Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, nor have I written this story for profit, only entertainment. Please do not sue.

Bruce was sitting on the medical table located within what had always been his safe haven, the Batcave. However tonight didn't felt like a haven of any sort for him, only glaring reality. it was that reality which caused being there to be the last place he wanted to be. He was injured, again. Not to state that it was in any way a rare occurrence for him to be injured after having completed a nightly patrol, but this time was different, and it certainly was not the kind of different he'd been expecting when he left earlier that night either.

It'd been his first night back on patrol after having recovered from a rather significant injury, which robbed Gotham of the Bat's protection for nearly two months. Tonight was meant to test the waters after going through such a rigorous rehab training regimen. He'd hoped for a successful venture back out on the rooftops of Gotham, and with all of the big players still safely locked away it should've been. Just common criminals and mobsters seeking more power or territory should've meant a relatively light evening for him, but there he was, sitting on that damn medical table again with a gunshot wound to the shoulder. He'd been slow and sloppy, hardly the triumphant return.

He was temporarily left alone while medical supplies were being gathered, and he used that time to ponder about what'd gone so wrong. He'd worked out tirelessly, even trimmed down almost twenty pounds of body weight as part of an effort to help quicken his movements, and combined it with specialized training to ensure his reflexes were razor sharp. He'd felt better physically than he had in years. The results from his training simulations seemed to back up that feeling as well, but if that was the case, then how could it be explained how a dumb punk managed to slip behind his defenses and fire a shot off before he could even react to it at all?

He was brought back to reality, having heard footsteps padding down the stairs from the manor into the cave. Knowing that his wound was about to be treated, he found that he almost wanted to refuse the help. He already felt helpless enough as it was just from his blunderous trek back onto the mean streets of Gotham.

"You know Bruce, I still find that I marvel at how Alfred always seemed to have everything prepared for you before you could return to the Batcave." Diana commented as she went about setting down all of the medical supplies she'd retrieved. "Are you absolutely certain he didn't possess some form of Meta abilities? No matter what I do, I just can't seem to keep up to the standards he'd achieved."

She initially didn't notice the sullen mood of her present company until she actually glanced in his direction, her first intention to get a closer look at his wound. However, she saw the telltale signs, and her eyes momentarily widened as she realized just what she might be up against. Bruce was obviously in a mood, and he seemed to be refusing to even look at her, let alone show any intention to respond. Experience had taught Diana to know that Bruce would only speak up when he was good and ready, so she chose not to push the subject any further for the moment, and instead let him come to grips with what might be troubling him.

It was a hard lesson that she'd struggled to come to over the years. She'd always wanted to help Bruce through his troublesome thoughts and moments, and initially after they became romantic, she tried to push her way in, facing the conflict head on. It was a tactic which had worked in getting Bruce to see how happy they could be together, but not in improving his moods or getting him to open up. She found that the dark thoughts his mind tended to go were best left until Bruce worked through them first. The only thing that came out of pushing in those instances was a rather heated argument followed by days of silent treatment between the two of them.

There were even a few instances where Diana considered staying at the Watchtower. She'd even thought about making the move permanent on one nasty instance a few years ago, but Bruce soon came around, more than making up for his letting the darkness affect him in such a way. It wasn't until then that he realized the darkness he'd always feared would consume her, actually consumed him. She was always the light in his life that could pierce through the darkness.

In the end, all of the hardships were well worth it. She loved him dearly, and he loved her with all of his heart, and the happy moments far outnumbered the bad. They were both committed to being happy together, regardless of how busy their schedules might be, and it was admittedly the best times of both of their lives.

Getting to work in his injury, Diana couldn't help but to notice as Bruce's jaw twitched slightly when she began to clean around his wound. It wasn't entirely unexpected, but the normally stoic Batman usually did his best to hide any indication of pain affecting him in any way, especially in front of a Meta. This twitch was noticeably different, as it wasn't immediately tucked away into indifference or hidden behind an angry snarl like he'd been accustomed to doing since before she'd known him. Now it remained in place until she'd finished cleaning around the wound.

While Diana cleaned his wound, Bruce continued to sit there silently, not paying too much attention to the details of Diana's field dressing. He was going back through the situation and how he'd gotten into this position in the first place. It was then that he realized just how tired he felt. He'd honed his body to the point where that shouldn't have been possible. Perhaps the blood loss accounted for it? No, he quickly decided. He'd lost more blood on many other instances, and still felt just as powerful as he had before losing a single drop. Why was it so different this time?

He debated on if perhaps he was perhaps a little road weary or maybe he'd been experiencing some type of low from an initial adrenaline rush caused by getting back out there, but that wasn't the issue either. He was still mentally ready. He had the want and desire to fight for justice. The fire was still burning brightly within him to protect the people of Gotham and all his loved ones. His focus and body seemed to be at the forefront of what was wrong.

Perhaps he'd simply been sloppy on his first night back?

Batman had been looking down from one of his many perches along the current patrol path he was on. The night had been quiet up to that point, with only a single attempted mugging taking place. It felt odd considering the warmth brought about by the midsummer's night. Although really, he shouldn't have been entirely surprised. Dick had really outdone himself in keeping order, especially with ensuring that all the major villains in Gotham were kept off the streets while he wasn't able to.

It almost brought about a real sense that maybe, just maybe things for the city might be starting to finally turn around, but he knew deep down that this reprieve was only temporary at best. However, on nights like these, he began to hope, but it only lasted until the quiet was interrupted by the shattering of glass caused by a crowbar smashing through the window of a small pastry shop below.

Bruce used his grapple to move over to a better vantage point where he discovered a group of young thugs, probably hoping to make their mark in the mob world. They appeared to be muscling their way in to claim "payment" for protection. Bruce found that he knew the couple who owned the small business. They were honest people, just working their way toward the dream of independent living, and they were only just getting started. There certainly wasn't enough money available to pay off these goons and keep the small shop open.

Taking inventory of the situation, Bruce counted five thugs, three with firearms and the other two with knives and bats. The couple apparently had still been inside their shop putting in final preparations for the next day's business, and were quickly surrounded with nowhere to escape or hide. There were two entry points into the shop, one being the main entrance at the front, and the other was the back door located in the alley. The latter was going to have to serve as the best option of slipping in undetected.

By the time he'd slipped into the shop, the thugs were already throwing their weapon wielding authority around, having made a mess of the storefront area while one of them was emptying out the cash register. Having handled situations like this too many times before to count, Batman quickly maneuvered into the best position to take out the thugs, while simultaneously being conscious of shop owners' safety as well as limiting the potential damage that would be caused to the shop.

The first necessity was to create his usual aura of fear, and a carefully thrown batarang to the overhead light in the storefront helped establish that. The small glass explosion of the light bulb, combined with the sound of the batarang clanging onto the floor, along with the darkness created from no longer having a primary light source brought all of the criminals on edge immediately. It only amplified after one of them stepped onto the thrown batarang, and discovered what he'd just stepped on. That confirmed to them all Batman was there, and they were now marked for a beating at the hands of Gotham's Dark Knight.

The two punks who were not carrying firearms, tripped over themselves, instantly bolting for the front exit. No score was worth the wrath of facing the Batman head on in their opinion, but it didn't matter. He knew their attempted escape was only short lived as soon as he dealt with their friends who were dumb enough to think they had a chance.

The other three punks were pointing their guns in every direction, and that's when everything started to unravel. Batman picked his spot, coming up behind the nearest thug, and quickly put him into a chokehold, closing off the blood to the brain. In a matter of seconds, the first one was out cold, and Batman spun around, planning to move onto the next criminal when a bang suddenly rang through the store. He felt the sudden thudding impact followed by the heat of the metal as it managed to slip through one weak spot in his suit, ripping through the flesh of his shoulder in the process.

Then the screams began. The gunshot hadn't just struck him, but the wife also fell victim to the projectile, only her gunshot wound was fatal. The bullet struck an artery, and she quickly bled out despite her husband's and Batman's wishes.

Batman sighed. Just three random punks with guns. He'd failed. It was bad enough that he'd been injured, but to also have been the direct cause of an innocent victim's life being violently ripped away. He'd faced five times that many dispatched all of them without receiving a single scratch before. On a number of occasions.

"Are you going to tell me what's wrong Bruce?" Diana asked quietly as she finished dressing his shoulder with gauze.

"I..." Bruce started to answer, but then paused as he glanced up to the super computer and then to the staircase leading to the manor. "I...I'm tired. I'm going to call it a night."

Diana stood there, momentarily dumbstruck. She watched as Bruce solemnly dragged his feet up the stairs until he disappeared behind the secret entrance into the Manor. Until now, she'd only rarely seen him leave the cave before inputting his notes from patrol into the computer, and of those instances, he'd never actually been conscious. This was something new, and the unknown cause of his actions had her greatly concerned.

And unlike other confusing times where the aloof and eccentric billionaire of Gotham flustered her to the point of not knowing what to do to help him, Alfred wouldn't be there this time to help her discover the way. In this instance, the faithful butler and father figure certainly would've been helpful, but she'd been forced to learn on her own ever since he'd passed away over a year ago.

She dearly missed the warmhearted nature that could even be found even in the snarkiest of his comments. Alfred had always been so caring and happy to help, especially when it concerned the still blossoming relationship between Bruce and herself.

Diana's first instinct was to chase Bruce down, corner him and try forcing him into revealing what was the cause behind his odd behavior, but she could almost feel the presence of Alfred, suggesting she deviate from that form of information gathering post haste. He'd helped her over the years to see just how much Bruce and she had in common, especially when it came to pulling information out of one of them. If either didn't feel like sharing, there wasn't much of anything that could be done to change that outcome. Neither one of them took well to being ordered into doing something they didn't agree to in the first place.

No, instead she chose to go with her learned approach, which typically brought about a much higher success rate. She recalled how Alfred had referred to it, using honey to lure the bees. Thinking about that line caused her to smile as she recalled the night he'd used that line with her.

She'd been absolutely furious with Bruce. It was when they'd just begun to date exclusively. He'd promised to work on letting her in, but had seemingly broken that promise within the first two weeks of dating, pushing her away adamantly in spite of her numerous protests. Alfred eventually pulled her aside, offering that tidbit of advice, and helped to calm her down by sitting with her, sharing a spot of tea. Once she'd sufficiently calmed, he pointed out again how she was the kindest, most compassionate person he'd known ever since Mrs. Wayne's murder all those years ago, and he suggested she use that power of kindness to achieve what she'd wanted from Bruce.

Alfred always had a way with words it seemed. He could always calm a volatile situation, or force someone to see the light when they were only looking into darkness. Of course, his suggested path toward enlightenment of understanding all the quirks that made up the man behind the playboy and the bat proved to be accurate. Diana was kind and patient, and soon enough Bruce opened up, sharing even more than she'd anticipated.

Now, thinking of her old friend brought a smile to her face. Even in death, thoughts of him still seemed to keep his presence around them strong. She sent a silent prayer of thanks to him, and hoped he was enjoying his time in the Elysian Fields, as he'd truly deserved admittance, and she had no doubt that would be where he was.

So, with her course of action planned out, Diana quickly headed up to the master bedroom of the Manor, where she found Bruce scowling instead of sleeping. She immediately noticed how rigid his body was, even under the covers as she padded her way over to her side of the bed. He was expecting a confrontation, she was certain of it, and that only caused her to smile wider as she slid in behind him, slowly draping an arm over top of him. She used her arm to pull him closer, and leaned in enough to place a soft kiss onto his exposed cheek. "I love you Bruce." She said before settling her head onto the plush pillows and closed her eyes.

She didn't need to say anything more. It was what she wasn't saying that spoke volumes to him. She wasn't going to force him to talk about it, but she also made certain he couldn't mistake that she was going to be there, right by his side, providing him anything that he might need from her. Knowing that was an incredible comfort to him, and she knew it'd worked as she felt the tension quickly dissipate in his features before he soon succumbed to slumber.

The next evening, Diana arrived from a UN meeting, and was walking down the steps as she clasped her breastplate on. Tonight was the bi-monthly League meeting, and because of the UN meeting running over, it was very likely that Bruce and she were going to be late. However what had only been a likelihood before quickly turned into a certainty based on what she discovered in the cave. "If you don't hurry up and get into your suit, we're going to make Wally look good this time." She attempted to joke as she came to a stop behind the computer chair.

"I'm not going." Bruce said as he stood from his computer chair and handed her an unsealed envelope.

Diana quickly pulled the note out and scanned over it, catching the word resignation almost instantly. "You can't be serious." She had to fight for control in order to keep from laughing at such a ludicrous notion. If Batman was attempting to reveal a sense of humor, he had his work cut out for him.

"I am." Bruce replied succinctly, turning back to return to the computer chair.

Shocked by the seriousness in Bruce's voice, Diana quickly became agitated. Bruce was supposed to be the voice of reason within the League, and now he was letting one incident remove any lucidity from his decisions. "Then at least give me an explanation." Diana requested in more of an order than anything else.

"Last night should be explanation enough." Bruce offered before attempting to focus on his computer screen again, indicating that he'd given all the explanation he'd intended to.

But Diana wasn't in the mood to continue dancing around this issue. Not anymore. Using honey to attract bees be damned. She marched up to the chair and violently spun it around, placing her hands on the armrests in a manner forcing Bruce to look at her. "You've been shot multiple times before, and never have you let it stop you before." She pointed out. "You've not only been shot, but stabbed, poisoned, suffered from illnesses, and still wouldn't let any of that stop you. What specifically is so different this time?"

Bruce wanted her to drop it, hoped she would, but he should've known better. As angry and confused as she appeared to be, she was also revealing deep concern brought about by his recent choices and actions. He knew she wanted to talk about it last night when she joined him in bed, but she'd given him his space then, and he'd apparently used up all of the space she provided. She'd always been there for him, even when he thought he didn't want her to be. He owed her an explanation, and sighed in resignation.

"I'm getting old, too slow." Bruce finally revealed in a small voice. "If I can't stop a handful of kids with guns, how can I expect to be useful to the League."

"I'm sure there wasn't anything more you could've done last night Bruce." Diana responded reassuringly, placing one of her hands onto his shoulder. "Sometimes even you have to accept there are things out of your control regardless of how young or fast you might be. You shouldn't let whatever happened last night bother you so much."

Bruce looked into her eyes, sighing dejectedly once again. "What happened last night was different." He mumbled. "I've faced so many other more dangerous situations, worse odds. They were just three armed punks. They never should've stood a chance, and now because of me, an innocent woman was killed, a husband's wife murdered."

"Please Bruce, you need to tell me what happened so that I can better understand what you're going through." Diana replied, hoping he'd continue and better explain what'd happened.

Bruce barked once in a sort of self deprecating laugh. "No." He said. "I don't suppose you would be able to understand."

Diana raised an eyebrow, wondering what precisely he'd meant by that, and he saw the look she was now giving him. "The clock." He explained. "As a mortal, I'm doomed to lose to time eventually...and for the first time...I can feel it catching up to me."

Diana's lips curved upwards, not believing what he was actually saying. "I've watched you train these past few months. You look more fit than at any point I can recall. You hardly look like age is becoming a factor."

"But it is Diana." Bruce reiterated. "I've been fooling myself with my training. I focused on slimming down, worked on my speed, my reflexes. Deep down, I knew that I'd lost a step, and last night proves it to be true. The clock keeps ticking away, and it's finally started to catch up to me. I'm not immortal like you, so I wouldn't expect you to completely understand how time eventually increases my limitations."

"Time may not mean as much to me about aging Bruce, but even if you have lost a step, you still have much to offer this world." Diana retorted. "In my experience, the great ones of the world may not be able to beat this clock of mortality which you're referring to, but they can figure out a way to slow it down. You are a great warrior Bruce, a great man. The best I've ever known. Throughout history, great individuals learn how to slow down the clock, so slow it down."

Having spoken her piece, Diana leaned forward, placed a quick kiss on his lips, and turned to make her exit through the teleporter. He didn't realize until after she'd disappeared that she left his resignation letter on his lap, and he angrily crumpled it up and threw it away in disgust. It only served to further prove he wasn't as sharp as he used to be.

Patrolling once again, Bruce had been hesitant to engage on a couple of instances where the numbers reached higher than four criminals. Instead of directly engaging them, he relied heavily on his technology, opting to not even land on the streets below at times. Each instance where he went through a scenario like this, he'd only become more angry with himself. Hesitating would eventually result in an innocent life being lost again, and after hesitating for the third time that night, he internally swore that he wouldn't let it happen again.

Unlike the last night, things weren't so quiet this time around, and he once again came across a large group of gang members breaking into a warehouse. There were ten of them in total. They were all inside the facility, so he wouldn't be able to use the Batwing or Batmobile to help stop them. Explosives were out as well. This wasn't just an abandoned warehouse that Gotham officials would secretly thank Batman for tearing down while he served vigilante justice, but rather a business with many employees.

Indecisiveness about what to do crept into his mind, even thinking of seeing how quickly Dick might be able to get there from Bludhaven, but he shook his head once again in disgust with himself. He had to do this on his own or he had to just stop entirely and give up the mantle of Batman. He knew that he'd never be able to live with himself if he did that, so he leapt down from his perch, finding a suitable entry point.

After slipping in through an unguarded window, Bruce quickly deduced that the men robbing the warehouse were loyal to Black Mask, and that meant each of them were armed to the teeth. Members of Black Mask's crew had been the most heavily armed criminals ever since Batman had begun to put the squeeze onto the criminal element of the city, and they always put up the most fight out of all the mobster crews working the streets.

This time served no different as Batman moved in further, and was quickly confronted by some of the hired muscle. Gun shots from semi-auto and automatic weapons began to fly through the air. Batman managed to subdue one, breaking that guy's nose in the process before he ducked behind some crates. There were nine men left, and they all were beginning to surround him.

Bruce knew he needed to move, and move quickly or he'd never stand a chance. So he pulled out a batarang, and let it fly, clocking another thug in the jaw. The man's howl of pain allowed Batman to pull out and toss a smoke pellet in the opposite direction, and he used both things as distraction enough to move out of his position without detection.

As the rest of the men crowded around where Batman had just been, he knew it was now or never, so he struck, dropping down right in the middle of them all. Fists and feet began to fly as gun shots sprayed erratically in all directions. Batman used the close proximity of the goons to his advantage. None of the crooks wanted to inadvertently take each other out, and the dark clad vigilante soon was counting down the number of enemies in his head. Eight quickly dropped to four, and then two, and then...

The clicking sound of a hammer cocking caught his attention. He'd taken out all but one man, and that man was ready himself to fire. Had he been just a shade faster, he might not have gotten into this compromised position, but it was too late now. Millions of thoughts flashed through his mind in the split second he had to react, and almost instantly he made his choice, deciding he wasn't just going to go quietly into the night.

Bruce snapped his head to the side while simultaneously flipping his arm in a violent manner. Before the thug knew what'd happened, his arm was clutched tightly in the grip of the Dark Knight, and soon his thoughts were only of immense pain before unconsciousness quickly darkened his world. Batman broke his arm before clubbing him in a manner which dropped the punk to the ground.

Batman watched from an adjacent building as the police gathered all of the criminals he'd just faced. Although not flawless by any means, he'd still managed to make it out unscathed, and one more crew of the Black Mask were all going to prison. Years ago he might never have put himself in such a compromising position, but he had to accept that Diana may have been right. Even if he was a step slower now, he'd just proved there was more he had to give to the city, to the world, to his mission, and to her.

A couple hours later, the Batmobile rumbled to a stop in the Batcave just like it had on many other nights. When the hatch slid open, he departed and noticed someone was waiting up for him. Diana was standing before him, hands placed onto her hips, and a knowing smile gracing her beautiful face, to which Bruce responded with a smug smirk.

"How much longer until you would've stepped in?" He asked her.

Diana's eyes flashed wide for a moment, realizing that she'd been caught keeping an eye on him. Getting old, my ass, she thought. "I wasn't." Diana answered as dropped from her pose to move in and envelope the love of her life in a warm embrace. "I believed you could handle the situation. You were twenty times faster than any of them the entire time."

"I was fast enough." Bruce commented dryly before adding, "This time."

"That's all we can ever ask of ourselves." Diana replied as she reached up to unlatch and remove the cowl. "Regardless of age or how close we come to falling in battle, we can only do so much in the time we are given for this world. And we, each of us have to accept that."

"I know Diana." Bruce responded in a softer voice. "Thank you."

"For what?" Diana asked as she turned to face him.

"For not allowing me to let me mortality get in the way." He answered.

"I had to." Diana replied with a hint of a smile on her face. Bruce only stared at her expectantly, and soon she gave in. "I have to live with an old crotchety man as it is. If I don't make sure he gets out every once in a while, he'd surely drive me to the brink of my own sanity."

Bruce caught the jovial tone instantly, and smiled in response. "Careful princess, or I might have to show you just how old and crotchety I can be."

"But I already know what that's like." She continued to tease. "You drove me crazy for years trying to escape my charms until finally accepting the truth."

"And that truth is?" Batman questioned, half curious where Diana's playfulness might be heading.

"That despite your brilliance, I'm still always right in the end." She answered before smacking him playfully in the arm and flying up through the Manor entrance.

Bruce smiled as he began to chase after her. He definitely didn't feel too old for this.