Disclaimer: The characters of Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Alfred Pennyworth, Barbara Gordon, Dinah Lance, Oliver Queen, Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, their alter-egos and the JSA (guest cameo) belong to DC Comics. I just borrowed their toys. The characters of Unnamed Masked Terrorist Guys do belong to me but I am quite generous about sharing. Please don't sue and direct all tomatoes away from the face.
Come On...It'll Be Fun
"Bruce Wayne, huh?" Twenty-year-old Dinah Laurel Lance watched her reflection in the mirror as she blew a strand of hair off her forehead. "Ollie are you sure you really want to go to this thing?" She smiled as her blond boyfriend came up behind her and dropped a kiss on her bare shoulder. "We could…stay home…have a party of our own…"
"Mmm, you drive a hard bargain, pretty bird," Oliver Queen murmured, attacking her neck. "But Brucie's a friend of mine. And besides…it's his birthday."
"Brucie," Dinah snorted. "He's a grown man. He should be ashamed of himself." Immediately forgetting the offensive nickname, Dinah returned to her critical appraisal in the mirror.
"Why the sad face?" Ollie asked, a worried frown creasing his forehead.
Dinah didn't answer but tore her eyes from Ollie's reflection and fiddled with her hair.
"I'm just not a party person," Dinah started hesitantly. "I mean, Dinah Lance isn't a party person."
"You could wear the blonde wig," Ollie urged her. "And the fishnets. Entrepreneur Oliver Queen escorts the daring Black Canary to that other guy's birthday party…I can see it now. I'd love to see you strut into Wayne Manor in those stockings. Brucie's butler would keel over right then and there."
"Ollie!" Dinah protested, pushing him away half-heartedly and glancing back up at her paramour's grinning face. She couldn't help but laugh with him.
"You're going to be the prettiest bird in the room," Ollie promised, squeezing her tighter. "I wouldn't change a single thing…well, maybe I could have found a shorter dress," he leered. "No woman in that room is going to be able to compete with those legs!"
"Ollie! If this dress gets any shorter, Bruce Wayne's butler is going to be seeing more than my legs!"
"Promise?" Ollie asked, waggling his eyebrows and wrapping his arms around her waist.
"Why can't I go to the party, too?" Nine-year-old Dick Grayson locked his arms across his chest and stuck out his lower lip in the best sulk he could manage.
Bruce Wayne cringed and took a fortifying breath against the puppy-dog eyes. "Dick…"
"There will be none of that this evening," Alfred Pennyworth interrupted sharply. "It is Master Bruce's birthday and you will be on your best behavior for his guests. Besides," Alfred added, with a dramatic pause to emphasize his trump card, "you certainly would not wish to appear…unseemly…in front of Miss Gordon."
Dick flushed and his cross-armed stance sagged into something akin to a self-hug. "But…" he started forlornly.
"I'll tell you what, Dick," Bruce offered. "If you're willing to wear your new suit and stay close to Barbara, you can stay at the party until it's time for you to get ready for bed."
"Really?" Dick's face lit up and he was halfway up the mansion's curving staircase before Bruce could answer. "Yippee!"
A grin broke out on Bruce's face. "I like this good cop, bad cop routine," he mused.
"Of course you do, sir," Alfred said dryly, scooping up a tray and returning to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on his preparations for the evening's gala. "You're the good cop."
"Ah, Mr. Queen, Ms. Lance, may I take your coats and bags?"
"Sure thing, old bean," Ollie agreed. Dinah was too busy being awed by Wayne Manor to answer or even protest when Ollie slid her coat away from the tiny dress. "Something else, isn't it, pretty bird?"
"It's…" Dinah's eyes shone with the lights lining the hallway. She glanced back at Alfred who was escorting their coats to an unknown place and lowered her voice. "It's like when Mom was in the JSA and they used to hold parties at Uncle Ted's house. Only so many more people," she added, glancing into the main room.
"Come on, I'll introduce you to the host," Ollie offered, resting a hand on the small of her back and directing her into the crowds of people.
"Who are they?" Dick wanted to know, peering between the wooden slats of the staircase. Barbara Gordon sat next to him, her arms around his neck, fixing his sloppily knotted bow tie.
At his question, she glanced up from her task to peer down at the couple beneath them. "I don't know," she admitted. "I don't think they're from Gotham. And you need to sit still," she admonished, putting Dick in a mock headlock to hold him while she wrestled with his tie.
Dick giggled and squirmed out of it. "I'm ok," he informed her. "Let's go downstairs." He grabbed Barbara's hand, fully intending to drag her down the stairs.
"Uh-uh." She stood fast, stopping him in his tracks. Superior height prevailed over childish exuberance as Dick bounced back, looking up at her. "Get back here and do it right."
"Do it right?" Dick's face wrinkled in confusion.
"Your arm, Master Grayson," Babs chided, crooking his elbow and slipping her hand around it. "Let's go."
"Dinah, this is my friend Bruce Wayne. Bruce, meet my gal, Dinah Lance."
"Nice to meet you," Dinah said politely. Bruce Wayne was a nice-looking man, to be sure. But he was probably as dull and vapid as the rest of the people in attendance. Besides, she had her own man—and there was definitely more to him than met the eye!
"Believe me, it's my pleasure, Miss Lance," Bruce assured her, brushing his mouth over her knuckles. At least he didn't slobber, Dinah thought distantly.
"Ok, Bruce, I know you're jealous, but let's lay off my girl," Ollie suggested good-naturedly. He slung one arm around Bruce's shoulders and the other around Dinah's.
Dinah let her eyes wander around the room as Ollie and Bruce joked about people she'd never met. The first person to catch her eye was the gentleman who'd taken her coat and bag. He was the most familiar face here, she thought dismally. It didn't take long to realize that he was in unquestionable command of the team of white-jacketed waiters carrying gleaming silver platters of hors d'ouvres and sparkling crystal flutes of champagne.
Beautiful people stood around laughing at each other's jokes and flirting with their toothpaste smiles and perfectly coiffed hair. Dinah wondered if each of them were just as bored as she was.
Across the room she saw a tall, red-headed teenager—probably already taller than Dinah herself, but not yet matured—clasping the arm of a very proper young gentleman who was all of about ten years old. His dark hair was carefully smoothed down and he had on a dark suit with a slightly crooked bowtie. The girl wore a green lace dress, something she would have picked out with her mother, rather than with friends, if teenagers still wore what Dinah remembered wearing only a few years before. Someone's kids, she decided, smiling at the couple.
"Oh—huh?" Dinah tore her eyes away from the room and looked back into Ollie's questioning eyes.
"You ok? You look like you're a million miles away."
"Oh…I'm fine," Dinah assured him. "I'm—just going to go to the ladies room. I'll come find you when I'm done."
"Front hall," Bruce offered helpfully. "Next to the coat room."
"Thank you." Dinah smiled gratefully at him and slipped away.
She lingered in the luxurious powder room, fluffing her hair and freshening her lipstick. She soon found herself out of makeup with which to distract herself. Dinah squared her shoulders and stepped determinedly from the restroom to see the red-haired girl and the little boy were at the base of the staircase.
"No, he said, 'in time to get ready for bed'," the red-haired girl lectured, "not 'at your bedtime'. Now get going and wash up. I'm going to take a swing by the little girls room, and then I'll be up to make sure you washed behind your ears!"
The boy trudged reluctantly up the stairs as the girl turned and saw Dinah.
"Oh, hello," she greeted Dinah with a self-possession that made her seem older than she looked. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you—"
Her last words were drowned out when the front door slammed open and a dozen armed men piled into the hall.
Acting immediately, Dinah grabbed the teenaged girl's arm and dove for the coat room. Pushing the girl ahead of her, she slammed the door and fumbled for the lock. As she slid it in place, she heard the low tones of conversation outside.
"Scared women," one of them said. "They are hiding."
"Make sure they stay," another one grunted. Dinah heard the scrape of wood against wood as something was positioned in front of the door.
Bruce's sharp hearing caught the telltale sounds of invasion in the front of the house. His hand tightened on Ollie's shoulder. Before he could duck out to his study and get to the cave, the door burst open and at least a dozen uninvited guests burst in, waving their guns and instructing everyone to put their valuables in bags being passed around.
Bruce slid his gaze to the side door, wondering if he could slip away unnoticed.
Satisfied that they were safe for now, Dinah glanced at the wide-eyed girl. "Can you keep a secret?" she asked, kicking off her shoes and finding her shoulder bag positioned directly beneath her own coat.
The girl nodded and Dinah flashed her a quick smile before turning her attention to the contents of the bag. She tugged the fishnets right over her neutral-toned stockings, then pulled on the body suit under the dress. She yanked the dress over her head, threw it in the general direction of the bag, and shrugged on her jacket. The boots were on in two quick gestures and then out came the tell-tale blonde wig. Dinah carefully tucked her dark hair under the wig, hoping she'd caught all the strands.
"How do you keep that on while you fight?" the girl asked curiously, her first words since Dinah had grabbed her.
"Very carefully," Dinah quipped. She unlocked the door and pressed against it. Whatever had been placed to block their path was heavy but not immovable. "Come help me shove this aside," she urged. The girl joined her immediately, lending surprising strength to the escape effort. It didn't take long for them to open the door enough to slip out and realize the offending article was a large, ornate wing chair.
"I have to check on Dicky," the girl said immediately, heading for the stairs. She hadn't reached the first step before the little boy came charging down to meet her.
"You escaped!" he exclaimed. "Babs, I counted fifteen of them. They left one behind, but I got him!"
The youngster pointed proudly to an unconscious man and pieces of shattered pottery littering the floor.
"If that vase was an antique, Alfred's going to kill you," Babs informed him mildly. "But good job, shrimp." She reached out and ruffled his hair, directing his head to the woman behind her.
Dick's eyes widened as he recognized Babs' savior.
"You're Black Canary!" he exclaimed.
"I sure am," she affirmed with a grin. "You kids get upstairs—I'll take care of the bad guys."
"We'll help," Dick volunteered. "We'll make a distraction so you can take them by surprise!"
"Oh no," Dinah warned, shaking her head. "No, no, no, no, no." She shook off the little voice reminding that a distraction was exactly what she would need to take on fifteen armed men with hostages.
Barbara glanced back and forth between them.
"Well," she said hesitantly. "There were a lot of bad guys. And they have guns. And you can't take them all at once. One of them could get a shot off. I'm responsible for Dicky…I'll take care of the distraction."
"I'm not going—" Dinah started but was interrupted.
"We could do it together," Dick suggested excitedly. "We could crawl up to where we hung the Happy Birthday banner and untie it. No one would even see us."
Dinah paused. It would probably be her only chance and it did seem pretty safe for the kids…
"All right," she agreed reluctantly. "But stay low and don't let anyone see you!"
"Yes, ma'am!" Dick and Barbara ran off, whispering to each other.
Dinah moved to the door of the party room and crouched behind it. A quick inspection of the lock showed her the bolt had not been slid into place. Good. She could kick in the door without having to apologize to her host later. Now she just had to wait for the distraction…and hope it happened soon enough.
"Dicky, you get back to bed! Bruce is going to kill me for letting you do this!"
"But Babs, we're the only ones loose! We have to save everyone! Black Canary can't do it alone!"
"You can go call the police," Barbara told him. "And I'll drop the banner."
"But they have hostages," Dick reasoned. Barbara immediately decided Bruce and Alfred had been allowing the boy way too many cop shows. "Besides, if we each take an end of the banner, we can drop the whole thing at once and maybe take a few guys out while we're at it."
Barbara sighed. Was Dick ever going to stop putting her in these difficult positions? "All right," she agreed. "But I'm the boss. You got it?"
"Sure thing," Dick agreed with a grin that showed dimple.
Barbara sighed. She'd hate to be the girl who got in the way of that smile in a few years!
"I have to say, Bruce, you do throw the most exciting parties," Ollie commented, sitting on the floor beside his host. "I mean you go to a Vreeland party or—heck, even my parties don't have the panache yours do! I mean terrorists! Run-of-the-mill thieves I might be able to pull off…but this coup could fund these guys for the next, what do you think? Five years? Ten?"
"It's my birthday," Bruce sulked. "I should be dancing with Melanie Kilbourne."
"You don't know how good you have it, old man." Ollie clapped a hand on Bruce's shoulder. One of the terrorists turned to them, waving a gun threateningly. "What? Just a couple of old friends chatting about the chicks." Ollie beamed at the gunman who grunted and moved on.
That was her signal. Dinah kicked in the door, knocking out the gunman standing right behind it. There was a man at the other door. She decked him with one punch. Two down. Thirteen to go. She could see two, maybe three tangled in a huge white banner and smiled to herself. She saw Ollie jump to his feet across the room and caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She kicked out instinctively, pleased when her boot found the stomach of another terrorist.
Ollie glanced around to make sure no one was watching, then threw a solid roundhouse at the man who had pointed his weapon at Ollie and Bruce only moments ago. The man went down like a sack of potatoes. Ollie turned to see Bruce Wayne take down one of his own. Guess Pretty Boy Wayne wasn't such a pansy after all.
Alfred neatly applied the flat of his silver tray to the back of the nearest masked head. Underestimate the old man indeed.
Bruce grinned as the man crumpled under his blow and turned to see Ollie watching him.
"Nice punch, Wayne," the other man complimented him. Bruce rubbed his wounded hand.
"That hurts!" he exclaimed.
Ollie shook his head.
A spinning leap kick took out two more men and her part of the room was clear. Black Canary moved to another part of the room, but by that time, one of the terrorists had managed to grab a prisoner.
"No one move!" he cried in a thickly accented voice. He pushed the barrel of his gun to the head of a whimpering socialite.
Black Canary fell back into a defensive stance and glanced around her. Then, before she could make another move, the man cried out and jerked. The brief disorientation gave Black Canary enough time to launch an offensive, easily deflecting the gun and knocking the man cold. She glanced up to see a dark head disappear over the railing.
"What did you throw?" Babs wanted to know.
"Silly Putty," Dick replied.
"It was all I had in my pocket."
Barbara shook her head in disgust. "Boys."
Within minutes, the attackers had been rounded up and were being escorted away from Wayne Manor by the police—alerted by a teenage girl's emergency telephone call.
Dinah needed to get away and change back into her civilian clothes before anyone became suspicious of her absence, but Gotham Gertie had her firmly by the elbow and seemed to have no intention of letting go.
Of all people, a very rumpled Bruce Wayne was the last person she'd expected to come to her rescue.
"Miss Canary, I owe you a big thank you!" Bruce injected himself between Dinah and Gertie and grabbed Dinah's hand, pumping it up and down enthusiastically.
"It was nothing another member of the JLA wouldn't do," Dinah told him modestly. "At least not if they were in the area. I have to be going, but I did want to say Happy Birthday, Mr. Wayne."
"Maybe you'll dance with me before you go?" Bruce asked her, offering up one of his best smiles. "I can't think of a nicer birthday present. Ollie," he urged without allowing Black Canary a chance to refuse him, "where'd your girl go? You need to dance, too!"
"Dinah?" Ollie stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Don't know where she's run off to."
"Short?" Black Canary asked, holding her hand flat, a few inches below her own head. "Dark hair?"
"That's the one," Ollie confirmed.
"I locked her in the bathroom when the shooting started," Black Canary told him apologetically as his eyes twinkled at her. "I need to go let her out."
"Dance with me first," Bruce insisted, tugging her closer. "Come on…it'll be fun."
"Come on, it'll be fun!" Dinah urged Bruce.
Her dark-haired suitor didn't look up from his stock quotes.
"Those parties are ridiculous," he growled. "Why ruin a birthday with one?"
"This'll be the first birthday you don't ruin with one," Dinah pointed out. "Why break a tradition like that?" She wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
"That was then. This is now."
Dinah rested her head on his broad shoulder and thought about his words.
Dick, shot by the Joker. Angry words. Dick walking out.
Barbara, shot by the Joker. Jim Gordon's torture.
Jason Todd killed. By the Joker.
Bruce's back, broken by Bane.
Taking the cape and cowl from Azrael.
The Clench. Nearly losing Tim.
Cataclysm. His city, falling to the ground.
No Man's Land. Sarah Essen Gordon. Shot. By the Joker.
The list was long and painful. It was little wonder the man who'd once relished playing the billionaire playboy had long since lost his enthusiasm for an image so ineffective. Each loss ate away at him, forcing him to retreat further into the protective shell he'd formed. She'd learned of the tragedies, piece by piece, through dropped hints, veiled comments, mementos placed in the cave and finally long talks with Tim and Alfred.
She leaned up and kissed him gently on the temple. "Please Bruce? For me? For us? It's time for a new start—a good start." She felt those strong shoulders give, ever so slightly, under her hands. It was a sign that he'd given in to her.
"If you think it's that important, I guess I can share you with a few hundred people for an evening," Bruce sighed. "But it's going to be an early evening." He turned his head to give her a warning look but ended up caught in her kiss.
"You're the best!" she exclaimed, kissing him one more time and then bounding out of the room.
Bruce just smiled to himself and shook his head. If it was a few hours of boredom to keep Dinah happy…well, that was a small price to pay for that smile.
"You owe me big, old man."
"If I remember correctly," Alfred asserted primly, "it is you who owe me from out last midnight card game."
"Well…" Dinah faltered. "You're going to forget all about that when you hear how I just saved your butt."
Alfred raised an eyebrow. "I was unaware that my 'butt' was in danger."
"Bruce decided to forego the annual birthday bash."
Alfred's eyebrow, on its way back to normal position, shot right back up again. "A surprise to be sure," he said calmly. "Although, assuming Master Bruce had given me a bit of notice the entire thing could easily have been disssembled."
"Too late," Dinah crowed gleefully. "It's back on."
"What a relief."
Dinah grinned and threw herself into an ornate wing chair she'd long since christened her "favorite chair" despite its heavily starched tapestry upholstery and the fact that one leg was just a bit shorter than the other three. Neither Bruce nor Alfred could fathom just what was so special about the piece of furniture, but they dutifully moved it from room to room and smiled indulgently when she cuddled into the corner of it, throwing her legs over the arm.
"And…" she drawled. "I have an idea that will guarantee he'll have a good time, this year!"
"Come on, it'll be fun!"
"No way, hunk wonder!"
"Babs, it's Bruce's birthday! You have to come!"
"Uh-uh! Every one of those parties gets attacked by evildoers. I'm sick of being cannon fodder! I'll just watch it on television!"
"Can you guarantee there won't be madmen with guns?"
"C'mon, Babs…at least help us out with the…entertainment."
Dinah was humming to herself.
It was an artless, off-tune sound, Bruce thought to himself. It really could have been any song at all. But it meant she was happy. And that made it music to his ears.
"Are you ready to go party down with your flaky boyfriend?" he asked, kissing her on the cheek.
"Always," she assured him, turning to wrap her arms around his neck.
He scooped her off her feet, twirling her toward the door before setting her down and offering his arm. She took it with a flourish and practically led him out of the room and down the stairs.
"Why us?" Cassandra Cain grumbled, leaning against a bust that didn't look solid enough to take as much weight as she was putting on it.
"It's Bruce's birthday," Tim Drake reminded her, slurping from his cup of non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice. "And this is a tradition."
Cassandra sighed. "Silly tradition." She gazed down at her glass. She was drinking milk. "I have no birthday," she grumbled. "Why I have to wear silly dress?"
Tim blinked. Cassandra didn't have a birthday? It made sense, he admitted to himself. Birthday probably wasn't a word found in her unique "fighting-language" and being raised by David Cain before running to the streets…of course she was unfamiliar with birthdays. Tim resolved to find her a birthday just as soon as he could. Almost as an afterthought, he glanced at the dress she was wearing. Unsurprisingly, she'd chosen black. The cut was long, but with enough flare in the skirt to facilitate movement. A short jacket covered her arms.
"I like the dress," he said, turning his attention to his watch. As he glanced down, he noticed the toes of the shoes peeking out from under her dress. "Are you wearing your boots under that thing?"
"Wearing whole uniform!" she hissed back. "Want to be ready to change!"
"Cass!" Tim looked around and moved closer to her. "We're not supposed to be Batgirl and Robin…we're just supposed to be…us."
"I am Batgirl."
Tim sighed. "And don't I know it."
"Isn't this wonderful?" Dinah bubbled, dragging Bruce around the room.
Bruce plastered a fake smile on his face and wondered if it would be rude to glance at his watch again. Before he could come to a conclusion, Dinah grabbed his wrist and checked it herself.
"Almost time to cut the cake," she announced. "Let me go powder my nose before the cameras start rolling."
Bruce relinquished her arm and watched her fondly as she greeted people along the way, a laugh and a touch on the arm for everyone. He could certainly play the part, but he never had the grace and natural flair she did.
"Nice shebang, even if you're still making me wear the monkey suit."
"Thanks for showing up, Dick." He turned to greet the young man. "Where's Barbara tonight?"
Dick coughed delicately. "She uh…didn't enjoy the last few parties we attended."
Bruce nodded solemnly. "Can't say that I blame her," he admitted, lifting his glass of sparkling water. He started to say something else, but the doors of the ballroom slammed open. Half dozen men with really large guns burst in. Dick and Bruce produced identical sighs.
"We should look surprised," Dick muttered.
"We should, " Bruce agreed. "If this didn't happen every time we threw a party."
"Not every time," Dick corrected. "Just…"
He was interrupted by gasps of surprise when the white banner wishing Bruce a Happy Birthday came fluttering down over two of the gunmen.
"Hey! What's this?"
The door burst open, and Dinah, in full battle gear, flew into action, attacking the masked men with gusto.
"She's pulling her punches," Bruce said quietly.
"She—are you sure?" Dick blinked at the blonde whirlwind.
"I know—she never pulls them on me." Bruce glanced around and casually punched a nearby gunman in the face.
Dick grimaced. "Well, at least—" he started.
"Hands in the air!"
"What?" Dinah whirled around and found herself confronted with another group of attackers. Fortunately, they looked just as confused as she did when they realized their target was already under siege. Dinah took advantage of the pause to knock the leader's head back with a solid snap-kick to the chin. Another spin kick sent the guns flying from the hands of two others. She dropped into a defensive crouch, waiting just a split second to gauge the enemy's next move.
"Is she still pulling punches?" Dick asked. He winced slightly as she kicked another attacker in the kneecap. One of the original gunmen tackled one of the new gunmen. "This is insane. Who's on whose side?"
Smoke pellets dropped mysteriously into the room, obscuring their vision, but not before Bruce noticed another of the original gunmen recovering enough to help Dinah disable the rest of the interloping team. In minutes, only the party guests were left in the ballroom, coughing away the last of the smoke.
"Dinah! Sweetie!" Bruce called as he saw his love enter the room, still in her Black Canary attire. He intercepted her before the reporters converged on her. "You saved the day, darling!"
"It was nothing another member of the JSA wouldn't do…if they were in the area," she assured him with a wink. "So are you having a happy birthday, Mr. Wayne?"
"Maybe if you would dance with me," he said, tugging her close. "That would be a perfect birthday present." He leaned close to her ear and whispered, "And the next time you see Dr. Mid-Nite, apologize for that black eye I gave him."
Dinah jerked away, her eyes wide and accusatory. Over Bruce's shoulder, Dick lifted his hands and shook his head. She glanced back at Bruce who was…grinning at her? A bona fide Bruce Wayne grin?
"Let's dance," he suggested, pulling her into his arms. "Come on…it'll be fun."