Batman with Diana's suggestions decides to become more involved with the JL again as the New Year approaches.

Chapter 1: Happy Returns

There was a thunderous thud sounding from down the corridor which led to the training area of the Watchtower. It was loud enough that even the Man of Steel picked up on it from the opposite end of the space station where he was serving his scheduled Monitor Duty. He had some level of concern, but knowing who it was in the training room at that time left such activity to almost be expected. After all the happenings and tension of the last few months that Batman had caused, he certainly had whatever punishment he'd likely been the recipient of coming to him. Another crashing sound sent a small smile to Superman's face as that indicated that Bruce was still fit enough to continue on since the "training session" had obviously not paused or stopped yet. He wondered just how long the fabled Batman would be licking his wounds after this day was over, and that thought caused an even larger smile to spread across his face.

Flash came speeding into the Monitor Womb at that point even though his shift wasn't supposed to begin for another two hours. Normally he'd only arrive the very second his shift was set to begin, which meant that he was there for ulterior motives now. Superman's knowing what was going on inside the Watchtower at the moment was enough for the investigative reporter in him to assume just what that was as Flash came to an abrupt halt before the interior security monitors. "Don't even think about it Flash." Superman admonished preemptively. "You'll only get yourself in more trouble with Batman if you try it."

"Oh come on Supes, how would he even know?" Flash complained. "It's not like he'll be in a position to know what I'm doing right now anyways."

"Not while I'm in here." Superman continued. "I'm not going to be held accountable for your snooping, so if you're still planning to use the security cameras to eavesdrop, then at least let me head to the commissary before you do. That way I have plausible deniability as well as the security feed to prove I wasn't involved. Regardless of what you think, Batman will find out and he WILL get even."

Flash's shoulders slumped upon hearing that. Even though he was still intrigued and curious, he knew that Superman was most likely right. And if big blue wasn't willing to even be in the same room when the security feed was keyed up, then that meant retribution from Batman wouldn't be pleasant in the least. If there was anything that Flash wanted to avoid at all costs, it was any form of retribution from Batman. So he dragged his feet as he left, leaving the Monitor Womb behind in a downtrodden posture, knowing that he was missing out on some potentially juicy material between what Batman and Diana were doing in the training room.

"Not bad." Batman arrogantly commented as he stole a glance up to the fist that Diana had slammed into the wall just above his ducking form. She then went for a kick, thinking he was in a prone position being crouched underneath the arm she'd used in an attempt to knock him upside his head. She growled in frustration though as he was apparently ready for that attempt as well, diving just over her thigh and rolling over before ending up back on his feet as he spun around to face her again.

Batman feigned a strike at Diana's face, but she'd also been biding her time as well. Something she chose to hide from him was the fact that over the last year she'd worked diligently on controlling her patience, and it'd just paid dividends for her. She'd been waiting patiently for him to even feign a strike at her head the whole time even though she'd been angry with him to the point of basically carrying him straight to the training room as soon as he'd boarded the Watchtower. It was the first time that he'd been there since the one and only mission that they'd both been involved with, and after reading his report, Diana had been more than angry with him. According to the report, Diana's lack of patience had been the cause of a ship's containers being lost at sea during an attack by what at first was believed to be pirates. That information had turned out to be somewhat inaccurate though as it'd been Shade and Cheetah with some Meta level strength hired goons. While piracy was the agenda, these were hardly what could be considered regular pirates. At the time of the mission, Batman wanted to wait to see what they were doing with the containers, but once the first crate was tossed into the sea, Diana reacted. In the scuffle, more of the crates would up sinking into the ocean's depths, and because of that Batman had insinuated that it was Diana's fault. She'd argued her point in that the crooks were already pushing a second crate off the ship by the time they'd spotted her, and there was no telling how many more they would've continued to push off if she hadn't acted, but he just didn't see it that way.

In truth, Batman had done little things like that to everyone aboard the Watchtower. It was driving some of them mad with anger pointed directly toward him. At one instance Shayera even had to have her mace forcibly removed from her grip as she chased after him. Superman had been concerned that she was actually going to strike Batman with it when he snatched it from her grasp. In fact, the last time Batman had been even remotely pleasant to anyone was almost a whole year ago, when Diana had spoken to him after he'd managed to negotiate the removal of Agent Faraday as liaison between the US government and the Justice League. Ever since then, he'd only been aboard the Watchtower to search for any possible spyware or recording devices that might've been planted there by King Faraday. As soon as he was confident that the space station was secure, he'd basically stopped coming at all aside from just a few instances where he couldn't avoid it. Diana didn't even need to use every digit on one hand to count those instances. But now she had him right where she wanted him. The feint played right into her hands literally, as with the speed of Hermes, she quickly latched onto his arm and performed a violent hip toss that sent him crashing to the ground. Hard. It was more than enough that he'd had the wind driven out of him, and that wasn't helped by Diana immediately slamming herself into a full mount position on top of him with her hands grabbing him by the wrists, and raising his arms above his head as she leaned down on him. Batman's chest was heaving up and down as his body worked to reestablish normal breathing. It was then that she realized just how close their bodies were to each other, and Diana's mind then flashed back to that vivid dream she'd had while recovering from her injuries sustained at Ra's al Ghul's former palace. That was enough to cause her to immediately release Bruce and climb up off of him, and once standing she hugged herself as she turned away from him in an attempt to hide the awkward feeling that was trying to overtake her.

Ever since she'd experienced that dream with Batman in the medical recovery room, she'd been conflicted with what to do about it. Even though J'onn had encouraged her to share the details of the dream with Batman so that he could help her sift through the cause and what it could mean, she just couldn't bring herself to share the intimate details with him. Instead she decided to try and just leave that dream as a part of the past, not to be brought up again. Especially after her patron gods and goddesses proclaimed the dream was not caused by any of them. She'd taken some time and traveled back to her homeland, where she focused on training and purging the lingering effects of that dream from her mind. Each visit had made things better, not only with her line of thoughts concerning Batman, but it also improved the tension between her mother and her from the decision to leave the island to help man's world. Now when she'd return to Themyscira, her mother would merely ask about how things were progressing in her mission of teaching peace to the world as well as listening to stories about her adventures with members of the Justice League. But now in one instance, all of that meditation and training to strengthen the resolve of her mind came crashing back down in just one moment of close proximity to that man. How did he seem to have such control over her thoughts without even doing anything?

"I suppose I had that coming." Batman commented as he sat up before eventually getting back to a vertical base, standing just before her. He quickly read Diana's body language even though she was working diligently to hide anything from him. "Although, I'm surprised you let me up without my submitting first." He added for extra emphasis to see how she'd react.

"You were beaten, and yes you did have that coming to you." Diana responded, the competitive juices beginning to flow once again and overtake her awkward feelings as Bruce seemed to be attempting to state that he'd not been defeated. His reply had helped to refocus back to wanting to spar, but there was still that lingering feeling deep inside mixed with some sadness. He was acting like he had before the conflict with Ra's al Ghul, but why? She needed to know what had changed in him. "But why have you been acting the way you have on the rare occasions that you have graced us with your presence?" She asked.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Batman replied in denial as he stalked over to grab a bottle of water from the bench against the wall of the training room. "I've been busy tracking down leads on who's been trying to spy on the League. Not to mention that it's taken months for Nightwing, Batgirl, and I to get Gotham and Bludhaven back to normal. Besides I've been myself when I've been here otherwise."

"No, you haven't." Diana calmly argued. "You've been extra critical of everyone, and cold towards us all. Well… colder than normal. Before you'd at least offer a grunt in response to topics that weren't mission related, but now you don't even do that. I just want to understand what we've done to cause this change in you, and to know if there's anything that we can do to get the old Batman back."

Batman stiffened for a moment before tossing Diana the bottle of water he'd gotten for her as she came over to his direction, joining him before taking a seat on the bench just behind him. He watched her as she sat down before eventually taking a seat next to her with a huff of air puffing out of his lungs. He took a swig of water as his mind continued to process what Diana had said, and then looked down at his feet before eventually releasing a sigh. "Every time I've come up here since then, I haven't been able to stop wondering what more could've been found out about us by whomever it was that used Faraday's liaison role to their advantage." He explained. "I wonder if anyone in my family is now in more danger because of their relationship with me, and it bothers me to no end that no one up here seemed to think of the consequences that could result from allowing a government official to have access to us here. Especially Superman, who has something to hide, to protect, and he let it happen willingly."

"All we can do is what's been done though." Diana replied. "Everyone's apologized for letting King have access to the Watchtower, some like Kal have said so more than once. I think its time that you accept that and attempt to move forward. We grew so close in that last year as teammates, and I'd like to think as friends as well. We've missed you."

"I'll work on that princess." Batman responded quietly after he snorted in disbelief about any of them honestly missing him. "I didn't mean to cause such a problem for everyone….well… except the Boy Scout and Flash."

Diana smiled as she felt that her friend had finally returned based upon his response. "Perhaps you can make it up to me then." She offered with a mischievous smile gracing her face. When Batman looked at her questioningly, thoughts traveled through her mind as to just what she could ask of him that he'd actually say yes to. For a moment she thought about tempting the fates with the intimate desire that today somehow managed to creep up before she pushed it aside, but settled on something that would more likely be accepted. "Last year if you recall, you'd offered to work out a training schedule for the two of us so that I could increase my knowledge in different fighting techniques. With my sisters remaining separated from the rest of the world for so long, and the times that you've managed to take me down in the past, I feel that there's still a lot I have to learn. Would you be willing to keep your word and set aside at least some time for training sessions between the two of us?"

Batman continued to sit there quietly, pondering her request and studying Diana for a moment. He had to admit that he was still curious as to how willingly she'd take to training with him and improving her skills as a fighter. If he did teach her some different fighting styles, then perhaps he could one day better focus on Justice League missions and not worry about Diana's wellbeing. "Alright princess." He finally answered. "I'll set up some time before my shift on Monitor Duty each week. So long as no issues in Gotham take that time away, we can train together." He also was thinking about how it could benefit him as well by training regularly against a high class Meta human as well. "For now though, I need to get back to Gotham."

"Thank you Br….Batman." Diana said, recalling that he'd mandated no one was to call him by his actual name aboard the Watchtower. There were still teammates that didn't have that knowledge, and he wanted to keep it that way. That desire was even stronger when he factored in how the spies could've had Faraday plant audio bugs throughout the space station as well. Since Diana received the answer she wanted, she stood up with him and swiftly yet chastely placed a kiss on his cheek in gratitude for accepting her request before making her exit with him following close behind. Had she looked back to see her new training partner, she'd have noticed that her cheeks weren't the only ones that had darkened into a more rosy appearance, but with her own cheeks heating and surely showing at least a slight change in hue there, it had caused her to keep looking forward. Batman had certainly not expected such an act of affection, especially after how he'd been treating everyone aboard the Watchtower for the better part of the last year. He knew that his anger had been driving him for quite some time, but perhaps a year was enough time to finally let that error in judgement go. They'd certainly refrained from such decisions without at least seeking his council since then. Besides, he had been getting nowhere in his search for the spies, and perhaps some fresh eyes would find something he'd missed on the search for these people that seemed so interested in each member of the Justice League. There was always Shayera's detective skills or another quality provided from another teammate that might prove useful in picking up on a different breadcrumb trail that would be more fruitful in attaining any useful information. Whoever it was that was trying to spy on them certainly didn't want to be found, and that was what specifically troubled Batman the most.

Although if Bruce would've been honest with himself as well, he'd have to admit that his anger wasn't the only thing that had kept his mood more sour than normal. Something else that'd been missing since the battle with Ra's al Ghul and Bane was that Diana had all but stopped going out to functions where she and Bruce Wayne could bump into each other. He refused to put much credence into that as a possibility even though it did do something to him inside that he had to forcibly push from his thoughts at times. For now though, he needed to return to the Batcave so that he could continue preparing Tim for his first official patrol as Robin.

~~ North Africa ~~

A scientific expedition had traveled to the archaeological site that had at one time been a vastly wealthy city by the name of Djenne-Djeno. The lead archaeologist, Arnold Ward-Perkins, had taken up after his famous grandfather John Bryan Ward-Perkins. More specifically, he had taken up searching for artifacts in northern Africa, where his grandfather had been stationed during World War II, serving for the British Royal Artillery. He had been assigned at that time to protect the sites of Leptis Magna and Sabrina, where he'd gained intimate knowledge with regard to Tripolitania and its Roman ruins. That in and of itself would be more than enough to establish a famed career for an archaeologist, but as he accrued items and trinkets through his discoveries, it was inside one of these trinkets passed down to his grandson that had been the cause of this most recent adventure. Arnold had been given a strange looking vase thought to have been a piece from the Roman Empire. On a warm day during the summer, Arnold's wife had delicately moved the vase while cleaning, and when she set it down on the floor, its slightly rounded base caused it to teeter and eventually fall onto its side. Arnold had happened to be walking through that room at just the right time, because after hearing the first thud of the vase hitting the floor, there was also a second thud that could be heard.

Arnold was extremely careful with the vase as he turned it over and over again. Eventually, while he couldn't hear it, he could feel something that had moved from inside the base. Extensive investigation was performed, searching for an access to whatever it was that had come loose inside. Days had gone by with no conclusion as to how access could be gained, as he didn't have the desire to damage such an artifact. Eventually though, curiosity won out as whatever had been placed inside was meant to stay safe like a piggy bank. Only no amount of shaking would release the contents of this vase. Instead, breaking it open was the only way to discover the secrets inside. Arnold was very careful to be sure that he didn't damage whatever it was that had bee stored, and after carefully dissecting the vase, he was finally successful in reaching the small compartment that had been intentionally designed when the vase was created. Inside this compartment was a stone in a rectangular shape. He put the stone through various different forms of analyzation, and quickly discovered that it was hollowed out on the inside. When he managed to open it up, there were a few pieces of gold bullion as well as a safely tucked piece of parchment. Upon safe removal of the parchment, he discovered that something had been hidden inside the city of Djenne-Djeno. A symbol on the parchment was what had caught his attention about just what that could be. The symbol was the All Seeing Eye that appeared to have been stamped over a triangle.

Arnold had then become obsessed with researching this symbol as he believed that it was directly related to an artifact that the parchment was referencing. He spent months digging through every piece of material he could find, and the most promising piece of information he found pointed to an artifact that was said to be called the Triangle of Light. This was of course all theoretical as no one had seen anything that even offered a glimpse as to where to begin searching until now. Arnold wasted little time in gathering up a team to join him on this quest for knowledge. He'd been able to acquire three interns as well as some men that would help them on their journey upon reaching Africa.

Once in Africa, Arnold was taken to the archaeological site that had once been Djenne-Djeno. Along the trip, he'd researched the ancient city and had found numerous stories and rumors about it. The most likely scenario he discovered upon reaching his destination was that the city had been surrounded by a great stone wall, which helped to protect the wealth of gold, tin, and copper that was kept there. It was said that in ancient times, Malians of the Mali Empire had attacked the city ninety-nine times and it never fell. It wasn't until the early fifteenth century that the city was finally conquered by a Sonni Ali during his expansion of the Songhai Empire. This was the time that the Triangle of Light had ceased to be heard of by anyone at all. Stories foretold that the chief ordered the relic to be sealed off so that the intruders wouldn't be able to use it for its power before he was killed in the siege that swiftly fell upon the city. Sonni Ali ended up taking the chief's widow and married her for himself before peace was brought back to the city. However peace was short lived for the residents as mother nature happened to step in during the wet season, flooding the city with the overflow of the Niger and Bani Rivers. With the flooding and the Songhai being defeated in battle during the Battle of Tondibi, the city was stripped of its gold and left to die until it was rebuilt close by once again and became a thriving centre of trade and learning for many Muslims, using salt from the nearby mines there as a catalyst.

Still though there was no sign of the Triangle of Light. Not until Arnold had located the parchment had anyone even had any clues about where it could possibly have been taken to or hidden. Arnold and his team hoped that now they would uncover the truth as they had researched and researched every symbol and translated word the parchment provided. They knew that they had the clues, and now the only thing left to do was to follow them until they found what it was they were looking for.

~~ Gotham, two months later ~~

Batman had been battling with what seemed like every high profile enemy that Gotham had available. First it was the Riddler attempting to outsmart him in a quest to control the city, but that only lasted a couple of hours at best before the tables had been turned and Riddler was heading straight back to Arkham. The Joker meanwhile had taken advantage of that distraction in an attempt to fill his pockets with a bank robbing crime spree. He might have gotten away with it, but greed played the main catalyst for his night's end as he'd bet against the house one too many times and ended up crapping out to the fists of Batman breaking his nose and ending his night on a bloody and sour note.

Even the low lives of Gotham were incredibly active on this night too. Batman surmised it to simply be something about New Years Eve that just seemed to bring the crazies out more so than normal. Perhaps it was that jolt of booze which helped to raise their bravery. He would've thought by now though that he'd have set a precedent for New Year's. The Batman didn't stay in and celebrate this holiday, and he didn't simply take it off to relax either. In fact it was just the opposite. He was even more vigilant, and depending on whom it was, slightly more violent in how to bring that vermin to justice. Broken bones were more likely on this night than most, but still they continued to pour out of the shadows in droves. It was almost a blessing though for Bruce that on this night, he'd officially allowed Tim to join him as a full fledged member of the Batclan.

Even though Tim had done so much while Bruce was healing from his injured back compliments of Bane, once he returned to patrolling the city again, he'd forbidden Tim from joining. The young man had yet to go through Bruce's training regimen, and Bruce demanded that it had to be done before he'd accept that Tim was ready to become Robin officially. At first the boy argued and had valid points to offer, but Bruce wouldn't budge. Tim's desire to be Robin was the only thing that kept him from walking away, and when this night arrived, he was glad that he'd stayed. Not only did Bruce tell him that he was ready, he also revealed a new Robin suit. The red was much darker than Dick's original uniform, and it now mostly covered the entire suit, leaving no green to be seen. Also gone was most of the yellow as it now donned a fully black cape and hood. Bruce's goal was to help in using the shadows more effectively for the young man. He'd also upgraded all of the armor plating with a new metal alloy that Wayne Enterprises was going to release soon as a replacement for Kevlar. It was lighter in weight and three times stronger in penetration testing. The only difference with Robin's armor when compared to police grade material was that like the Batsuit, it was kinetically charged to help absorb any punishment, should a Meta strike him.

As the night wore on though, the crimes eventually dwindled down in numbers. The midnight hour had long since passed, but Bruce didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad one yet. He only wished that he wouldn't get the question in that thought answered as he heard something move behind him, and instinctively rolled out of the way just before a large cinder block flew through the air that now occupied the space where his head had been only mere milliseconds ago. He turned in the direction of where the block would've come from and ground his teeth menacingly. "Bane." He seethed as he focused in on the masked monster. It'd been since the incident at what used to be one of Ra's al Ghul's palaces when he'd last encountered Bane. Back then, Batman had been in certainly less that 100% health, but he'd had ample time to heal since then and two months of training with a certain super powered Amazon under his belt.

Robin had circled around carefully, with his memories flashing back vividly to that night that seemed to have been ages ago. The images of a broken Bruce and severely beaten Dick and Barbara remained etched clearly in his memory. This time would be different though. There hadn't been an explosion freeing all the inmates of Arkham that had left Batman on the brink of exhaustion, and now he also had Robin with him to help even the odds. This time was going to be different as Tim landed on the same rooftop. "Robin, get back to the Batmobile, NOW." Batman ordered immediately.

"Wait, what?" Tim questioned as if he'd thought Bruce had lost his mind.

"The Bat is merely giving you the chance to avoid the beatings I provided to his other students." Bane answered arrogantly. "Fear not little Bird. Once I've finished with your master, no vehicle will protect you from meeting a similar fate."

Batman flipped in the air, landing directly between Tim and Bane. "You're not going to touch him." Batman spat out in anger before glancing toward his student. "I gave you an order Robin. Get to the Batmobile, and wait for me there."

Tim was reluctant, but he did as he was instructed, leaping off the rooftop and firing his grapnel to a neighboring building. Once he was clear from view, Batman provided Bane with his full attention. "So, you finally dug yourself out of that rubble, and you come back here looking for me?" Batman half taunted while at the same time half questioning. He pulled out a few batarangs as the two combatants began to circle each other.

"You are the only mark that has returned after coming up against me." Bane explained. "Now I have no contract to abide to, so I can do more than break you. I can end the Batman now."

"We'll see." Batman taunted this time with a hand gesture chiding Bane to attack, and attack he did. Bane charged fast, swinging his powerful fists in aggressive motions intending to do maximum damage. This time however, he wasn't connecting with near the success he had in their first and even second encounters against one another. The first fight had been immediately after Batman expended so much energy rounding up all the fugitives that had escaped from Arkham before Bane attacked. The second battle happened at Ra's al Ghul's palace and was so soon after the injuries Bane had already caused that Batman was nowhere near healed enough to have stood a fighting chance. Now though, Batman was well rested and healed. This time he had studied and prepared. Each swing Bane made now was deftly avoided.

The only thing that Batman's studies hadn't granted him was the sheer speed and power that Bane's strikes brought, and Batman was using this opportunity to get that timing down as he continued to dodge attempt after attempt. When he felt confident enough that he had the speed and timing down, the next attempted punch was blocked and countered with a straight right jab that connected to the bridge of Bane's nose. The beast of a man was knocked backward as Batman had put a lot of power behind that punch and made solid contact. Bane however shook off that strike quickly to see Batman now charging at him when two putty filled batarangs were thrown at Bane's feet. Upon contact, they both exploded, leaving a gooey glue mess around his ankles and virtually tying him to the ground to where he couldn't move his legs. Just as he looked up, Bane saw the heel of Batman's boot before the spinning heel kick made contact with his jaw. It was here where Batman had made his only mistake. The putty prevented Bane from tumbling to the ground or at the very least from falling back a few steps. That allowed Bane to still be close when his arms flailed in the human response to falling. He'd grabbed for anything he could, and that something was Batman's cape as it fluttered by his face. As soon as Bane realized what he had hold of, he gave a swift and mighty tug which brought Batman up off his feet. Bane continued that motion before releasing the cape and sending Batman flying until his body connected violently into the ledge of the rooftop. The force was strong enough that the block and mortar actually cracked and started to give way with some debris crumbling on the outer side of the wall breaking free entirely and falling down to the streets below.

Batman grabbed his arm as he felt the pain surging through it after slamming into that half wall at the building's ledge. He was certain that there was a minimum of a hairline fracture to be dealt with, but what worried him at that moment was the fact that Bane had also worked and freed one of his feet. It would only be a few seconds before he had the other free as well, and Batman was still working his way back to a vertical base himself. He knew that any blow he received from Bane could end up being his own undoing, but the monster needed to be stopped before he could hurt anyone else.