“Diana. I’d like you to come meet a friend with me.”
That was how it had started – Diana had agreed, if only to find out who Bruce considered a ‘friend.’ She’d gotten a few details from him, but Bruce always was a private person.
From what she’d gathered, he’d been in contact with a woman on the internet since his early crimefighting days. He’d done the basic vetting when they kept talking, found she didn’t seem connected to any ongoing criminal groups, and was happy to leave it at that.
This mystery woman had apparently been of some assistance. He’d been cagey about what. Still, even without revealing his identity, she’d offered a few tips that had helped him get to where he was.
Knowing someone for more than a decade, though, meant she’d picked up enough crumbs to piece together his secret identity. In light of that, he wanted someone else to come along for the meet, to make sure there was no danger.
Say, someone with a lasso of truth to make absolutely sure there were no ulterior motives.
“If she was just guessing, you know this might make it obvious,” Diana said.
She gestured to herself. Her costume was hardly inconspicuous.
“She’s not guessing,” Bruce said. “She knows enough.”
“Not like you to slip up,” Diana said.
“We were all young once,” Bruce said. “When I first talked to her, I wasn’t sure what kind of protector I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure I wanted a secret identity, and I didn’t do the best job at maintaining one. I made mistakes. She’s finally realised them.”
“Surprised you were talking to her,” Diana said. “I’d have expected you to fixate on just the crimefighting.”
“I have interests beyond that you know,” Bruce said.
“Is that a joke? I can never tell with you,” Diana said.
He shot her a look. She hid a smile.
The car came to a stop. They’d picked a quiet meeting place, somewhere out of the way enough that there was no risk of encountering anyone else, and that a civilian wouldn’t draw attention by going there.
Bruce waited for a few seconds, as if preparing himself.
“So, what was her name?” Diana said.
“I just think of her by her screen name,” Bruce said. He seemed about to continue, then caught himself. “Ask her. We’re here now.”
He pushed the car door opened. Frowning, Diana followed.
There was definitely something off about Bruce’s behaviour. Maybe it was just introducing someone he knew beyond his life as Batman – he wasn’t exactly the type to share personal details.
There might have been something here, once. Some roadside attraction, or gas station, or picnic site – it wasn’t clear, and it wasn’t even a ruin now. There was a bench, a doorless hut, and little else.
Just a few steps behind Bruce, Diana followed him, turning around the side of the hut to meet Bruce’s old friend.
And Diana stopped in her tracks.
Even Bruce faltered, looking between the two. Diana, in the guise known only as a heroine, and the other woman.
It had been decades. Still, she looked almost the same. Blonde hair, in curls again, but cut a little shorter so it only reached her neck. A little less eyeshadow, and less 80s idea of punk – gone was the spiked jacket, the cheetah-print skirt.
She looked far more casual. A loose-fitting red shirt, a leather jacket, jeans, and a headband with leopard-print cat ears on.
There wasn’t any anger, there wasn’t any shock; she looked at Diana with a kind of sadness, and a kind of resignation.
“Barbara?” Diana said.
Bruce continued looking between them. He cleared his throat.
“You know each other?” Bruce said. “You could have said.”
“You said you were bringing a friend,” Barbara said. “If I told you I knew her, she might not have come.”
Diana sometimes prided herself on her memory – she’d lived for a long time, but shockingly little faded from her mind. Every face, every person, she kept them as vivid as she could in her mind.
Which was how she knew Barbara didn’t seem to have aged a day.
“How?” Diana said, eventually. “I knew her. In the eighties. That was over thirty years ago. You look the same.”
“I never renounced my wish,” Barbara said. “Never wanted to. Apparently being like you means, well, this.”
She gestured at herself. There was no reluctance in her tone, though there might have been a note of self-consciousness.
For a second, Diana tensed – she recalled too well their last meeting. Barbara didn’t seem to mean harm though. At least, she didn’t seem to be poised to fight.
“Relax,” Barbara said. “I don’t want a scene. It’s been a while. I… grew up.”
“Really?” Diana said.
“I know I gave up a lot for the wish,” Barbara said. “But nothing about it meant I couldn’t relearn a few things. Or become someone different. It’s not… I have things to live for. Not just competition. Took me a while, but here I am.”
A moment’s pause. Diana wanted to believe her – she still remembered that moment of connections he’d had with Barbara when they’d first met. But still…
“So this isn’t about anything… else?” Diana said.
“No hidden motives,” Barbara said. “Lasso me if you like.”
“You just happened to talk to Bruce?” Diana said.
She pulled her lasso out anyway; Barbara took hold of it before she even offered it. Bruce awkwardly extended a hand as if to interrupt, though he went ignored, Diana too focused on the reunion.
“Huh, him?” Barbara said. “Coincidence. Met him on furaffinity years ago.”
Diana blinked. Bruce looked between the two again, awkwardly sighed, and lowered his hand, evidently giving up on getting in the way of the discussion.
“It’s a website,” Bruce began. “It has a forum-”
“I know what it is,” Diana said. “Why do you think I don’t know how the internet works? I just didn’t expect… You?”
“Diana,” Barbara said. “When you last met me, I teamed up with someone who granted people’s deepest wishes, and he turned me into a cheetah-person.”
Diana took a moment, considering.
“Okay,” she said. “Good point.”
“Had to fill the years somehow,” Barbara said. “I ran into a guy asking for tips on how to put together his bat fursuit years ago. We stayed in contact.”
“Your what?” Diana turned to Bruce.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Bruce said. “We’re here to talk about-”
“You said your costume was to intimidate criminals,” Diana said. “I did wonder what was so scary about bats.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a furry, Bruce,” Diana said. “But you don’t need to hide who you are behind bravado and fear.”
“I am the night?” Bruce said weakly.
“So,” Bruce said, quickly, “Moving on. Barbara. Can she be trusted?”
“I’m not planning on revealing your identities, or hurting you, or getting revenge,” Barbara said. She lifted up the lasso, looping it around one hand as it shimmered softly. “Moved past that. I just pieced together who Bruce was through the clues he left.”
“You weren’t fishing for information?” Bruce said.
“No,” Barbara said. The lasso still shone. “Don’t need to. You’d be surprised how many heroes are in that community. Your ex had an account too, Bruce, you know. And there was that Kal guy who came in and talked about trying to pass for human when he really felt like another species, seemed a bit too fervent for just a teenage edgelord. And I think I ran into Aquaman on another site.”
“You did?” Bruce said sharply. “Where? Why?”
“Coincidence again,” Barbara said. “It wasn’t furaffinity, just a homegrown forum, ‘Wonder Woman Beat Me Up Please,’ for fans of- ah!”
She hastily tugged the lasso off her wrist, throwing it back to Diana. Diana raised an eyebrow.
“That’s enough of that,” Barbara said.
“Vetting over?” Barbara said, flushing slightly. “I’m just trying to live a normal-ish life. Said as much, and I couldn’t lie. As was way, way too clear.”
“Um,” Bruce said. “I… suppose.”
Diana was still looking at Barbara.
“Stop staring at me!” Barbara said. “I found out a lot about myself back then, okay? Okay. End of discussion.”
“Okay,” Bruce said.
“I’ll… leave you two alone,” he said eventually. “Diana, assume you don’t need a lift?”
“I’ll be fine,” Diana said.
She didn’t take her eyes off Barbara. Barbara nervously tucked her hair back behind her ear, a faint flicker of her old self emerging. Bruce, meanwhile, quickly made his getaway.
“You’ve been following me?” Diana said.
“Once I realised it was you,” Barbara said. “Did you expect me to just forget you? And can we please just not talk about this?”
Diana smiled fondly.
It was somehow encouraging to see her self-consciousness – it was a reminder that, wish or no, Barbara had more of her warmth back.
Curiously, Diana reached out; she ran a finger down one of the ears on Barbara’s headband. Barbara bit her lip.
“They’re cute,” Diana said. “Suit you.”
“Short of making a deal with another evil god, it seemed the best route,” Barbara said.
Diana laughed gently. Barbara relaxed slightly, tension Diana hadn’t realised she was holding leaving her.
“You don’t hate me?” Barbara said.
“I never did,” Diana said.
“We don’t have to fight?” Barbara said.
“That other forum you were on,” Diana said. “Do you want us to?”
“Um. Maybe a little.”