Court Etiquette
by M. Scott Eiland

Bruce's eyes snapped open, and he immediately sat up and looked at the antique grandfather clock that stood on the far side of his bedroom. It was half past six in the evening--the sun had set almost an hour before. He got out of bed, slipped into a robe, and went down to the BatCave, donning his costume and ordering the computer to give him the news summary for the past twelve hours.

In spite of the warning they had received, stopping Vandal Savage from obtaining the chunk of dwarf star matter that would have precipitated the end of the world had been no easy matter. The evil immortal had planned well and recruited allies. While he believed that they would have prevailed in any event, the scientist who had made the discovery of the hyper-dense object had turned out to be an invaluable ally in stopping Savage when he unexpectedly manifested superpowers due to his exposure to the degenerate matter. When the sounds of battle had faded and Savage and his allies had been taken away to a hopefully more secure site than the last one the would-be world conqueror had escaped from, the members of the League had gathered and thanked Dr. Palmer--and offered their assistance in helping him to discover what the nature of the changes in him really amounted to. Palmer had seemed taken aback at the effusiveness of the thanks and offered help--Batman suspected that, like himself, the others were reacting to the sheer relief of having Superman fighting at their side again. Even if he did look more like cover art from a Conan novel than a Big Blue Boy Scout for the moment.

Batman frowned and read the news summaries. Nothing major going on outside of the news of Superman's return and the battle with Savage. The Joker's been in Arkham for six months--he's way overdue for another escape. I should see if I can slip one of these new micro tracers into his food--

"Master Bruce."

Batman smiled involuntarily for an instant before replying in his most businesslike tone without turning: "Yes, Alfred?"

"You have a visitor." Alfred's tone was as level as ever, but Batman thought that he detected an extra note of formality in his voice.

"Bruce Wayne isn't here, remember? I told Lucius that I was taking a two-week vacation in Barbados and made sure everyone else in Gotham knew I was going." Batman frowned--Alfred never forgot details like that.

"The visitor is here to see Batman, Master Bruce--here, unless you care to receive her upstairs." Batman turned and blinked, and Alfred added with a slight smile: "Forgive my discomfort, Master Bruce--but my origins entail a bit more sensitivity to the treatment of royalty than is typical for you Americans. I would really rather not leave her waiting any longer than is absolutely necessary."

Batman repressed a smile. "Of course, Alfred--please extend my apologies for keeping her waiting and escort her down. Announce her with all of the titles that she is privileged to be known by."

Alfred nodded. "Very good, Master Bruce." He turned and departed, heading for the staircase that led back into Wayne Manor.

Batman turned back to the computer and smiled. It was bound to happen sooner or later Diana had seen through the playboy act when she met him in Paris--the time they had spent together fighting Savage immediately afterwards had probably helped her make the connection a little more easily--and she had teased him about it on several occasions when they had been alone. He had given her a standing invitation to visit him here, with the proviso that she do so in a clandestine manner--neither of them wanted the headache of Wonder Woman and Bruce Wayne being linked in the tabloids any more than the brief dance in Paris might have provoked. Batman chuckled at the thought. Of course, those tabloids would be even more interested in linking Batman and Wonder Woman. . .might be a challenge to avoid that little pitfall, should the need arise

On the other hand, he liked challenges.

He heard the door to the manor open again, and he stood up, calling out as he turned, "We really need to stop meeting like this, Diana-- people will st--" He stopped in mid-sentence and stared at the woman standing next to Alfred.

Alfred--who was standing just in front of and to the left of the visitor--looked down at his boss with a smirk and announced loudly: "Her Royal Highness Hippolyta--Queen of the Amazons--Ruler of Themyscira--High Priestess of Hera--and Guardian of the Gates of Tartarus." He turned to the stunning woman he had just announced and asked, "Your Highness, is there any other service I can provide before I take my leave of you?"

Hippolyta smiled and shook her head. "Your hospitality has been exemplary, Mr. Pennyworth. I thank you." Alfred bowed once and departed, and Hippolyta turned to Batman as she walked down the stairs and commented, "You know, letting your jaw drop like that rather spoils the effect you strive so hard to create--taking a moment to compose yourself might be an excellent idea."

Batman blinked, then set his jaw as he replied politely--if not warmly: "Your Highness, I believe I can be excused for a moment of surprise. Your presence here implies your possession of several pieces of knowledge that could only have come from a limited number of sources--none of whom would have willingly given you that information."

Hippolyta smiled. "Your faith in my daughter's fidelity is moving, Batman--and fully justified. My sources of information are mystic in nature." Batman raised an eyebrow, and Hippolyta sensed the reaction without seeing it and elaborated, "After Erisia's treachery, I made a point of keeping a closer eye on Diana's activities, and her interactions with you and the rest of the Justice League. My scrying inevitably revealed a number of secrets that all of you hold dear--I hope you can accept my word that none of the secrets I have discovered will pass my lips unless I deem it necessary in order to protect Themyscira."

Batman silently stared at the Amazon Queen for several seconds before nodding and saying simply, "I am aware of the seriousness of such oaths to you, Your Highness. I will, however, inform the others so that they may be aware of the situation." Hippolyta inclined her head, and Batman added, "Just how much--?"

"I am not a voyeur, Batman." Hippolyta sounded faintly amused as she replied and approached him. Batman smiled grimly, and Hippolyta added, "I did observe some of your interactions with Diana both with and without battle gear during the incident with the Kasnians. She obviously thinks very highly of you."

"Her respect means a great deal to me, Your Highness." Batman said quietly, and added, "Your presence during the time of Superman's memorial meant a great deal to her--I thank you for visiting her and bringing her formal costume."

"She is my daughter--and the man she was mourning is a hero to the people of Themyscira--I could do no less." Hippolyta looked relieved, and added, "I will hold a feast in honor of his return to this world when I return." She looked downcast, and added, "I regret that Diana will not be at my side to offer the first toast."

"I know." Batman said gently, and met her eyes as he asked, "I know how you are here, but not why, Your Highness. Is there a danger that you wished to make me aware of to Diana or to Themyscira?"

"The events of the past two weeks have driven home just how crucial your group is to the protection of all that is--both Man's World and Themyscira. I wished to understand you more before I departed for home." Hippolyta paused briefly, then added, "I came to you because the others are far easier to understand--including J'onn and Shayera-- I hoped that a face to face meeting with you would help me perceive with more wisdom the man behind the mask."

Batman smiled inwardly. "And has this meeting given you any useful insights, Your Highness?"

The Amazon Queen smiled and gestured at the BatCave as she replied, "Well, I'm fairly certain that you're not claustrophobic." The calm observation provoked a brief smirk from Batman, and Hippolyta nodded and added, "You are naturally distrustful of others, but capable of putting aside suspicion when you deem the need for doing so. You exist in isolation, but you are willing to expend your last breath to save innocent strangers. You resent that I exiled Diana, but understand my reasons and the price I had to pay to preserve my honor as a ruler." She stared at him a bit more intensely, then concluded, "And if I were to choose one guardian for Diana in Man's World, it would be you--with all due respect to Kal- El. He is a great hero, but I prefer a touch of ruthlessness for my daughter's guardian, and you have that quality in abundance without letting it turn you into a monster."

"Some would disagree with your last observation, Your Highness," Batman replied. "I'm not exactly considered to be the most stable person in this line of work. Even some members of the League--"

"Yes, you make them uncomfortable at times, just as their idiosyncrasies irritate you on occasion. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that they respect you, as I do." Hippolyta studied him carefully, then added, "However, I am still the Queen of the Amazons, and I will raise objections should you choose to seriously pursue my daughter romantically--there are principles of my people that even my respect for you and my love for my daughter will not let me ignore."

Batman raised an eyebrow and briefly considered a blanket denial of any romantic interest in Diana--before finding that he was remembering the sight of Diana's joy at Superman's return, and that behind his poker face he was thinking that she had never looked more beautiful than she had at that moment. He blinked, locked eyes with the Amazon Queen, and stated flatly, "In that case, I'll have to be very persuasive if that day comes."

Hippolyta's stare grew hard for a moment before softening, and she chuckled before replying, "Yes, you will."

"Mother, stop harassing the poor man."

Batman and Hippolyta turned and saw Diana watching them from the top of the stairs, her arms folded. Alfred was standing just behind her, and Batman glared at his faithful servant. Diana saw the reaction and interjected, "Don't be angry at Alfred--I asked him not to announce me. Mother left me a note saying where she had gone, and I thought I should rescue you as quickly as possible."

Batman allowed himself to smile slightly. "I appreciate the gesture, but we've been getting along just fine." He turned back to Hippolyta and added, "Isn't that right, Your Highness?"

Hippolyta inclined her head at Batman before replying, "Most certainly, Batman. It has been a most enlightening--if brief-- encounter. I thank you." She turned to Diana and said, "My daughter, I believe it is time for me to depart for Themyscira. If you will take me to the departure point, I would appreciate it greatly."

"Of course, Mother. I need to discuss something briefly with Batman first." Diana replied quietly.

Hippolyta nodded, then turned back to Batman one last time: "Thank you for your hospitality, sir."

Batman smiled genuinely. "It has been my privilege, Your Highness." The Amazon Queen nodded and walked over to Alfred, who escorted her out. Diana walked over and stopped next to him, studying him with a vaguely speculative look on her face. After a moment, Batman frowned at her and asked, "What did you need to discuss with me, Diana?"

Wonder Woman looked into his eyes, and he could see amusement there as she replied, "Just one thing, Bruce" Batman flinched at the emphasis on his real name and stared as Diana continued, "If you're really thinking of winning that argument, I'd start working on it now. She's had three thousand years to become very, very stubborn." She smiled warmly at him, then turned and walked out of the BatCave, calling over her shoulder: "See you at the Watchtower."

Batman looked at the empty doorway for a few moments, then sighed. Another project--but not for tonight His expression was wistful for a moment before returning to normal, and his thoughts went back to the thorny problem of slipping micro tracers into a certain insane clown`s food.


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