Continuity: Potatoverse -2 years, Current Continuity +1 year.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Chicago for beta-ing and to Kerrie for wanting to see Bruce and Dinah playing in the snow.
Disclaimer: The characters contained herein belong to DC Comics/Time Warner. I intend no copyright infringement I just play pretend with them. This is a Potatoverse story. That DOES belong to me, so if you need more info, feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Three years this Christmas, sir."
"What Alfred?" Bruce Wayne looked up from the spectral analysis he was running. The cowl had been pushed back, rumpling his hair enough to remind Alfred of the little boy Bruce had been so long ago.
"I do believe that this Christmas will be the third anniversary of your... partnership... with Ms. Lance."
"Oh." Bruce returned his attention to his project. "It's not a 'partnership' Alfred. It's more of a..."
"Indiscretion?" Alfred supplied helpfully.
"Very well, sir."
Partnership? Indiscretion? Situation? Three years? Had it really been going on three years? Christmas Eve. Dick had just proposed to Barbara. They were both feeling lonely... cold... left out.
Dick and Babs became Mr. and Mrs. Grayson just under a year later. Bruce quickly did the math.
Three years. Three years, this Christmas.
She hadn't left him.
She hadn't complained of his long absences.
She hadn't complained of his frequent distraction.
Not once had he had to save her from a megalomaniac.
She hadn't run.
There was something wrong with this picture.
"Sir, we have a guest," Alfred announced from the foot of the stairs.
"Hey there," Dinah greeted him, walking down the steps behind Alfred.
Of course. She was the one of the few people allowed in the Batcave whom Alfred still insisted on announcing.
Bruce nodded curtly, trying to ignore his disappointment that she wore the costume with the pants. After all, it WAS December.
"I've taken the liberty of inviting Miss Dinah to dinner, sir," Alfred announced happily, starting his trek upstairs.
"I'm a little busy tonight," Bruce said ungraciously.
Dinah's eyes widened and Alfred shot him a familiar look that chastised him for his rudeness. Bruce shot him the familiar insolent look in reply.
"Looks like it's just you and me tonight, Alfie," Dinah said lightly. She shrugged and started to go back up the stairs.
"I was aware of no other plans," Alfred said primly, ignoring Dinah's attempt to escape.
"I have them."
"You're being very rude."
Behind Alfred, Dinah rolled her eyes.
Bruce turned back to his project.
"He's in Bat-mode, Alfred," Dinah said, just loud enough for Bruce to hear.
Bruce refused to respond.
"I'll come back when he's in a better mood."
Bruce slammed his heavy tome shut.
"Let's have dinner."
Alfred and Dinah had both raised eyebrows at each other when he'd conceded to dinner, Bruce remembered, sipping from his water goblet. There was no point in refusing when Dinah said she'd be back. Maybe she had been bluffing for Alfred. Maybe he should have refused the dinner anyway.
"You're being a real jerk," Dinah informed him over dessert.
Alfred hovered in the doorway, pausing on his way to refill their water glasses.
"Didn't your mother teach you it's not nice to insult your host?"
"Didn't your mother teach you how to treat a lady?"
Part of him was aching to pull her into his arms and show her exactly how he treated his lady, but the scared little boy who'd been left by almost everybody wrapped his arms around himself and huddled further within himself. He never wanted to be taken by surprise like that again. He'd push her away; make her leave. He wouldn't let her get close enough to hurt him when she walked away.
He tossed down some more water and stabbed his fork in his pie.
"I haven't had a mother since I was six," he reminded her. "I'm just a millionaire orphan playboy, remember?"
He watched her flush at his insinuation and abruptly push her chair back. All too late, he thought of Ollie and his irrepressible penchant for "sampling" other women. He almost apologized. Almost.
"I'm sorry to leave so soon," she said stiffly, " but I'm feeling ill.""Of course." Bruce too stood up.
Dinah stalked to the door where Alfred was already silently holding her coat. Then, to Bruce's utmost surprise, she turned back to him.
"You're hurting me on purpose," she said straight to his face. "I don't know why, but I'm not standing for it. When you remember who the real Bruce Wayne is, you know my number." She leaned up and brushed her lips against his cheek and then she was gone, with only the echo of the front door to announce her exit.
Alfred poured Bruce's morning orange juice in stony silence.
Bruce sighed. "I know you're mad at me, Alfred."
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
"It's just that there's not room in my life foró"
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
Bruce sighed. "No, Alfred. Thank you."
Alfred vanished behind the swinging doors.
Bruce frowned into his orange juice and buried his nose in the morning papers.
It was all for the best, really.
"Bruce? Bruce, wake up!"
"Huh, what? Oh, sorry, Lucius." Bruce shook his head and looked around the empty conference room. "Did everyone leave already?"
"No, Bruce, the meeting hasn't started yet."
"Oh. Oh, right." Bruce regarded the coffee in front of him. He never drank coffee. He wasn't keen on the idea of becoming dependent on caffeine, but he carried a cup around all day long for appearances' sake. "Lucius, what kind of coffee is this?"
"What kind of coffee? Probably black, with a pile of sugar, the way you usually take it. Are you feeling all right, Bruce?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
On later reflection, Lucius would realize that he'd never seen Bruce Wayne do this before nor had seen him do it since.
Bruce slurped a deep mouthful of coffee from his cup and rolled it around his mouth.
And nearly spit it out.
How on earth did Dinah drink this sludge?
"...and then *I* said to Missy..."
Bruce tipped up his glass of mineral water, wishing for one brief moment that he hadn't switched his champagne for ginger ale. Another long, boring night at a long, boring fundraiser, to which he'd actually offered to escort Candy Worthington. How did this happen? Bruce wondered. It must be Alfred's fault. He was reasonably sure Alfred set this up on his own. He didn't *remember* running into Candy and asking her to a party. Maybe he had and Alfred had remembered. But no. He was pretty sure this one was all Alfred. Maybe he should get Dick or Tim to start finding his dates.
"...I simply could *not* believe what she..."
Bruce hit the panic button.
Alfred looked idly at his beeping pager. Master Bruce had a similar communications device that allowed him to send such a signal. The intent was for Alfred to feign an emergency and call Master Wayne away from a situation he was no longer interested in pursuing. Alfred decided that Bruce could wait this one out a little longer.
"Thank you, Alfred," Bruce growled, stepping into the limousine.
"I'm sorry, sir?"
"I know you're mad at me, but leaving me in the hands of Candy Worthington? Unacceptable."
"My apologies, sir. Perhaps a malfunction in your transmitting unit?"
"Perhaps," Bruce snarled.
"If I may be so bold, sir, how did you ever escape?"
Bruce cleared his throat and averted his eyes.
"I'm sorry, sir, I failed to catch that. Perhaps if you enunciated a bit more?"
"I climbed out the bathroom window."
"I... see, sir."
Bruce ignored him and whipped out his cell phone, automatically hitting the button to dial Dinah's number, as was his habit after these parties.
"Hi, this is Dinah Lance!"
At the sound of her pre-recorded voice, Bruce suddenly realized what he was doing.
"I'm out right now. If you don't care when I get back to you, wait and leave a message. If you need to get a message to me, press one to be transferred to my scheduling secretary. If you're a superhero, there's easier ways to get in touch with me. Use them. Ta!"
Bruce terminated the connection, several seconds later than he'd intended.
"Wrong number, sir?"
Batman nodded as Robin settled into a squat next to him.
"You look gloomy. Stocks drop?"
"Don't you know?"
"My roommate used the business section for napkins before I got to it today. We'd been doing pretty good the last few days, though."
Batman shook his head slowly, wondering how Tim managed to live with four other college seniors in a townhouse and still keep Robin a secret identity.
"Don't you have finals?" Batman finally asked.
"Next week," Tim assured him. "I'll be coming back to work the next Monday."
"So what is it? Did stock go down?"
"Oh. Ok." Tim sat back on his heels and considered Batman. "Did you and Dick get into it again?"
"So what is it?" Tim tried, knowing his chances of getting an answer were growing slimmer by the second. "Woman grief?" He accompanied his query with a solid elbow to Batman's ribs.
"Yes," Bruce finally growled.
"No way! Check that out." Tim grinned to himself. "What's up, one of those bimbos getting a little too cozy to Bruce Wayne? Hey, we all know those girls are just part of the whole appearance thing and that you don't even like them that much anyway. No problem; cut her loose and look all GQ doing it." Bruce grunted, floored at how completely Tim missed the point. But the boy was still talking. "Guarantee, you won't even notice she's gone..."
It had been one week and four days since Dinah had kissed his cheek and shut the door behind her. She'd been away on missions longer than that.
"Oracle, this is Batman."
"What's going on?"
"Huh?" Bruce heard the clatter of computer keys as Barbara drew up her night's roster. "Well, you know about the break-in at First National and the fire at Chemcorps Labs, Robin stopped a rapist on Moench andó"
"Actually, I wanted to know what *you* were doing."
Batman waited silently.
"Um, well, I did some databasing and I'm tracking a sting op that Dick and his new partner are doing... uh, I went grocery shopping today?"
"Nothing going on overseas?"
"Ah!" Barbara's voice noticeably brightened. "You're asking me about Dinah," she teased.
It suddenly occurred to Bruce that Dinah had not mentioned their exchange to her partner. If she had, Barbara would certainly be asserting her opinion on him at this very instant.
"Yeah, actually I was working with her earlier," Barbara continued, her voice indicating a certain smugness. "So you two still aren't sleeping together?"
"So I can assume she still has all pertinent body parts?"
"You sure can."
"Thank you, Oracle." Batman terminated the connection before she could reply. "Good grief," he muttered to himself on his way back to the Batcave.
Two weeks, one day.
Bruce reached for his orange juice and made a ground-breaking discovery.
The crossword puzzle in the Gotham City Times was undone. Empty. Virgin. Untouched by a certain blonde with a Bic pen.
This discovery shook Bruce to his very core. It shook him so that he shoved breakfast aside, folded the paper back and immediately began examining the clues.
"Alfred," he asked twenty minutes later, "What was the name of the Lone Ranger's brother's horse? The next to last letter is R."
"Perhaps," Alfred suggested dryly, "you should do as Miss Dinah does and just 'make up' a nice name."
"But then the other words won't fit."
Alfred offered a ghost of a smile. "Then I suppose you'll have to make up something to fit in those blanks as well."
"This is how Dinah does crossword puzzles?"
"Every time I have observed her, sir."
Bruce paused, realizing something so obvious that he was ashamed.
"It would be really silly to let go of a woman who makes up her own answer to crossword puzzles, wouldnít it, Alfred?"
Bruce buzzed her room, trying to ignore the stares of the rest of the lobby.
"Pizza guy?" Her voice. Even through the crappy speakers, it was music to his ears.
"No... Dinah... it's Bruce."
There was a long pause.
"I'll come down."
He heard the click and knew she'd disconnected. He paced the lobby in his overcoat, ignoring the curious looks from the man at the front desk.
"Wayne." He turned to find her behind him, wearing red and green plaid flannel pants, an oversized sweatshirt with polar bears, and sneakers. She had a wool peacoat flung over the entire outfit.
"Dinah. You look beautiful."
She laughed, the sound of silver bells. "You lie like a rug, Wayne."
"Ió" It had been automatic and he realized that she had probably been lounging around her apartment. "I wanted to talk to you."
"Let's go outside," she said, her eyes darting pointedly to the desk manager.
"Sure," he agreed, following her out the apartment building door to the dazzlingly white outside. The sun reflected off the snow and played gold through her hair.
"Shoot," she ordered him, once they were clear of the door.
Dinah tilted her head expectantly, nearly blinding him when the gold scattered in different directions.
"Why haven't you left me?"
"Actually, I was rather under the impression that I had."
"But you left me room to come back."
Dinah shrugged. "Despite popular belief, Wayne, you're not that bad a guy. You don't get cranky about my being away for weeks on end, your butler's a great cook, and you're not half bad in bed." She tugged her coat closer around her. "And you tend not to run around behind my back."
"IóI haven't been around much, either." Bruce turned away as he tried to articulate the turmoil he was feeling inside. "Iódrive people away. I couldn't figure out why you hadn't left, yet. So I tried harder."
"And found out you really didn't want me to go away after all?"
"Three years, Dinah. It's been a three year one-night stand. Ió" Bruce yelped as he suddenly found a shock of cold melting its way down his spine. He spun on her, eyes wide and mouth open. "What did you--?"
Dinah was overcome by laughter, her arms wrapped around her sides, as she bent from the waist. "Wayne, you scream like a girl!" she gasped around giggles. "Oh, that was so worth it!"
"Are you sure about that, Bird Girl?" he asked. Before she could even straighten, he'd scooped up some snow, packed it into a hard ball, and pegged her square in the face.
"Gah," she grunted, spitting out snow. "Bird Girl? What kind of lame insult is that? Are people really afraid of you? Take this, buster!" She bent to form her own snowball when he tackled her, knocking her into a snow bank. She found herself pinned beneath him and immediately retaliated with more snow down his jacket.
"Stop that," he grunted, squirming on top of her. Faster than she could see, he dumped snow down the front of her sweatshirt, eliciting a squeal. "Now who screams like a girl?"
"I *am* a girl, doofus," she shot back, flipping him onto his back.
A handful of snow was pressed to the back of her neck.
And Bruce was back on top, pinning down her torso and limbs. "What are you going to do now?" he growled in a voice that was very near The Voice, but she heard the teasing edge.
"Make snow angels?" she suggested, winsomely, trying to shift her arms and legs under his grasp.
"I've got my own," he replied, releasing one arm so he could cup her cheek as he kissed her.
She tilted her head up to him and took advantage of her free hand, reaching for his belt buckle.
Bruce yelped. "Are you crazy, woman? You might want that warm, later!"
"Wayne, you scream like a girl!"
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