30/30 - Fourth and Goal
Disclaimers and other information in "Opening Credits"
The petite dark-haired woman picked that very moment to step off the terrace steps and walk briskly across the leaf-littered rear lawn at Wayne Manor.
"Look out!" Both young men called out as they started toward the woman.
Alana turned just as the football reached her, staring in surprise at the incoming missile. The ball struck her just above the bridge of her nose, and "disappeared," passing completely into her face. Alana gave a tiny shiver and fluidly morphed into a much taller, broader, greener body.
As Dick and Tim slowed on their approach -- Tim mouth-agape, Dick amused -- J'onn extended one hand. A bulge traveled down his arm until the football emerged from the palm of his hand.
"I apologize. I didn't mean to interrupt your recreation," said the Martian, handing the ball to the grinning Grayson.
"God, I'm never going to get used to that!" Tim gasped, seating himself heavily on the fall-crisp grass.
"That wouldn't have happened if you could just throw the ball straight, Tim," Dick scolded the teen as he spun and balanced the football on the tip of his finger.
"Dick," J'onn interrupted, "may I have a word with you?"
"Sure!" Dick chirped. He nudged Tim in the butt with the toe of his shoe. "Grab us a couple of bottles of Sport-Ade, will ya, Tim?" he asked.
"'Kay," the teen answered, getting to his feet. "Back in a few."
When Tim was out of earshot, Dick asked cheerfully, "What can I do you for, J'onn?"
At J'onn's suggestion, the two heroes, Titan and Justice Leaguer, walked across the leaves to the footpath. "I don't doubt that you've heard about a certain... challenge issued by Clark, regarding --"
"The date challenge?" Dick grinned, tossing the football up and catching it. "Yeah. Not from Bruce, of course. I think Wally called me up about five seconds after he heard about it." Dick tossed the ball up again, and when he caught it and looked over at his companion, it was Alana who now walked beside him.
"Would you mind if I asked your advice?" she asked. "The purpose of this exercise is to... learn about one another through new, unfamiliar experiences."
Dick laughed, "Then cross out leather body suits and whips!" Chuckling, he continued, a little less irreverently. "Sorry, I couldn't resist. Bruce has always been so methodical by nature and... provincial in his attitude about sex. That I know about," Dick smiled.
"Yes, I understand he was not supportive of your relationship with Princess Koriand'r," Alana said sympathetically. "I assure you, he has become somewhat enlightened in that respect."
"It's hard to tell sometimes, but I think he's even, dare I say it? Happier. At least as far as 'happy' can be applied to Bruce." Dick held the ball still for a moment as he looked over at Alana. "So... it kind of seems like you don't really need my advice, Alana. But whatever I can do...."
"Just a suggestion, really," said Alana. "I know his mind, his heart, but it would be just a little invasive to pick apart his imagination."
"Hmm," Dick murmured thoughtfully, tossing the football again. "What's something unfamiliar that Bruce might gain a little appreciation of... with the right company?" He caught the ball sharply, looked at it, then turned, smiling, to Alana.
Handing the ball to her, Dick said, "I think I have an idea."
"Haven't we done that?" Batman asked as he peered into the eyepiece of a microscope in the Batcave's evidence lab. "And, if memory serves, merely a week ago. My ears are still ringing from the stadium horns. I thought the idea of this... challenge... was to experience different venues, and different activities."
The slide in microscopic view was suddenly flooded with green, and Batman found himself looking at two blinking red eyes. His head snapped up; he leaned back in his chair, removed his cowl, and rubbed his hand over his eyes. When he opened them, Alana stood in front of him, smiling demurely.
"Thank you for giving me your undivided attention, Bruce," she said. "This date isn't to watch another football game, it's to participate in one."
"You think physical combat against a gang of cerebrally underdeveloped hulks will bring some kind of romantic epiphany? If so, why don't you join me when I patrol Gotham City?" Batman remarked dryly.
"The teams will be comprised of people we know... family, in fact," Alana countered, climbing onto Batman's lap.
Bruce felt an undulating pressure in his lap, yet Alana's lovely face was pleasantly unaffected.
"Family... who?" he asked, shifting uneasily from his growing reaction to his lover's method of persuasion. Her hands stroked his face softly, yet tendrils released his belt and crept inside his clothing.
"Yours, mine, ours... Dick suggested we all have an outing and play touch football. I liked the concept of touch...." she cooed.
"Dick suggested it?" Bruce uttered, straining to maintain his composure against the pleasant invasion of dozens of touches in all the right places. "Just for that, he's on the opposing team, and are you sure it can't be tackle football?"
Alana dipped her mouth close to Bruce's, then halted. "Funny... he said you'd say that," she smiled, pressing her lips to his.
The "green shirts" consisted of J'onn, Bruce, Tim, Eel O'Brien, and Clark Kent. On the "red shirt" team were Dick, Kyle Rayner, Wally West, Roy Harper and Donna Troy. Minutes before the game began, Clark was called away for an emergency. He apologized briefly, then took off. The "job for Superman" didn't include touch football. Dinah Lance, who had tagged along with Babs and Cassandra as a spectator, took the field in Clark's place.
The Red team won the flip of the coin and chose to receive. Quarterback Harper nailed a bullet pass to Dick, who pushed past Tim and vaulted over J'onn, only to be slammed roughly to the ground by Bruce.
"Touch," Dick wheezed to his adopted father. "The game is touch football, Bruce!"
"I did touch you," came the taciturn reply.
The team of present and former Titans returned to their huddle. Once again, Roy hit Dick with a dead-on shot, and once again, Dick came up with a mouthful of grass, compliments of his mentor-father. What was worse, he fumbled the ball, which Tim recovered. Tim was quickly tagged -- legitimately -- by Wally.
"You were right," Bruce said, giving his filthy and bruised son a hand up. "I'm starting to like this game."
"Of course you know," Dick warned, spitting the dirt from his mouth, "this means war."
Bruce grinned evilly. "Bring it on."
Cassandra pointed at the players. "TV football not like this," she observed with an enlightened grin. "This game lots better!"
"You got that right," Babs laughed. "We have a real 'super' bowl out there."
Alfred clucked his discontent. "I fear the end result will be a 'dustbowl' for my poor lawn.
Barbara looked up at the Wayne Manor major-domo, and then reached for the laptop computer that was in her backpack.
"No fair!" Wally yelled when J'onn crossed the goal line. "I thought this was supposed to be a 'straight' game!"
"Heaven forbid straight!" exclaimed Eel, wrapping his hands around his ears several times. Wally glared the malleable man before returning to his team.
Before the Green team lined up for the extra point kick, Bruce warned them, "I believe all bets are off now. Be prepared for anything."
Anything was an accurate assessment. Donna Troy flew up to deflect the Green team's field goal. Kyle caught the kick return, sealed himself in an invulnerable green bubble and ran the ball back for a touchdown. Eel stretched out wider than the goalposts to block the Red's extra point attempt. Dinah caught the next kick return for the Greens and was legitimately tagged by Roy, who knew she'd kill him if he was any rougher than that.
On the Green's first down, immediately after the snap, Bruce elected to run the ball. J'onn instantly shape-shifted, creating the illusion of a second Bruce -- complete with a second football. Dick chose the real Bruce, whom he'd been watching all along, and directed Kyle to cover J'onn/Bruce. Dick dove for Bruce, and Tim dove for Dick. Kyle snared J'onn/Bruce in a green energy bubble and Eel stretched out like a bed sheet to completely envelope Kyle. As Dick, Bruce, and Tim wrestled on the ground, Dinah scooped up the fumbled ball and was immediately slammed by Donna. The ball shot out like a greased pigskin. J'onn phased below ground and surfaced to retrieve the ball. He flew to the goal line and was halted by a small tornado, created by Wally running in circles at super-speed.
An ear-piercing whistle split the air in repeated bursts. All the players froze, and turned toward the sound.
Alfred Pennyworth stepped off the lower patio onto the lawn, blowing on a coach's whistle until his face turned red. He spat the noisemaker out as he marched onto the playing field.
"This game is over now. I declare it a draw. Kindly remove yourselves from what's left of the lawn and report to table of refreshments on the terrace."
Tim looked at Bruce. "Uh-oh. Game called on account of Alfred," he winced.
The teams of heroes exited the grass like contrite children. Their subdued attitude vanished as they fell on Alfred's buffet with gusto.
Bruce surveyed the "field," noting the extent of the damage. Skid and scuffmarks, divots, gouges, and a deep "doughnut" where Wally had run in circles had turned the lawn into a veritable pig wallow. He looked up at his companions, who were smiling, laughing, and recounting the highlights of the game. J'onn stood at the foot of the terrace steps, waiting for him.
"I believe you enjoyed this." J'onn's thoughts tickled Bruce's mind, earning a smile from the master of Wayne Manor.
The Martian's eyes glanced up, followed by Bruce's. A dark speck in the sky grew larger, until Superman landed, placing two pallets of new sod on the ground next to the football field. Brushing dirt from his hands, he approached his teammates.
"Oracle said you'd need that to preserve domestic tranquility," he smiled.
"I'm glad he's doing that," said Dick, as he and Barbara ate lunch together. "I was sure Tim and I were going to get stuck with the job of resodding the yard."
"Well, this way you get to preserve your strength, so you can demonstrate some of that 'backfield in motion' stuff to me... in private," Babs winked, eliciting a mile-wide grin from the Former Boy Wonder.
Wrapping his arms around her, Bruce asked, "Did you learn anything of interest today?"
"About you? I learn more with every heartbeat," came the mental reply. Verbally, Alana answered, "You are very competitive, and even though you made your son pay for suggesting our date, you enjoyed the recreation."
Bruce lightly stroked Alana's cheek, drawing the touch down to thumb an erect nipple. "You were clever with your play," he said.
"I'm always clever with my play." J'onn's affirmation flooded Bruce's mind. Alana's mouth descended on his as dozens of other mouths and hands proved J'onn's point.