skills whatsoever."
She was silent. He kissed the top of her head and started to struggle up. "Okay, babe. Time to do a job."
"That it is." She slid off and pulled her jeans up while he watched from the floor appreciatively.
"Hey," he said. "I thought of some bad news I need to tell you."
"All those millions I have."
"I know the ones."
"According to the laws of marriage in this great country of ours, they're yours too. Sorry about that."
"Cocksucker." She aimed an air-kick to his groin, and he caught her heel with a grin.
"Only after a few beers." She rolled her eyes again and pulled her foot free with a laugh. The bed/desk was calling, and like the man said, there was a job to do.
On Tuesday, when Bruce was explaining to her the finer differences between the fist of the six harmonies and the seven star fist, and the respective histories of each, she cut through him and said, while she flipped to a new page in her notes, "Dick is very loyal to you."
He stopped. There was a moment's silence, and then he said, "Yes."
"You understand that your brain is trying to stop you, right? I actually do find everything we've been talking about very interesting, but you realize why you're talking about all this, don't you? Your brain is going to do absolutely anything to keep you from probing the things we need to look at."
He made no response.
"He's become an extraordinary young man," she said.
"Yes," he said again.
"And I think he would go to extraordinary lengths to keep you from being hurt in any way. He is naturally protective of those he loves. That seems like something he must have learned from you."
He crossed his legs. "What are you drawing," he said.
She looked down at her pad, considering. She tore off the top sheet of paper and put it on her desk. "Come look," she said. He got up and stood over her desk, looking at the two circles she had drawn. In the middle of the circle on the left was scribbled an "X," and in the middle of the circle on the right, a "Y."
"In this drawing, X represents what happened in Tibet. And Y represents the thing that happened recently, the thing that drove you to this office. Separated by about twenty years, yes?"
He nodded, fractionally. She drew a dark line connecting the two circles. "Only, in your brain, they're not. Your brain is making equations between the two, even decades later, because that's what post-traumatic stress does." She drew multiple lines connecting the two circles, like tendrils between them. "And the thing we need to do is to sever those connections, to get rid of these lines." She slashed through them with her pen. "But, if I don't know anything about their connecting points, I can't do that."
Together they leaned over her desk, looking at the paper. His face looked as intent as if they were studying draftsman's blueprints, or schematics for an adjustment to the Watchtower systems. She didn't know why she hadn't thought of this sooner. If anyone needed a giant posterboard with a circle on it and "Your Feelings Here" written in the middle, it would be Bruce Wayne.
"So the question remains: what in X is similar to Y? How many points of connection are there? But if I know only the barest outlines of X, and nothing at all of Y, then this equation is insoluble."
He was nodding, still studying her stupid scribbling with a slight frown, one hand tucked in his pocket. "I need more information," she continued. "And you are my only source. Can you give it to me?"
"I thought that was what I was doing. Everything I've been telling you is actually relevant to X." It might have been just a variable, just a letter, but he had said it. He might not have said "relevant to when I was raped and tortured in Tibet," but he had at least said something. He had scrawled a label on the box, and the label was X.
Some instinct made her draw a box around the letter on the right. "So then why don't we look at Y," she said.
"All right," he said warily.
"I'm going to make some guesses, and then you can tell me if I'm wrong and guide me from there. Fair enough?"
"I'm guessing that Y was a sexual situation. I'm guessing you found yourself in an unexpected sexual situation, and the unexpected part is important, because the unexpectedness did not give your brain time to prepare. How'm I doing?"
"Very well, actually." He had stopped looking at the paper and was looking at her. "My fortieth birthday was a month ago," he said.
"Oh. All right. Happy Birthday?"
"Forty," he said gravely. "Other than J'onn, who is who knows how many centuries old, I am the oldest member of the Justice League. I am your leader, but I am also the one without any paranatural abilities of any sort, other than my combat training. I work with superhumans every day, and every day I become aware of the time when I will no longer be able to do it. I am slower than I was ten years ago, and I know it. Maybe just a few seconds slower, but that's all it takes. I'm forty. I have at best a few more years before I have to stop what I do, unless I'm willing to take the risk that I will endanger someone in the field."
"I think you have more than a few years," she said.
"Do you," he said curtly. He wandered away from the desk to the window, where the bright afternoon sun poured in. He squinted out the window as though there were a batsignal he was waiting for, somewhere out in the trees. "You mentioned Dick's loyalty. You think I've held him too close?"
"I—no, that wasn't what I meant."
"Wasn't it? But in a few short years, he will need to pick up where I leave off. I will put aside being Batman, and it will be Dick's turn. It's everything he's trained for since he was nine. I may age and be fallible, but Batman cannot be. In a handful of years, maybe even less than that, he will be Batman, with all the responsibility that entails."
"I understand that loyalty and protectiveness are part of the job description, Bruce. What I said was intended as a compliment, to the both of you."
"Was it." He stepped away from the window, restless today, she noted. "It is my hope that he can train Damian, that one day Damian too will be able to take on that mantle. Tim doesn't want it, he has other things he wants to do with his life, and Jason—well, I imagine you see the problem there."
"I do," she said gently. It was the first time they had mentioned Jason. She wondered if he too saw the thing that she had seen, that had crackled in the air between Dick and Jason that night. It would not be as easy for Dick, to submerge himself in the persona of Batman, to push down all attachments. But he would cut off his arm—and maybe more than that—if Bruce needed him to, she knew that.
"You're a good father," she added.
"Am I. There would be those who say that when you take a ten-year-old into combat with you, you've left the territory of 'good father' behind you, by definition."
"We live in a different world from most people, and your boys are not ordinary individuals. And I think there's more than one definition of good father."
"Platitudes." He was still roaming her office, more like a caged jaguar today than she had seen him before. She wondered if it was the day's bright sunlight, and if he disliked it. She wondered if it was Y, goading him. She could only guess so far and keep his trust; she couldn't say a name, and be wrong.
He had stopped at a bookshelf and was examining a small metal sculpture. He lifted the base and looked at it. "I have been wondering," he said. "Do you think that there is one real person, for most people?"
"I. . . am not sure what you mean."
"I'm like that. I am not sure it's. . . normal. There is one person in the world who is completely real for me, and everyone else is. . . maybe not a copy, but a version I compare to the one in my head. Without meaning to. I don't know the psychological terms. Things, too, events, places. They seem realer, when I am with this person. Less. . . shadowy. Is that an effect of post-traumatic stress?"
"No," she said.
"What is that, then?"
She thought of the "Your Feelings Here" poster she wish she had. Maybe it could come in felt, with little cut-outs she could place on the board like a children's Sunday school class. "I think you are going to have to come up with a name for that feeling on your own. A name that works for you."
The arch of his brow told her what he thought of that. He re-settled in the chair by the window. He moved like a cat, with minimal displacement of air. "Y is, that person tried to kiss me."
"Yes. Well, romantic situations tend to unravel quickly, when you get punched in the jaw."
She shut her eyes briefly. As bad as that, then. "How hard?"
"You've sparred with me plenty of times. How hard do you think I can hit?"
"So you were caught off guard."
"You might say that."
"And how is your relationship with this person now?"
She didn't think he was going to answer. It was the longest silence they had yet had. "Tense," he finally said.
"Did you apologize?"
"I didn't know the words. And it would have required an explanation that I didn't have to give."
"You've had sex, over the years."
"Plenty of it, yes."
"And never any reaction like this? Not before the events of Y?"
She thought for a minute. There was a small whiteboard on an easel in the corner by her desk, that Arielle had left in here. She was giving a presentation to a few of her colleagues in the practice tomorrow, and she needed to give them some visuals. So she had asked Arielle to bring in a whiteboard for her, and the younger woman had looked at her with widened eyes. Why won't you let me teach you how to do a powerpoint? she had asked, with pity in her eyes. Dinah had scowled at her. Just bring me the goddamn board, she had said. She could spend the next seven hours cursing and crying over a laptop as she tried to understand something she was never going to understand how to use, or she could spend five minutes with an expo marker. Easy choice.
She was glad it was here now, because she got up, angled it toward Bruce, and re-drew their X and Y circles. She re-drew the lines between the two circles, only this time, she labeled them.
"Control," she said aloud, as she labeled the first one. "You weren't in control of what happened in Tibet. My guess is that you've been in control of every sexual situation since then, and by control I mean there is nothing that surprises you, nothing unpredictable. Surprise, in a sexual situation, is going to immediately cause your brain to connect Y to X."
He was frowning at the board.
"First connection," she said triumphantly. "Yes?"
He nodded, slowly. He got up and took the marker from her. He drew another line from X to Y, and labeled it "male." They looked at it together for a minute. That was the piece she had been waiting for, the piece he had not wanted to hand over, because it also gave her the name—the name she had guessed, but had needed to hear from him.
She drew another line underneath his, and labeled it "strength." She capped the marker.
"The possibility of being overpowered. I'm guessing you have not placed yourself before in a sexual situation with someone who could easily overpower you, who could take what you didn't want to give."
"That would never happen."
"No, of course not. Your conscious brain knows that. Your unconscious brain does not. Our grandmothers would have put it this way," and she placed her hand on his forehead. "Here knows it." She moved her hand to his chest. "Here does not."
He arched another brow, and she quickly dropped her hand. She had forgotten, in the excitement of their breakthrough, who she was dealing with, and she had just casually placed her hand on Batman's chest. "Sorry," she said.
"Dinah, for God's sake, am I that much of a monster?"
"No, but you are protective of your physical space. I didn't mean to be disrespectful of that." She turned back to the board. She circled X, once, then again. "So now tell me," she said. "Tell me about X."
He was back to pacing, prowling the room. She watched the pent energy releasing itself, as he ordered his brain around this new information, as he calculated how to sever the connections on that board. "Paper," he said brusquely, and she handed him her pad.
He sat and wrote feverishly, in a close small hand. He put the pad on her desk after about ten minutes of writing. "Done," he said.
She picked up the pad and looked at it, and blanched. "Bruce," she tried. She cleared her throat. "Bruce, I can't read this."
"Why not? I wrote everything there that you need. Our sessions should be finished now, you have all the information."
"I don't," she said. She turned the pad so he could see it. "This is written in Tibetan."
He stared at the pad. He snatched it from her. He scanned it, as though he hadn't seen it before. "I don't. . . remember doing that," he murmured.
"Your brain is just overloaded from everything we've—"
He hurled the pad across the room, and it hit the window with a smack. "Enough," he said. "Enough. It can't be fixed. I can't be fixed. We're done."
"Bruce, don't—" But he was out the door, and it shut with a bang this time.
She sobbed on Oliver's chest that night, and not little girly sniffles either—big gut-curdling sobs that shook her back and made him clutch her closer. "Goddamnit, Goddamnit," she moaned. "I fucked up, I fucked up today so bad."
"Shh," he said, making nonsense noises. "It can't have been that bad."
"You don't even know, I pushed him, we were there and then I just had to push it, I just had to, Jesus, when will I learn—"
"Shh," he said again, cradling her, kissing her, until after a while she fell asleep, exhausted.
She woke in the wee hours to an empty bed, which wasn't unusual. Oliver was an insomniac, and would prowl the apartment at odd hours, wandering around with a mug of tea, reading, meditating. He liked the middle of the night for meditating. Maybe that was why he worked so well with Bruce, their shared affinity for things Tibetan or Buddhist or what have you— even after her recent indoctrination she wasn't entirely sure she could explain the difference between the two—and it was a huge source of their strength in combat, the centering that provided. So she tended not to disturb his late night prowls lest she disturb his meditation. Usually he camped out in the living room, and if sleep, that cranky mistress, agreed to take him back as dawn approached, she would find him curled on the sofa, dead to the world. Then she would pull a blanket over him and he would wrap in it gratefully and sometimes she would stroke his hair and watch him sleep, and come on, how was it fair that someone could be that blond naturally?
She didn't feel like sleeping alone tonight, but she also didn't want to disturb him if he was meditating, so she lay in bed and tried some of his insomnia for a change. It had nothing to recommend it. After a while she settled back into a fitful slumber, then slept like a stone until close to ten. When she shuffled out, yawning and scratching at her hair, he was sitting at the table eating some cereal, shuffling back and forth between the newspaper, his laptop, and a stack of things probably from the office.
Oliver had an approach-avoidance relationship with his office, and it showed in the weird stacks of stuff he would occasionally bring home from Queen Industries. He left much of the day-to-day running of the company to other people, but then when he did show up he would go through a week or ten days of intense obsession with microscopic details, staying up till all hours working on various things, and then like flipping a switch, he would forget about it all again until the next period of obsessive absorption. Sometimes she thought she was the only thing that had ever held Oliver's attention for more than ten minutes at a time. But clearly he was in the I-actually-care-about-this phase of things right now, because this morning he was flipping through some notes with fervid concentration.
"Morning," she mumbled, on her way to the kitchen, though he didn't respond. "Well, hell," she sighed, when she saw her phone forgotten on the counter. She fumbled for the cord while checking her email and messages, and the text on top made her blink her eyes wide awake. From Bruce.
I apologize, it read. Will see you Tuesday, if you are still willing.
She texted back in haste. No apology necessary. Yes, Tuesday. She thought about adding, looking forward to it, but thought that might be creepy. She put her phone down with a smile, good humor and sense of purpose restored.
"So you'll never guess what just happened," she said, leaning against the kitchen doorframe. "Bruce just texted me, and turns out I might not have screwed up as—" She froze, unable to believe what she was seeing. "What are you reading."
His face looked up, ravaged. "Oh God," she said. "Oh God no no no no no." And she lunged forward and snatched the notebook from him, that notebook, covered in that tiny careful hand, those incomprehensible symbols that must not be incomprehensible to Oliver, and why why why hadn't they ever had the conversation that began with guess what obscure Eastern languages I can read and oh God oh God oh God.
"It was just lying there," he said, his voice hoarse. "I just—I'm sorry, when I realized what it was I couldn't stop. Dinah, did he tell you what they—"
"No!" she exclaimed, holding her hands over her ears, but that was idiotic, what good did that do? She wanted to stop the words coming out of his mouth, the knowledge of them in his head, and she couldn't do that, could never do that, could never undo what she had done, Bruce please please forgive me. "Stop, just stop, please!"
"It was just lying there," he said, looking straight ahead. His jaw was clenching and unclenching. "Christ, it was just lying there—" and he swiped at his face.
"Oliver, please, you can't ever, he can never know—"
"You think I would do that?" Those fierce ice-flecked eyes were on her, but she wasn't the object of their rage. "You think I would ever do that? Of course I wouldn't. But Dinah, they tortured him for years. For years. They would come for him in the night, these other monks. They hated him for being brilliant, for being better than they were, for being Western, they would carve things on his body, rape him with—"
"Stop!" And this time she had her hand on his mouth. "Please, for God's sake, you have to see we can't discuss this, this has to have never happened. He wouldn't be able to stand it if he thought you knew, and I promised, I swore to him—God, I couldn't have failed him worse if I'd tried," she said in despair. She was still clutching the notebook.
Oliver balled up his napkin and carried his cereal bowl to the kitchen, stalking past her. "You didn't fail anybody," he said. "It was my fault, not yours. I saw the Tibetan, and I had picked it up before I had figured out who must have written it, and by then I was reading it, and—it just wasn't your fault, all right?"
He stopped and looked at her. She was still standing there, just holding the notebook protectively to her, as though that would help undo the damage her carelessness had caused. "Just tell me they're dead," he said. "Tell me they are good and fucking dead."
"Stop talking," she said, sure of nothing but that she didn't want to hear the sound of his voice any more. "Just. . . don't talk to me right now." And she walked out, back to the bedroom, where she closed the door and sat, thinking nothing.
"I've been thinking about your problem," Bruce said on Tuesday, before the door was closed behind him. The rage and frustration he had allowed her to see last Friday were gone, his face impassive as ever.
"You have," she said. "Which problem would that be?"
"Your technology problem. Your presentation was adequate as far as it went, but it could have used some better visuals."
"My. . . I'm sorry, what would you know about my presentation?"
"It was on your notepad. Your draft notes for it had been written on top of the paper you showed me, and I could read their impression."
"That—" So that was why had been looking at it so intently. Whatever protest about her privacy she had been going to make died on her lips, and then there was a cool slick piece of metal in her hands.
"Try this," he said, flipping open the iPad's cover. "I have a theory that your difficulty with technology interaction is the physical disconnect of keyboard-monitor. Not unusual. But if that disconnect were erased, like so," and he swiped his finger across the screen, pulling up a blank powerpoint template, "then I think you could manage better."
"Ah," she said, and blinked. Hesitantly, she dragged her finger across, tapped a few slides. "Wow."
"Don't look that impressed, it's not my technology. Though I did make a few tweaks."
"Should I ask you to define tweaks?" The leather of the case felt cool and soft in her hands. She looked at the flap and saw it was embossed with a "D.L." in the lower right corner. "Bruce," she said. "This. . ."
"You can't accept gifts from patients, I know. Play with it during our session today, and then I'll take it back. You can have it when we're finished. Don't let Oliver spill coffee on it."
She thought of the silence in their house right now. They hadn't talked much since Saturday, largely avoiding each other, and they were now in the phase of chilly courtesy that was worse than any fight had ever been. At first, they had yelled. Well, she had yelled. All the things that had no possible answer, like How could you put me in this position, and How could you be so disrespectful of what I do, don't you even care how important this is?
How important this is, or how important he is? Oliver had shot back, and that had been another slammed door and sleepless night.
And Oliver had gone from telling her it wasn't her fault to telling her she had no business leaving things like that lying around, and if she did, then she got what she deserved when somebody read it. After the second sleepless night, she knew he was drinking, and that just filled her with more rage. The apartment was filled with silence in a chilly detente. There was an empty whiskey bottle in the garbage can Tuesday morning, and she narrowed her lips at it.
"Did you think if you didn't recycle, I wouldn't notice you drank yourself into a stupor last night?" she asked, and she disliked even the sound of her own voice.
"Maybe I wouldn't have to, if you would talk to me," was all he said, from the sofa. He was staring at the TV, remote in his hand, some stupid talk show. The blinds were drawn.
"I don't have anything more to say. Nothing you could understand."
"Because I'm an idiot."
"Oh for—I have to get to work."
"You do that," he said, sipping from his mug, but she didn't think coffee was what was in it.
That had been this morning, and who knew what he was doing now. Normally they talked during the day all the time, texting back and forth. Not since Saturday, though. She looked at the iPad, aware she had fallen awkwardly quiet. "Thanks," she said. "Thank you. You shouldn't have done this. But it was very thoughtful."
This time she got the full-on Batman head cock. She tried to deflect it with a warm, completely fake smile. Not having slept in three days probably made her smile more scary than anything, but he didn't remark on it. "So anyway," she said, "what about we look more at—"
"I have some questions I want to ask first," he said, the deeper gravel of his voice cutting right across hers, and there was another thing that irritated all fuck out of her, the way male voices could do that, just take command of a space without much exertion or effort.
"All right," she said pleasantly.
"In what way was your fight with Oliver about me?"
"You see," she said, "that is not the way this works. When you go to the doctor for a physical and they ask you to strip, you don't get to ask the doctor to strip too. My private life is not open for discussion. These boundaries are essential, and unless you stop violating them, until you can respect them—" She stopped, because her voice had just rocketed out of control, but of course she was yelling at Oliver, not him, and the single arch of his brow told her as much. She closed her notepad. "You know what. I'm sorry. I think—I'm wondering if we can re-schedule."
"Of course," he said, and rose. "Two things. First, if doctors' appointments were actually like that, I would go more often. Secondly, instead of an appointment with a patient, what about lunch with a friend?"
Her cell phone on the desk buzzed, thrumming against the glass top. She ignored it. "Sure," she said. "Actually. . . that sounds great."
"Good." He picked up her iPad and his sunglasses. "There's a decent little bistro just around the corner, and the day is nice enough to enjoy it. My treat, unless the American Psychological Association wants to shake you down for a salad."
"Lunch I think I can do," she said, and the smile was halfway to genuine this time. It got all the way to genuine at the sight of the gleaming red car parked curbside in front of her office. "You left a Lotus convertible on the street," she said.
"It has one or two safety features," he said. "Come on, get in. If you refuse to live like a billionaire's wife, you can at least visit every now and again." And he popped the door for her.
"It doesn't make you uncomfortable, everyone looking at you?" she asked, as they whizzed along, the Lotus running near-silently, curious (and envious) heads turning on the sidewalk through the crowded downtown.
He shrugged. "Hide in plain sight," he said.
She didn't feel very hidden, though, sitting at an outdoor table at Cafe Chez Edouard with Bruce Wayne. He got plenty of surreptitious glances, wherever he went, and she felt the looks of other patrons on her too. Would her picture end up on some society page, with "mystery woman" written underneath? She wanted to laugh not just at the thought, but at how not-unpleasant the thought was to her.
Bruce was asking her how the combat training was going with some of the newest recruits for Dick's team, and she went through each of them, listing their strengths and their liabilities, talking about their progress. As always, convincing them to throw themselves into combat training had been the hardest battle; too many of them seemed to think they would always be able to rely on their powers, and that it made no sense to fight without them.
"A little public humiliation will cure that," he offered.
"It always does the trick. Part of the problem is that I need someone to fight with, to show them what an extended hand-to-hand can look like."
He assessed his Pinot cautiously, nodding at the sommelier. "You mean none of the senior members of the team can take you for long."
"Well, they're not bad. They've made tremendous progress in the last five years. Tell you what," she said, leaning forward. "Come with me to Mount Justice tomorrow. Let's show the whippersnappers how it's done."
"That's probably not a good idea," he said.
"Oh? A little worried, forty?"
His cough hid his bark of a laugh. "You're on, on one condition. I get to ask you some questions about psychology first. I promise we won't spend the whole lunch talking business, but my research is not going very well, and I think I need some outside resources."
She knew Bruce-speak well enough by now to know that "outside resources" meant help, so she nodded. "Okay. Research into what?"
"I'll try. With the caveat that what we know about sexual orientation is very goddamn little."
"I assume very goddamn little is the technical term. It also happens to be the term for what I know about my own."
"Really. That seems okay to you. As you've just seen fit to remind me, I am forty years old. I'm not sure what has to be wrong with someone who is forty years old and unsure of his or her sexual orientation, to be honest. Or are you going to tell me that's another side effect of post-traumatic stress?"
She refolded her napkin. "You've had sex with a lot of women."
"How have you found that?"
He made a small motion with his hand. "Enjoyable. Pleasant. How do people usually find sex? Unless you literally meant how have I found it, in which case I would point you to the Lotus."
"That really works?"
"It really does."
"Well, that's depressing. Look, all I would say is this. It's entirely possible that. . . X," she hesitated, but only just, "could have shut down parts of your sexuality that under normal circumstances you would have accessed. It could very well be that you are in fact bisexual. It's not outside the realm of possibility. I don't think you've been having sex with women all these years because you are repressed or in denial. But I also think you have never really allowed yourself to let go in sex, to lose control, to surrender to overwhelming desire."
He was studying the depths of his wineglass. "I'm not sure I've ever felt overwhelming desire," he said.
"I would bet that is true. The control would be too necessary for you, in a sexual situation. And. . ."
"When Y happened, one of the reasons you might have reacted the way you did is that your sexual response was . . . not familiar to you. Possibly stronger. If it was stronger, then that would explain a lot of your reaction."
He looked like he was considering this. "I'm not seeing the case for experiencing overwhelming desire. Control has served me well for many years. Is there any real advantage to feeling that way, that other sort of desire?"
Her mouth set in a hard line as she looked at the tall blond figure striding their way down the sidewalk. "Wrong time to ask me," she said, throwing her napkin on the table. "Unbelievable."
At the other end of the patio, Oliver was pushing his way through some people milling about. He was making a beeline for their table. She didn't need ot see anything more than the top of his head to know he was drunk; the way he carried himself was wrong. Worse, it looked like he was trying to act not drunk.
"I'm sorry," she said to Bruce, "he's just—"
But then he was upon them. "Dinah!" he was saying, and his voice was too loud. Other diners were turning to look.
"Oliver," she said calmly. "Please go wait back at my office. Bruce and I were just finishing up."
"You didn't answer your phone," he said. "You always answer your phone."
"Well, I didn't," she said, gritting her teeth. "Can we please talk about this later?"
"I went to your office, but you weren't there." He was like a dog with a bone.
"Because I was out to lunch," she said, and her jaw was so stiff it was hard to enunciate. "Will you please just go."
"Oh, what, I don't get to join you? This is just for the two of you? I bet Bruce wouldn't mind if I join you, would you, Bruce?"
And he was actually reaching to the table next to theirs, grabbing an empty chair, and pulling it to their table, straddling it. "Hey ladies, how you doin', you don't mind, do you? Just gonna join my friends over here. Hey you know what I was thinking about," and he swung his head to Bruce. She could see the red rims of his eyes. Her hands were fists clenched in her lap. "You know what I was remembering. I was remembering that time your uncle came to visit, like what, freshman year at Groton? Remember that? And he took us to lunch at that godawful place, and you ordered the mussels just so you could crack them really loudly every time he started talking about his business—you remember that? Your uncle was a prick."
"Oliver," she said, in a strangled voice.
"But it's funny," and his voice was getting even louder. People were definitely watching now. "It's funny I was thinking about that, because Bruce, you remember you made me go to that lunch with you because you didn't want to be alone with your prick uncle, and I said okay, because hey, free lunch, and the whole time, your uncle's shooting me these looks like what the hell is he doing here, and it was so painfully fucking obvious he didn't want me around—hey, was that because he was trying to get you to sign over some of your trust to him, was that that time? It was one of those times, right?"
"Shut up, Bruce and I are reminiscing." He slurred the sibilance just the slightest bit. The back of her eyes stung. "And the way he kept looking at me, like he was maybe hoping I would stab myself with a salad fork and die on the spot, see, that reminds me of the way you're looking at me right now, Dinah, like you just want me to not be here, not to even exist—"
"And I was so fucking worried when you didn't answer your phone, because Dinah, she never does that, doesn't matter how mad at me she is, and she could be in trouble, what if she needs me. Only turns out, I didn't need to worry! The whole time, I coulda just not worried, because you, you were sitting here kicking back having a nice lunch with my old friend Brucie here. So tell me Bruce," and he leaned forward. She could smell the whiskey on his breath, see the slight twitch in his hand. "Tell me. You got any more sob stories for my wife here, to make her feel all sorry for you, or are you planning to take her back to the penthouse right after this and let her tell you what an asshole she's married to, maybe get her to cry a little bit? I mean yeah, sure, you just go right ahead and move in on my wife here, is she sucking your cock yet, does she have—"
His chair was yanked from underneath him, and he stumbled up. Bruce's hand was on his shoulder. "You're done here," he said quietly. "You're drunk, and you're insulting, and it's time for us to go for a ride in the car."
"Get your hands off me," Oliver snarled, and pushed back with both his hands on Bruce's chest—or would have, had they ever made contact. Instead, a small strangled noise came out of Oliver's throat, because his whole arm was twisted in back of him, and his fist was enfolded in Bruce's, held at his side in a grip that looked excruciating. Bruce's voice was a low thrum in Oliver's ear.
"The only reason," he husked, "that your hand is not in four pieces right now is that you're my friend. And archers are hard to find. Now get in the car."
And still keeping his hold on Oliver's hand, he propelled him through the maze of tables and open-mouthed diners to the Lotus parked at the curb. She looked down at Bruce's plate, where he had tossed his wallet in the same motion that had crunched Oliver's hand. She opened it to find a surprising amount of cash, and left a wad of it on the table. Her hands were shaking too hard to count it very carefully, and she hoped she was tipping generously enough. She could feel everyone's eyes on her, from the busboy to the social X-ray at the next table, tipping down her sunglasses to scrutinize her. Maybe she should distribute her business card, with a promotional attached: Does your life look like this? Then call Dr. Dinah Lance!
By the time she got to the car, Bruce and Oliver had left. She was staring at an empty parking space. Her office was four long blocks away, and she was wearing heels. "Well, that's just the best," she said aloud. On the other hand, she did still have Bruce's wallet. She hailed a cab with a piercing whistle, and contemplated a fifty-dollar tip for the driver.
When she had first met Oliver, his appreciative glance up and down her body had been noted, and returned. He was certainly physically striking, and his interest wasn't unwelcome. They had worked a stake-out together, one with long hours and little to do but talk in low voices, and at the end, when the bad guys had been slammed into the pavement and carted off and they were both still humming with adrenaline, he had slid his bow into its quiver and leered at her and said, "How about a celebratory fuck, gorgeous?"
She had kneed him in the groin, and said, "That was my maybe."
"I'd hate to see your no," he had gasped. Turning her back on him to walk away had been a mistake; he had shot her with a suction arrow to the thigh that had actually stung like a motherfucker. She had used the play in the line to reel him in and had him flat on his back on the concrete roof-top in four seconds flat. She straddled him and felt his bulge getting stiffer underneath her.
"This is a turn-on for you," she had said incredulously.
"Hell to the yeah," he groaned, and she laughed at that. She had gotten herself off grinding on him, and so had he, though they hadn't taken off a stitch of clothing. When she was done she had kissed the side of his cheek and climbed off. "Thanks for the ride," she had said, and sauntered away.
The next time had been in a stairwell in some seedy vacant building, and the rats she had seen scurrying along the landing above them had not been enough to distract her from Oliver's cock pushing into her. "You're a pretty good fuck," she had said, "but that's all I'm looking for, just so we're clear" and "sounds perfect to me," was all he had said, and then they were coming.
They went at it whenever there weren't any eyes around, by common consent never at his apartment or hers. Once they had used a druglord's deserted lovenest, and she had had to admit, the two-thousand dollar mattress made a nice change from concrete burns on her backside. The fucking had been so good that time that she had really let herself go—a little too much, as it turned out, because she hadn't been aware that her guttural cries of pleasure had become something quite other until the world suddenly tipped upside down and Oliver was passed out on the floor of the bedroom.
"Holy shit, holy shit," she had moaned, trying desperately to revive him, and she had tended his migraine afterward with whisky and blowjobs, her shame and embarrassment eating at her insides. He had caught her hand and pulled her to him. "Hush," he had said. "It's okay gorgeous, it's all right."
"You can gag me next time," she had said matter-of-factly, and he had sat up at that.
"That is never going to fucking happen," he said.
"The gagging, or the next time?" And he had laughed weakly. She had laughed too, and something had turned over in her chest, and she had thought, uh-oh. Their fucking after that just got more intense. And then had come the time Bane's operatives had almost scored a hit, because she had been stupid careless, and the spray of machine gun fire in that warehouse should have mowed her down, only some instinct of combat training — and countless hours getting her ass handed to her by Batman in the sparring ring — had helped her hear the tiny "click" of the trigger in the millisecond before, and she had dodged and rolled and given herself a hell of a concussion on some rebar.
She had roused to see Oliver's face over her, white and bloodless and saying nothing but Dinah Dinah in a voice she had not heard from him before, and when she had groaned and rolled over he had seized her hand and pressed it to his face and then carried her tenderly to the ambulance. He rode with her in the ambulance, and he had stayed in her hospital room all that night, fielding phone calls from her mother, bringing her endless cups of crushed ice she didn't want, stroking her hand.
The next morning when they had released her he had driven her to her apartment and helped her inside and then said, "I'm sorry, I can't have sex with you any more."
She had nodded, knowing it was coming, not knowing what to do with this thing happening inside her chest. "Sure," she said. "Was it the three a.m. post-concussion vomiting that did it, or that time I made you bleed out the ears?"
He hadn't smiled. "Believe it or not gorgeous, it wasn't that. I can't play by the rules any more, so I have to bow out of this one."
"What rules would those be?"
"Just the one," he said. "I'm in love with you, and every time we fuck it's ripping a hole in me, and I need to hang on to some self-respect here while I still remember how to spell it."
"Oh," she said. "That's the name of it, then." She had looked at him, and he had bent to kiss her, and they had fucked with trembling fingers like new, bashful things. She hadn't known this was possible, to feel what she was feeling, and some part of her wanted to say oh, so THIS is what everybody meant, and re-watch every stupid Disney movie ever made so she could now understand all the things she hadn't before, about this thing that had maybe been inside her all along.
It was just a simple affair at the courthouse, their wedding, because she would have felt ridiculous with anything else. But Roy was there, of course, and Oliver had asked Bruce to be a witness. They had gone to some South Pacific atoll for their honeymoon, and when Oliver had driven them to the airport to catch their flight and it turned out that their flight was his private jet, she had turned to him and said, "I think there are one or two things you forgot to tell me." He had grinned and said, "Whoops."
"Yeah, whoops. How rich are you, exactly?"
He had squinted in that way he had when he wanted to avoid a question. "Aren't you the one always saying money doesn't matter?" He had laughed at her expression. "Come on, don't look like that. Think of it this way, think of it like a career move. When you divorce me, you'll be set for life, plus you'll never have to put up with me again, so what could be better, right?"
It didn't seem like such a funny joke, any more.
Back at the office after her disastrous lunch, she pushed everything out of her head but her afternoon appointments, and even took two after-hours emergency appointments, just so she wouldn't have to think about going home anytime soon. Her phone buzzed a couple of times, but she didn't even look at it.
She took Arielle to dinner, as a thank you for staying late and helping her with the presentation last week, and she listened as the younger woman talked about her boyfriend and her mother and her college sorority sister's cousin's new baby, and she thought, this is what a normal life sounds like. She thought it sounded wonderful.
Even after dropping off Arielle, it was still just nine, so she went to the Hall and took the zeta tube to the Watchtower. She didn't stop to see who was on duty, or chat to anyone—she just went straight to the gym and pummeled one of the punching bags until her arms ached. When her body had no more left to give, and a cathartic sheen of sweat slicked her skin, she collapsed by one of the windows to strip her hand-bindings and watch Earth spin by. True, she could have gone to the Gold's gym around the corner from their apartment, but it didn't come with this view; there was nothing like it for gaining a little perspective on your problems.
It was a little after midnight when she opened the door to the apartment. She piled her things on the chair she always used, hung her coat, and plugged in her phone. Oliver was sitting on the sofa with a small duffel resting at his feet: hollow-eyed, but obviously sober. The apartment looked terrifyingly clean, like someone had spent most of the day tidying and disinfecting it. Oliver had always been a better housekeeper than she was.
"Hi," he said hoarsely. "I was waiting for you."
"'S okay, I didn't mean it like that, I just thought I owed it to you to be here when you got home instead of leaving some cowardly note."
"Oh," she said.
"Yeah. Anyway, all I wanted to say is, everything you were probably planning to say when you came through that door tonight is absolutely true, and right. I would apologize for everything I said and did today, and before, as well as screwing us all to hell, but when people apologize it always sounds to me like they're just trying to get you to forgive them, and I'm not asking that."
"Oh," she said again.
"I've got everything I need for the next couple of days. I'll come back for more when it's convenient for you." He was still sitting on the sofa, his arms resting on his knees, his hands hanging down. She wondered if the hand Bruce had crushed was hurting him.
"So I don't get to tell you how fucking stupid you were today, and how wrong about everything?"
"You can if you want. It's nothing I don't know already." He raised his head, and she saw the bright blossom of bruise along his left cheekbone.
"I don't guess you fell while puking in the bathroom," she said, and he rubbed his cheek with a rueful gesture.
"Well, there was puking, but Bruce was here for that. After he decked me, of course."
She crossed to him, knelt between his knees. "Do you love me," she said, and she had never seen eyes so empty, so scoured of happiness.
"Like my life, gorgeous," he husked. "More than."
"And I love you," she said.
He shook his head. "How," was all he said.
"Don't know. Can't fix it. Some things can't be fixed. But I do know that as long as you love me and I love you, we can always be fixed. I do know that nobody—do you hear me, nobody—leaves this apartment."
He crushed her to him. She clutched at him as he shook. "So sorry, so goddamn sorry, I'm just so sorry, I was crazy, I don't know what I was thinking," and she just kept saying hush now, it's all right, over and over again.
The strange thing was, she was telling the truth.
Toward the early hours of dawn, when she couldn't sleep, she rolled over top of Oliver and reached for her phone. Thank you for saving my husband today, she texted. Not to mention my marriage.
I think the two of you did that, was the immediate response.
"What's up," Oliver said sleepily.
"Go back to sleep. Just texting my boyfriend."
"Mkay. Say hey for me."
On Friday morning, Bruce was in her office for his next appointment on time and as imperturbable as ever. "I've been thinking about the question we were discussing last time," he said, as though their last session had been placid and unremarkable.
"The question you raised, about desire. About the potential advantages—or lack thereof—of overwhelming emotion. It may be possible that I am not a person who has very deep feelings."
She just looked at him. "Well, I'm something of an expert in the field, so please trust me when I say you have extraordinarily intense emotions."
He looked like he was weighing that, so she followed up. "Have you talked to Clark?" It was the first time they had said the name, so she just kept scribbling in her notes and kept her head down, as though she hadn't said anything of much consequence.
"No," he said finally.
"Then, may I ask you a question?" He inclined his head in what she had come to think of as the Bat-tilt, so she plowed forward. "You came to my office, you said you needed to be fixed. Why? What was your goal?"
He didn't say anything, so she continued. "This is like rehabilitation. If you break your leg, you go to rehab, to physical therapy, and you learn how to use that part of you again. But if your goal is just to lie in bed for the rest of your life and never use your leg again, then why go to therapy at all? Do you see what I'm saying?"
"When you came here a few weeks ago you said something was broken, and you needed it fixed. 'I have a problem and I need it fixed.' Those were your exact words. Not that you wanted it fixed; you said you needed it fixed. So tell me why did you need it fixed?"
She didn't think he was going to answer, and she couldn't keep hammering him. But she had to. "Did something change your mind, between then and now? If so, what? Bruce, tell me: what changed your mind?" She leaned forward, unwilling to let him go.
"Oliver," he said.
"Oliver." Aaaand we're back to plotting his murder, she thought. "How exactly. . ."
"Do you remember the night a few years ago Bane was running a low-level drug operation out of the old casket factory near the Star City docks?"
"I do. I took a bit of a header that night."
"You did. Most of us thought you'd been hit. Do you know what Oliver did?"
"I. . . not really?"
"He ran to you before the area was clear. He ran across an open warehouse that was barely cleared of crossfire. He made an idiot of himself and nearly endangered the mission."
"I think I see where this is heading—"
"No you don't. I pulled him aside before he got into the ambulance with you and told him as much. I also suggested he was not thinking with his head, but with another part of his body. I said the Justice League was not his private sex club, and he would conduct his personal life elsewhere."
"What did he say?"
"He suggested I fuck myself."
She laughed aloud. "That sounds about right."
"And then six months later you were married."
"Well, he never could listen."
Bruce sat back, re-crossed his legs. "The point is, that night he cared more about your welfare than his own. He cares more about what happens to you—more about your happiness—than his own. I saw that again this week. All he could think was how you must be feeling, how he must have humiliated you, how much better off you would be without him around."
She had nothing to say to that. "My point is," Bruce continued. "My point is, when you feel that way, that is what you do. When one person is more real to you than the rest of the universe put together, that is what you do. And yes, I do know the word for that now."
"Then. . ."
"Then nothing. Dinah. If anything, our sessions have shown me the extent of my problems. Not all of them have easy fixes, or any fixes at all. Is there anything in our sessions that has led you to believe I am going to have an easy time of a—non-platonic relationship with someone? That sex, for instance, or intimacy, would ever be anything but difficult? Let me put it this way: if there were someone you cared about, is a relationship with me something you would wish on them?"
Land mines in every direction, and no way to know which way to step. She scribbled on her pad to give herself time to think: a lake, with water lilies on it, some ducks. "I could tell you yes," she said cautiously. "I could tell you that I think a relationship with you would be worth that kind of work. But you're not going to listen to me, because you've made your decision already. You've made it for Clark, too, without consulting him."
"I have," he said, and he rose. "Thank you for this, and for everything in the past few weeks. It has been. . . very productive. And informative."
"Please don't go," she said. But she shook his hand when he extended his.
"This office door is always open," she settled on, in the end. "I'm just a phone call away."
He nodded, that same small courtly gesture she had seen at his house, and then he was out the door. She stood there for a minute, lost in thought, looking at her stupid drawing of the ducks on the lake. "Win some, lose some," she said out loud, and tossed the pad on her desk.
Epilogue: Six Months Later
"I look ridiculous in this," Dinah sighed, adjusting the rhinestone-studded strap.
"Says the woman whose costume of choice is fishnets and spandex." Oliver was working on his tie in the mirror, but his sideways glance of appraisal missed nothing. "Besides, that's only true if the new definition of ridiculous is smoking hot, not to mention fuckable."
"I was hoping for elegant. I think I landed at cocktail waitress." She frowned, smoothed the black velvet sheath around her hips. "We never had to go to this thing before. How many years have we known Bruce, and he's managed not to torture us like this? I'm not going to know a single person there."
"Well, you'll know me, babe." Oliver slid an arm around her from the back. "Stick with me, I'm a fun date. And don't blame Bruce — Queen Industries was exceptionally generous to the Wayne Foundation this year, and it would have looked weird if we'd been left off the guest list. Besides." He slipped his hand around to the front, nuzzled her neck. "Who doesn't like a Christmas party?"
Me, she thought, marooned near the canapé table forty-five minutes later. She watched Oliver moving around the room, glad-handing, and she could hear the boom of his laugh over the orchestra's be-bop. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd seen him in a coat and tie, let alone a tux, but he looked as natural as if in his own living room—the sort of comfort old money gave you, the easy elegance and open smile you couldn't buy, but that you acquired on the lacrosse field at Groton or you never had it. She crunched her camembert with wild mushroom fricassée and narrowed her eyes at him.
The room sparkled with warm lights and well-dressed women, and great swags of heady greenery festooned the ballroom's broad stairs. Wayne Manor, for this one night, was a golden jewel box of music and beauty and laughter: not just for the elite of Gotham, but the whole East Coast, it seemed like. There were senators and movie stars, titans of industry and foreign dignitaries, playboys and philanthropists. And her.
"Is it that bad?" said a gravelly voice behind her, and she hid her startle; she shouldn't be surprised that Bruce could get the drop on her. "I realize this is not exactly your scene, but you look like you're bleeding internally."
"Sorry," she said. "I probably am. My dress is too tight. Your party is—it's really—"
"Hideous," he supplied. "I know." He plucked a canapé from the table and chewed it idly, scanning the room. "Nevertheless, I have a strict policy against beautiful women who stand around looking like they're having a terrible time. As punishment you will have to dance with me." And without waiting for an answer the hand on the small of her back guided her gently but firmly down the steps and toward the band. Bruce was nodding to people as they went, pausing to shake a few hands, exchange a brief word. She caught Oliver's eye as they made their way, and he gave her a wink before turning back to his conversation, so there went any hope of rescue.
She might have known little would be required of her when dancing with Bruce. He was so expert, and moved so effortlessly, that the glide of his body covered any hitch in hers, and propelled her with ease where he needed her to go. He made her feel like she knew what she was doing, and she even relaxed, fractionally.
"It's not," he said.
"Too tight. Trust me. As someone once said, I'm something of an expert."
She laughed out loud, caught off guard by this easygoing, flirtatious Bruce Wayne. He smiled too, and honestly, it was easy to believe that this man had nothing at all to do with Batman. In the six months since he had stopped coming to her office she had never once seen him without his cowl, never once interacted with him when he wasn't barking orders at someone or growling about something—or just looming, dark and pensive, at the Watchtower monitors. Not once, by word or tone or the slightest inclination of that stiff neck, had he indicated knowing her outside of League business at all. And the one time he had addressed her, after watching her sparring match with John, he had just called her "Canary." As in "Canary, too slow."
He was encased in black walls again.
But she watched; she couldn't help but watch. The same instinct that tuned her senses on a rooftop stakeout made her a good psychologist, and she watched. She found herself watching Clark more, these days, and she was surprised that she hadn't noticed before how unreadable that face was, for all its seeming openness. It wasn't a black Kevlar shield, but it was impenetrable all the same, masked by flawless bone structure and a blank unfailing wall of courtesy. Impossible to watch him without his being aware of it, though, as she discovered. Once, they were sitting at the briefing table, and Bruce was talking, Clark listening thoughtfully. She had studied that thoughtfulness, wondering what lay behind it: had Bruce ever confronted him? Been honest with him? What, if anything, had ever happened between them?
And then she had been uncomfortably aware of Clark's eyes, right on her. She had quickly looked elsewhere, but she had known he was continuing to look—a penetrating, curious gaze. Fortunately, she wasn't given to blushing. Clark had answered some question, untroubled, and when he had finished he had returned to his calm study of her.
She hadn't dared any more watching, after that. She couldn't have Clark Kent getting curious about her curiosity—she read the Daily Planet frequently enough to know the quality of his investigative mind. A mind more intuitive than Bruce's perhaps, more prone to make leaps and guesses, and therefore, possibly, more dangerous. So she had been careful with her eyes after that. Whatever was going on in Bruce's life was no longer hers to know.
"Did Oliver tell you about last night?" He was still guiding her across the floor, his gaze abstracted, eyes roaming the room. He looked bored, but his voice was intent.
"He did. Not many details, though. Just that he tried two tails on a clandestine meeting near the Centers for Infectious Diseases, and one was deactivated. A scientist with something to sell, I think?" She kept her voice just as low, her gaze as bored.
"Apparently. But not just any scientist. This enterprising individual acted nervous, but he had a hand-assembly, molded-plastic custom Glock taped to the inside of his thigh."
"So he knew he wasn't going to be frisked, at this little meet-up?"
"That would be correct. So either someone on the buyer's team is playing a double game, or he had reliable information about the extent of their security."
"And I'm getting a mission briefing on the dance floor, because?"
"Because you're going to find out which one it is." He turned and spun her just enough to keep her mind on the dancing, but it still took her a minute to find their rhythm again.
"All right," she said after a bit. "So, which of my skills are we relying on here? You're hoping I can get him to open up about his feelings? Or should I jump right to cranial bleed-out?"
"Neither. I've had him under surveillance for some time. He lives alone. He only goes out occasionally, to one bar in particular. And when he goes, he has. . . a certain type."
"Let me guess. Blonde and stacked, right?"
She caught the twitch of his mouth she might have missed, before she had spent hours trying to tease meaning from that face. "I would have used a different word," he said. He leaned in. "I have to go now. Any longer talking with me and you'll get noticed. Be at the Watchtower tomorrow night by six." And with a curt nod, he had released her, and was caught up in the next group of people on the dancefloor: smiling, pressing a hand to a back here, a hearty handshake there. Within minutes he had another partner, and she drifted away, wondering if she could assume her position as canapé sentinel again, or if she should go find Oliver.
Some woman seized her arm and at the last second Dinah restrained the combat impulse that would have shattered her jaw and landed the woman on her back in four seconds. The woman clearly believed she was someone else, and was very, irrevocably drunk. She had a tight hold on Dinah's neck, breathing champagne-laced gibberish into her ear. "Darling, where did you go? It's just like Greece last season, exactly the same sort of thing. You shouldn't have left Marco like that, he asked for ages where you'd gone, and by the time we all got off in Mykonos — well, I don't know about you, but I certainly got off, ha ha ha—"
Dinah maneuvered out from under the woman's grasp, but with the tenacity of the truly drunken she was not so easily shaken loose, and Dinah found herself backed between an ice sculpture and an Everest of shrimp and crab legs. She had just resigned herself to making a scene in order to escape when she felt Oliver's hand close on her wrist.
"Please tell me we're headed back to the car," she said loudly, as they angled their way through a growing press of people. The band had paused for a while, and it seemed like half the crowd was heading out onto the terraces and the other half was moving in; she caught a glimpse of wide white tents strung with lights, trays of drinks floating in and out the French doors. Easy enough to break free: one good leap onto that table, a half-vault onto the staircase, a stiletto to the shoulder for anyone blocking her way, and she could make open air.
"Stick with me," Oliver called, and pulled her against the crowd down a narrow hallway she hadn't noticed, one that seemed to run to the kitchens. It seemed familiar—had Alfred taken her down this way, before?
"Hey, I think I know where I am," she said, but Oliver was tugging the other direction, in a quick evasive maneuver around an enormously fat man embracing a potted palm. "You know, if you just hadn't ditched me forty-five minutes ago—"
"How is it you can take down twenty guys with AKs without breaking a sweat, but stick you in a Valentino and—oh wait, here we go, this looks promising." He ducked down a smaller, even narrower passageway, and they were definitely not in the part of the house they were supposed to be in now.
"This is ridiculous, we are not getting any closer to the exit this way. And stop dragging me all over Wayne Manor, we're going to end up—"
His hand snaked out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her into the dark, slamming the door behind her. There was a wall behind her that felt like cold stone. Oliver was pressed against her. "Very mature," she whispered. "I am not going to make out with you in a broom closet. And what do you mean, Valentino? When I asked you to pick me up something to wear, I thought you would just stop by the mall, do you mean Valentino as in—"
"Thought so," he said, and his hand found the light switch behind her. A warm golden light suffused the landing they were standing on; narrow stairs led below. She caught a glimpse of large wooden racks, stretching on into the darkness beyond.
"Oh," she said. "Oh." She picked her way down the stairs, mindful of her heels. The lights flicked on as she moved—a soft indirect lighting that illumined the row upon row of dusty dark green bottles. She ran a finger over the nearest ones. "This is. . . actually beautiful." She gave a slight shiver; the temperature down here was chilly, and a little damp. Because of course. . . Wayne Manor was situated over natural caves. Had the caves been discovered by a long-ago Wayne, while excavating for this wine cellar? The core of the house must have been built about a hundred years ago. How old had Bruce been, when he discovered the caves?
"What a magical place to grow up," she said. Oliver was leaning against a rack of bottles, just watching her.
"Maybe," he said. "He was one unhappy kid, though."
She thought of her golden Oliver, the hot sun of his warmth suffusing everything around him. All his life, nothing had ever nicked or damaged him; he had had every advantage of money, intelligence, beauty, and a loving family. He had wandered through the casino of life and rung the cherries, just on his first flip of the slots, and it ought in justice to have made him a blighted, shallow person. Instead, it had made him kind, compassionate, devoted, wry. He tilted his head at her, smiling at her scrutiny.
"You really pissed about the dress?"
"A little," she said. "How much was it, actually? More than a toaster, less than a car?"
He looked thoughtful. "What kind of car?"
She laughed aloud, her first genuine laugh of the night. "See, this is the kind of party I like," she said. "Just you and me. I wouldn't mind dressing up if we could just stay home for it."
"Babe, any time you want to wear that dress around the apartment, you just knock yourself right the fuck out, because goddamn do you know how to wear a dress." His eyes took a lazy tour of the curve of her ass, and paused right around her breasts.
"Is that so," and she sauntered over to him, walked her fingers down his chest. It never got old, to feel the firm rise of those muscles.
"Unh unh," he said with a small smile. "Don't get things started here."
"Oh, come on, I thought that's what people do at parties like this — get drunk and make out? It seems like a shame to waste the dress."
"Mm." He ran a thumb along the inside of her wrist. "Yeah. Well, speaking of that dress—"
"It's a rental?"
"It's had me thinking sinful thoughts all night. So if we started something right now, let's just say, I would need to finish it. And I'm not sure that's what you want."
"Really," she said. "You think you know what I want." She moved her fingers lower, and traced his outline against his pants. Long and thick. It felt so good in her cunt, when she rode it.
"Cocktease," he said.
She had him unzipped and in her palm, and she felt his slight shudder of breath. "Dinah, I wasn't kidding," he said, and his voice was tight. He wasn't kidding at all, actually; his cock was already slicking at the tip, its springy head swelling, pushing against her hand. He must have been walking around half-hard most of the evening, and the thought of that made her cunt contract. She moved her hand to his balls, squeezed and tumbled them.
"Just to be clear," he said. "The goal is to have me fuck you right here, yes?"
"Don't know how much clearer I can be," she whispered, and ran a tongue around his ear, dipping inside. In answer he hoisted her up and hiked her dress in the same motion; having a mile-long slit up the thigh was good for something, after all. They were between two eight-foot high racks, but against the wall was a stone ledge, probably for resting bottles on before they were shelved. He perched her ass on the ledge and pushed aside her skimpy little panties; they were soaked now anyway. He was thrusting along her slick lips now, and then he took his cock in hand and began rubbing it right on her clit, maddening tapping, nudging motions that spread her thighs wider and brought her hips up to meet him. He let a finger run around her clit.
"I can feel this getting harder, too," he rasped. "Jesus, you're wet." He teased, teased, rubbing, sliding between her cunt-lips, thrusting, pulling back.
"Gonna come, oh God, gonna come," she moaned. "That's it, just—"
"In here somewhere," said the male voice at the top of the stairs, and they froze as the door of the wine cellar banged back against the stone. There were two voices, two sets of heavy feet on the stairs.
"That is, unless Alfred brought it upstairs already. Which he might have, since the lights are on. I mentioned it earlier, but told him I would see to it. Here, flip those lights on over there, I need to see these racks."
Oliver had never been more still, pressed against her; together they hardly drew breath. They were concealed between the racks in the far corner of the room, but if anyone walked down this row they would be plainly, excruciatingly visible. She dared not even inhale too loudly. If only that voice were not so goddamn recognizable, if only it were anyone else.
"Here it is," Bruce was saying. "I thought so. The Montrachet 2008. There's a corkscrew on the hook over there."
"Bet I could uncork it without," said the other voice—oh God. Clark. Clark. Clark with the superhearing, Clark who the minute he thought about it, or concentrated the least little bit, would detect them, would hear their heartbeats, which had to be going like rabbits. Horny, stupid little rabbits. And Oliver—Oliver was actually laughing, up against her. Just a silent shake of his body. She was going to find a spare corkscrew and jam it in the side of his neck.
There was a large wooden table in the center of the room, visible to her as she peered cautiously out between the bottles. They were standing at it, and Bruce had two glasses out. Bruce's back was to her. She heard the snick of the cork. "I bet you could," he was saying. "But I don't feel like picking glass shards out of my five thousand dollar Chardonnay. Here, try this."
She heard Clark's choking sound on his first swallow. "Please tell me that's a joke, about the five thousand dollars. No, never mind, don't answer that. That's—okay, wow, that's actually good."
"You thought I was lying?"
"No, I just—I don't know, never really understood why someone would pay so much for a bottle of wine, but this is really excellent." She heard the small thunk as he set his glass down. "Hit me."
"This is not Red Bull, go easy."
"Hey, my palate's not that bad. And it doesn't automatically make me a peasant, just because I happen to like beer. I've seen you knock back a few."
"You don't feel the effects of alcohol, which means you're drinking beer for the taste. That is definitely strange."
"Maybe." She could see the lift of his arm as he downed some more. "No stranger than befriending Bruce Wayne for his personality."
That got him an answering snort. "Smart ass." She couldn't see what they were doing—reaching for something, putting up the bottle? Why was—oh. Oh God. She stilled her breathing some more. Her view wasn't the best, but they were definitely kissing. Making out like teenagers, actually. Hey, that's right, we forgot the kissing, she wanted to whisper to Oliver, but his silent laughter had progressed to a whole other level now—clearly he could see what was going on too.
"Have to get back upstairs," Bruce was murmuring. She could see dark head entwined with dark head, but no way to tell which was whose.
"Not yet you don't." Clark's answer was just as soft. "You've been driving me crazy all night, do you have any idea how gorgeous you look in that tux? God, just let me touch you, don't stop—God, Bruce. . ."
The naked lust in his voice shook something inside her. She hadn't ever thought of Clark's voice as sexy, but in that timbre, all that intentness—it made her heart speed up again, but not from nervousness this time. That was why Clark hadn't heard them: he was so focused on Bruce that he wasn't paying attention to anything else.
"I have a perfectly good bed upstairs." Bruce's voice was warm, soft at the edges. It sounded as lust-soaked as Clark's. "It wasn't any easier, seeing you all night, not touching."
"God, I need—so goddamn beautiful. . ."
There was a rattle from one of the racks, as they backed into tit. They were two rows over now, dear Lord just two rows over, why couldn't they have stumbled the other way? "Jacket off," growled Bruce. "Let me touch you."
"Anything. I need to kiss you again, can't get enough."
They were fierce and hungry and maybe the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, and her cunt was dripping now. And Oliver—damn if he wasn't harder, too. He pulled his head back from where it rested on her shoulder, obviously having figured out that Clark was not in any shape to be attune to small movements, and looked at her. With infinite caution, he slipped his cock inside her. She dug her fingers into his shoulders, quaking. He brought his thumb to her clit. She bit her lip to the blood.
"Wait—Clark." Bruce's voice was strangled, desperate.
"We—need a plan."
The angle was a little better now, and she could see Clark's face bent to Bruce's neck. She could see the motion of Clark's arm. His hand must be on their cocks, jerking them together. Oliver could see it too, she knew he could. She could feel him schooling his breathing. They would have to wait and come with them, if they wanted to escape detection, because Clark even in the state he was in now would probably find that spike of heartbeat and breath hard to ignore.
"I like this plan fine."
"The one where I—God—come on this tux and—God, stop, don't stop—" She had to come, had to come, hearing Bruce's voice like that was going to unstring her. And Oliver, Oliver was shaking like a leaf against her.
"Then let me," Clark was saying, and then there was only one dark head, because the other was on his knees. The whole rack shook as Bruce's hand grabbed the top rail in desperation. She could see his other hand gripping Clark's shoulder.
"Clark—Clark—fuck," he gasped, and Oliver's thumb on her clit was fast and wet and she clenched around his cock, because Clark was sucking Bruce off not ten feet away and the noises Bruce was making were unlike anything she had ever heard, and her orgasm spangled behind her eyelids, she was the come shooting out of Bruce's cock and into Clark's eager mouth, she was the pulse of cock and cunt and hungry wet wet now. "Jesus, yes," and he was boneless against the wine rack, one hand all that was holding him up.
Clark was rising now, and the lewd backhand wipe of his mouth wrung another spasm of come from her. Her thighs were slick with her own juice. "Beautiful," Clark moaned, and Bruce crushed his mouth to Clark's. He was walking them back to the table, pushing Clark against it. His hand was working Clark's cock roughly, almost too roughly—how could he stand it? But Clark was thrashing in pleasure, thrusting up into Bruce's hand. Bruce had him practically on his back, gripping the table.
"Do you want to be fucking, is that what you want?" Bruce's hoarse rasp shivered her spine.
"Yes," moaned Clark.
"Is that what you're thinking about right now?"
"Fuck," he said weakly. "God. God, yes."
Oliver's trembling was constant now, and she knew he had to, had to move. Surely Clark was too far gone to notice. Oliver began thrusting, just small frantic motions. She slid a hand in the back of his loosened pants, gripped his ass. She moved a finger lower, to press at his hole. She slid the tip of her finger just inside, then two. Not far, because no lube, but that was okay, it was just the pressure, just the movement that was getting him off—in and out, fucking him. He threw his head back and opened his mouth in a silent rictus of ecstasy. She felt him trying to hold still as he pumped come, drenching her. She had never felt him shake like this, and she clutched him close, tried to gentle him through it.
"God, Bruce—God, move, I can't stop—" And Clark's head hit the table, his body arched upward. She saw Bruce's head bend to Clark's cock as he swallowed him down. Clark gave a cry and practically lifted off the table. He gripped at Bruce's head with a strength that had to be painful, thrusting up. "God, I—ngh," and Clark collapsed. Bruce lifted his mouth, climbed up on the table and on top of Clark, grinding down on him. Bruce's kisses were frantic, almost wild.
"You," moaned Clark, and with an effortless motion he rolled Bruce underneath him. Oliver was nuzzling her neck. He was watching too. She kissed his brow, his temple.
"You," Clark said again, and he was doing the same thing to Bruce she was doing to Oliver, kissing his hairline, the side of his face, his jaw. He gave a grin. "Okay, that was pretty damn amazing."
Bruce's laugh was low and deep. "It was a defensive maneuver. I cannot keep making up excuses about this amount of dry cleaning to Alfred. Forty years old and lying to my butler."
"Mmm." Clark's smile was post-orgasmic, blurred at the edges with lust. "Something tells me he's not fooled. Hey, did you talk to Dinah about tomorrow, about trailing the guy at CID? I had a couple of ideas."
"I remember what happened the last time you had a couple of ideas. It was nothing but good timing on my part that saved you from decorating Brainiac's trophy wall."
"And nothing but superior skill on my part that's saved your hide more times than—"
"What is it?"
Clark had frozen, gone watchful. Her heart thudded. He probably heard that too. Shit shit shit. "Nothing," he said, after a second or two. "Just people moving around upstairs. We should probably get back, though." Nimbly he slid off, releasing Bruce, and tucked himself back in.
"Now he wants to get back," sighed Bruce, vaulting off the table. But he arranged himself too, and then smoothed Clark's lapels. "You're a wreck," he murmured. "Anyone can tell you've been sucking off the host in the wine cellar."
"I'm that guy. Every party's got one," Clark said with a crooked smile, but he flicked his eyes just barely to the racks where they were concealed, then back again. Christ. She closed her eyes. So, so, so busted. Clark clearly had no interest in outing them, however, so there was a possibility they would both make it out of this alive.
"All right, back in the game. Oh, one last thing," Bruce said, and smoothly he grabbed Clark's shirtfront and pushed him back into the racks. He had his mouth on Clark, and his hands were roaming. "Chardonnay and come," he said quietly, into Clark's mouth. "My favorite."
"Okay, but—ah, we should—"
The door at the top of the stairwell ricocheted off the stone wall. "Get in," said an angry voice. An angry voice Dinah knew, and that she had heard this angry once before. "I am so fucking tired of having this conversation with you."
"I guess not, since you keep on having it. What the hell, Dickie, you just can't get enough of being Daddy's little Rottweiler, is that it?" The door slammed back with a shot, like it had been kicked.
Oliver looked down at her, his face a frown of confusion. So he knew now, too. He knew whose voice that was. Now there was one more secret she had failed to keep for Bruce. Just their luck, to happen tonight into the world's most crowded wine cellar. If she could just escape from this nightmare, she would never, never go to another party again.
She peered through the rows of bottles. She could see Bruce's profile. He was unmoving, what she could see of his face etched in stone. Their position behind the largest of the racks made them invisible to anyone on the stairs. Neither Clark nor Bruce moved.
"You tell me," Dick was saying, "you tell me what you came here tonight to do. Why are you here? Hoping to case a few more victims, maybe decapitate a few of our more corrupt politicians? Because Jesus, Jason. What is it with you, that you just can't keep away from him? Or is it just any opportunity to drive the knife in a little more, and you'll take it, even if it means showing up uninvited as many times as you have to?"
Jason gave a long low laugh. She dug her fingers into Oliver's arm. Jason and Dick were on the landing, and she could see nothing of them, but the anger and contempt oozed like blood from Jason's voice. "That's rich," he said. "Reach into my pocket, why don't you."
"I'm not playing your games."
"Fine. Take a look." And he gave another laugh. "It's my invitation, asshole. He invited me. So you know what I'm starting to think? I'm starting to think, and what the hell, I'm just, you know, thinking out loud here, but it sure seems to me that you're the one who has a problem with me. Not him. You."
Dick's voice sounded like he could barely get air. "That would be exactly right," he ground out. "I am the one who has the problem with you. Because Bruce is going to give you chance after chance. He will never see you for the monster you've become."
"Ohhh," Jason said, and it was a croon, soft and low. There was a creak in the floorboards, like someone had shifted. "I see. Well, lucky he's got you then, isn't it. And I'm sure all this concern of yours, it would have zero to do with the fact you've always hated me."
"How can you say that," and she heard the quaver of pain in Dick's voice in the center of her body. What it was doing to Bruce she couldn't imagine. "Jason. You're my brother, I always—"
"Will you stop saying that!" She flinched at the sudden explosion of rage. "I am not your brother, I never was! We shared a house together, not to mention a pretty fucked up life, but guess what, Dickie Bird? I was never your brother, and you know what else? He's not your father, either, so suck on that one for a while. He had plenty of chances to adopt you and he never did, so what does that tell you? Maybe that he wanted better for the Wayne name than some cheap circus Gyp?"
She saw Bruce close his eyes. Jesus, Jason. Jesus.
Dick's voice was quiet, when he answered. "You really don't know much about him, do you. You're right, he's not legally my father. You know why? Because I told him no. Yeah. That's what I get to live with, for the rest of my life. What do you get to live with?"
"Nothing that keeps me up at night, trust me. Now get out of my way." There was a noise of scuffling, and then a thud of something hitting the wall.
"We're not done here," said Dick. "And without your guns you're not such a big scary guy after all, are you. I can take you down with one hand tied behind me."
More laughter. "Come try it, Dickie Bird. I know something you don't know."
"And what would—that—oof—be?" A thud on the floorboards, a thud against the wall. "Guess you don't know so much, huh?"
Jason's laughter was softer than his voice. "This," he said. "I know this."
"Get your hands off me." Dick's voice shook.
"Sure. Sure, I can do that. But first, you know what I think?" Jason's voice was the curl of a whisper. "I think you fight me, Dickie Bird, so you can touch me."
"I'm not hurting you."
"You are. Stop it."
"Why, because Daddy might find out that it's this that really gets you hard? Such a fag." And this time she heard the smack of fist on flesh. She turned her head in some instinct of wince, even though she couldn't see what was happening.
"Pretty funny that you think he'd care. I'll tell you why he doesn't, if you want to know. Dick. Dickie. Can't you even look at me."
"Stop it." Dick's voice was a faint strangle of sound.
What happened next she didn't know. A creak of floor, a rustle of cloth. A long moment of silence, and then a small moan, from whom she couldn't tell. "Me too, Dickie," Jason murmured. "Me too."
The great wooden door swung open, someone stepped through, and the door closed, quietly, a solid heavy sound. She could hear someone breathing, loudly. And then a thud like the slam of fist into wood.
"God damn you to hell, Jason Todd." Dick's voice was low and murderous. The door swung open again, and banged shut. She did not dare to breathe.
Through the bottles, she could still see Bruce's frozen face. His eyes were shut. Clark's hand brushed his jaw. Bruce's head tipped forward, to rest against Clark's own. They stood like that, for a long minute. She saw Clark's hand moving, stroking the back of his head. Such a strange, intimate gesture, as unsettling in its way as watching a man idly scratch a panther behind the ears. Whatever they were saying was not being said with words, and she dropped her eyes. She hadn't had the decency to avert her eyes from anything they had done before, but this—watching this felt like an intrusion. Oliver's eyes met hers, and she knew he was thinking the same.
Bruce and Clark left quietly, back up the stairs and through the door. Clark was the last one out, and he paused near the top of the stairs, but before the landing would have hid him from sight. She saw him aim a gaze right at them. Yes, Clark, message received, she thought.
When the door finally thunked shut, she pushed free.
"Oh my God. Oh my God," she hissed. "Are all wine cellars like this, or just this one?"
Their bodies had become stuck together some twenty minutes ago in ways that had long ceased to be erotic, and her thigh muscles were going to be sore for a week, not to mention her ass. She struggled to re-insert herself into her clothes. How the hell had her shoe ended up in one of the racks? Oliver was calmly adjusting his cufflinks.
"I don't know, babe, the one at my house growing up always seemed pretty normal. I was down there a lot, what with sneaking drinks and making out with the maid and what have you."
"You. . . you're serious? What am I saying, of course you are. It all seemed normal to you because you were the drama."
He flashed a cockeyed grin while he fixed his collar, brushed off his sleeves. The evening's events seemed to have had no effect on him. Maybe that was something else his upbringing gave him, along with the lacrosse playing and the ability to look at home in a tux: complete immunity to emotional cataclysm, even when it was happening four feet away from you. He was cheerily palming the bottle of Montrachet they had left on the table, which miraculously had survived later activities. He poured himself a glass, held it to the light.
She looked up from strapping her shoe back on. "Really?"
"Relax, I'm pretty sure this is not the worst thing we've done tonight." He considered his first swallow of the wine and narrowed his eyes.
"Jason Todd, Jesus. I admit I did not see that one coming, though I'm guessing you did. You do plan on telling me about that one later, yes?" He looked at the wine again with renewed respect. "Man. No kidding, this is really good. Try some?" She rolled her eyes. "All right then, your loss. Hey, so as it turns out, Queen Industries had a good year, as I mentioned earlier."
"Yes," she said warily.
"So I'm thinking I'm going to sell my controlling interest and donate it to charity. We won't need the income any more, since I calculate you can pull seven figures a year easy, as the Wayne family psychologist. I mean because, goddamn," and he laughed into his second gulp of wine.
"You're a loathsome human being."
"Yep. But seriously, babe, good work. I think your patient has made what you might call serious progress."
"Please let's just go home. And then we are sealing the apartment doors shut and never, by the way, never, leaving the house again."
"Fine by me. You'll wear that dress all the time though, yeah?"
She gave his shoulder a shove up the stairs. What was worse, Oliver looked perfectly composed and unwrinkled, and she looked like she had been dragged behind a pick-up. Actually, she looked like she had been shoved against a basement wall and fucked with a meat tenderizer. The slit up her side was ripped, there were splotches on her dress where the velvet had been crushed, and she was pretty sure she'd left a telltale trail of rhinestones behind her. She probably had bits of crumbled stone and masonry in her hair.
"You look delicious," Oliver said, responding as always to what was written on her face. "Hang on, forgot something," and he trotted back down the stairs to grab the bottle of Montrachet. "Let's not be wasteful," he said.
"Sometimes," she reflected, "I'm embarrassed to know you."
"But then there's the sex."
"But then there's that," she said, and flipped the lightswitch.