∞ Wayne Manor, Here and Now
“We’ve got to stop
meeting like this,” Selina growled, in stark contrast to her usual bright
greeting: Jason Blood, the man, the myth, the legend.
She stood in the front door, arms crossed, regarding her visitor with marked disapproval.
“I trust I’m not too early,” Jason answered mildly as Selina stepped aside to let him enter. “We did say 8:30, did we not, with Dr. Leiverman coming at 9?”
“Yes,” Selina answered, pinching her shoulders back then stretching them forward. “I’m sorry, Jason, I just had a really bad night, and now there’s this big yellow ball of fire in the sky. Birds twittering out there. Dewy grass smell. Mornings are Woof.”
Jason’s brow wrinkled.
“A bad night, you said. Nightmares?”
Selina glared at him, disgusted.
“No, Mr. Doom and Gloom, no nightmares, no four white horsemen, no boiling seas. I just couldn’t get to sleep. He was out late and it was Joker. I… I don’t sleep well, when it’s Joker. But let’s keep that as our secret, okay; don’t tell him.”
Jason gave a wry smile, wondering for the hundredth time since that first nightmare how Selina the Catwoman could be involved in a cosmic crisis.
Cats were the exception to every rule in the magical world, but nevertheless. Selina was an ordinary woman who wore a catsuit, nothing more. She was also a rarity in Jason’s travels in that her behavior towards him never changed when she learned about Etrigan. She was a good friend, a talented thief, and she had a delightful smile. How in the name of Merlin’s beard could such a woman be the heart of an impending apocalypse?
Jason kept his thoughts to himself. Instead he asked, “Do you have any idea why Bruce is so insistent I be a part of this exercise?”
“Well, I don’t know for certain, but I can guess,” Selina answered, a spark of her usual playfulness emerging. “You’re our connection, Jason, magically speaking. Where else are we going to go for a dime bag of mystic hoodoo?”
Jason grimaced and followed her to the morning room.
“I do wish I knew if you were joking,” he noted under his breath.
Manor, Mundus Alius Nail
Whiskers and Watson trotted into the Chinese room and hopped into Selina’s lap, creating a nudging, mewling, wet-nosed fur-barrier between her and the email she was trying to answer. That much wasn’t unusual, both cats were adjusting to her move into the manor… Truth be told, they were adjusting a lot better than Selina herself. The whole thing had been so sudden. One day they were adversaries, the next lovers, and what seemed like only a heartbeat later: Mr & Mrs… It was… well… a lot for kitty to adjust to.
There had always been an attraction, sure. And after Joker, after that awful night, they’d turned to each other. But even so, he was Batman. All those years: wanting him, fighting him, baiting him, dreaming about what it might be like together; he was Batman. Now she was Mrs. Bruce Wayne, and she didn’t really know who Bruce Wayne was. It had all been so sudden and so intense. Now that things were settling down to “normal,” it was hard to know how to be. She knew how to taunt Batman, she knew how to support that man inside the mask when he was hurting and grieving… But now, now was… something else entirely, a completely different life, a completely different world. How could she be expected to just accept all that and trot right into this plane of existence, “Mrs. Bruce Wayne,” like it was nothing at all? Like it was…
WOOF! It would be a lot easier to make sense of her own confusion if Whiskers and Watson hadn’t settled into the new arrangement like they’d been raised in the same litter. Whiskers reveled in the extra attention he was getting since the move, and Watson seemed excited by the additional company, human and feline. A sudden lapful of playful cat wasn’t unusual, but what made this occurrence special was the fact that both cats wore new collars—blue collars. Selina touched the thick matte fabric gathered neatly around Watson’s neck and growled.
∞ Wayne Manor, Here and Now
Over the next 10 minutes, Selina told Jason what little she knew about Bruce’s other guest, Dr. Lionel Leiverman, doing some sort of mysterious research for the Wayne Foundation. Jason tried his best to follow, but Selina’s cats had appeared and were making the task all but impossible. The first time he had met Whiskers and Nutmeg, they sensed Etrigan and reacted with panic and dread. He spoke to them in Mau-im-dwo, the ancient tongue used by the priests of Bast to speak with divine and mortal cats. He explained about Etrigan, and ever since, they were so intrigued with his ability to talk to them, they hovered around his chair whenever they saw him, rubbing his legs, butting their heads against his palms, purring to wake the dead, and sometimes even leaping into his lap.
“Eh, yes, Bruce’s years of travel,” Jason managed (while Nutmeg complimented his shirt). Something about the years of travel, Selina was saying… Bruce meeting this Dr. Leiverman at Oxford, or maybe it was Princeton, while he was traveling the world preparing for the mission… Leiverman doing some kind of theoretical work, physics or metaphysics, that didn’t interest Bruce at the time since it was of no use to The Mission (Bruce and that mission, Jason had known astraroth daemons with less single-minded focus)… At that time, of course, years before beginning his work as Batman, Bruce had never seen or experienced magic…
Here Selina was interrupted (had she but known it) by Whiskers’s opinion of Bruce’s opinion of magic. Whiskers subscribed the basic Feline Canon and thought Bruce would benefit from its insights: Am I afraid of it? If so, run. If not, can I eat it? If so, eat. If not, can I play with it? If so, play. If not, sleep until #1, 2, or 3 occur.…but now that Bruce knew about magic, Selina was saying—not only knew about it, but had a serious grudge against it—he’d started funding this Dr. Leiverman’s research, only moderately in the past, but aggressively since the Zatanna mindwipe came out…
Manor, Mundus Alius Nail
Selina squinted again at the new collars on Whiskers’ and Watson’s necks, searching her memory to confirm this really was the color her instincts told her it was: Batcape-Blue.
Why in all the years she had battled Batman had she not realized what a willfully stubborn prick he could be? Sure, he was rigidly inflexible on law and order issues, but he was a crimefighter. Burglary was one thing, her costume was something else entirely.
She’d gone out as “Batwoman” once—one time in that garish red and yellow affair—because it didn’t seem prudent to go charging into battle alongside Batman and the remnants of the Justice League dressed as an escaped catburglar. The League had enough public relations problems from the anti-meta campaigns at that point, not to mention none of them had any idea what they were going up against. So appearing as Catwoman didn’t seem like a good idea, and she’d made use of the costume that was available—although she drew the line at carrying a purse. A crimefighter with a purse, she had to wonder what possessed that Kane woman.
Anyway, they got through it. They made their stand. They defeated the great threat—which turned out to be a Human-Kryptonian gene graft gone wrong called Olsen. Batman was cleared of all charges for killing Joker, and they’d started putting their lives back together. Now that they’d found each other, Selina was more than willing to join Batman in his crusade. She really didn’t consider herself a crimefighter, but he needed some way to fill the void left by Robin and Batgirl. So she would be his partner, and she would fight crime with him in Gotham, and she would move into his house and wear his ring and take his name. But she would not run around Gotham City in a yellow leotard with a red cape carrying a purse and calling herself Batwoman. A new costume was absolutely essential, and of course she wanted purple. Purple was her style, the color of royalty for the queen of the Gotham night, and a clear connection to all she had ever been as Catwoman.
She wanted purple, but he’d been campaigning for a Batwoman costume to mirror his own look, blue and gray, ever since she mentioned redoing the outfit. It started playfully enough: “How about blue” and a boyish wink. She had smiled at first—in surprise more than anything. She wasn’t used to Batman being Bruce Wayne, she wasn’t used to that face, to the dark aloof crimefighter having a devastatingly handsome face. She’d always found Batman sexy, but she wasn’t prepared for Bruce’s… charm. The first volleys were so subtle and coy. But now he was becoming more insistent, and the Bat’s willful stubbornness was emerging from behind Bruce’s easygoing charm. And that she could deal with. She might not know yet how to deal with Bruce Wayne, but Batman she’d battled long enough that she was not about to let him win.
Manor, Mundus Alius 2
There was a loud clap of thunder, and Bruce and Selina glanced at each other for a quarter beat, waiting…
Nothing happened. They both relaxed.
And then the quiet patter of the rain was shattered by the piercing wail of a crying infant.
“I’ll go,” Selina sighed, resigned to yet another walk up the stairs. She had known—they had both known—that becoming parents would bring new and interesting challenges, but neither had understood how little the late nights on rooftops prepare you for three o’clock feedings or thunderstorm coddling.
“No, no, I like going,” Bruce insisted, leaning over and kissing her quickly on the forehead.
“But you just got back from—” she blurted, but he was already gone in one of those miraculous bat-vanishes. “—patrol,” she said, stubbornly finishing the sentence anyway. Then she chuckled to herself. “Can’t pass up a chance to save the damsel in distress, can you, Stud?”
Reaching the nursery, Bruce had a similar thought. He did like taking care of his daughter. He liked reassuring her. He liked, for once, being able to step through the door knowing he could really solve whatever had gone wrong on the other side. The cries that sounded so alarming could be quieted with something as simple as a warm bottle, a fresh diaper, or a plush cat called Muffindrop.
He glanced down into the crib in awed wonder at how he’d ever come to be standing there. He and Selina—Catwoman, of all people—married. He’d always taken pride in his “mission”—in the work that he did saving his city, and even the world from time to time. For years, he thought that was the only contentment he would find in his life. But he was wrong. He knew now that true joy came not from the work he did but from the love he’d finally found. He loved Selina, and now that love had blessed them both with this amazing miniature person, a living embodiment of their love and their life together. He’d worried that Selina’s pregnancy would temper his work, that the mission would suffer because of his family obligations. But the first time he picked up his newborn daughter, he knew the opposite was true. The birth of his child had strengthened his resolve in ways he never could have imagined, because he was no longer saving the city for the sake of the millions of innocents out there; he was saving the city for his little girl…
“Hey sweetie,” he said softly, patting his daughter’s hair. “Nothing to be frightened of, Helena, it’s just a thunder storm.”
“DaBa” she answered.
He smiled at the non-riddling nonsense.
“You said it, Kitten. Want to come downstairs?”
“Poohbamee,” she answered.
Bruce smiled even broader and picked her up. She had her mother’s eyes, and he was even more helpless faced with the junior version than the originals.
∞ ∞ ∞
∞ Wayne Manor, Here and Now
Jason’s first challenge of the day was helping Selina entertain Dr. Leiverman while they all waited for Bruce. Having traveled the world over the course of centuries acting as courtier and diplomat, rascal and rake, Jason Blood had never met a man like Lionel Leiverman. The man seemed to have no social skills at all. He could talk only about his work. And while Jason had known many obsessed workaholics long before those terms came into being, none of them had been theoretical physicists.
“Alternate dimensions!” Leiverman said excitedly. He was talking to Selina and he was blind to what anyone with working eyes should have been able to see: that here was a woman who hadn’t slept the night before. However intelligent Selina Kyle might otherwise be, she could hold no thought at this moment beyond the taste of her coffee. And this man was throwing alternate dimensions at her.
“The alternate dimension, or parallel universe if you prefer,” Leiverman went on, oblivious to his listener’s plight, “is not this science fiction story where the Justice League is evil and hearts are located on the right side of the body. The alternate universe is a function of subatomic random possibilities; an electron orbits the nucleus at 30-degrees instead of 35 and poof—alternate reality. All probabilities contained in this universe or that one; that is the sublime beauty of quantum infinity. The critical mass for a new reality is not the large object, like a man making a conscious decision to go right instead of left at a fork in the road, but a random dice game that is played among the infinitesimally small.”
Selina stifled a yawn and managed a polite nod.
“So not a separate universe where Lex Luthor has hair,” she said, to show she was listening.
“No,” Bruce answered, entering briskly and shaking Dr. Leiverman’s hand. “So sorry, I got tied up with all kinds of things this morning,” he explained. Then he turned to Selina and completed the thought. “Chromosomes are too big, so active hair follicles on the former president aren’t a candidate for a separate universe, right Doc?”
“Actually they are,” Leiverman answered happily, delighted to have an informed student to enlighten. “A Dr. Lee Havnok did a paper on this only last year. We called it the ‘Stalin’s moustache’ theorem: At the chromosomal level, yes, you are right, it is much too big to generate a quantum universe. But the chromosomes result from the random occurrence when one particular sperm out of millions fertilizes the egg, and this can easily be altered by the chance variations in subatomic orbits.”
Selina’s glassy eyes met Jason’s while Bruce and Leiverman chatted enthusiastically. “Dime bag of mystic hoodoo,” she mouthed wearily.
Manor, Mundus Alius Nail
Watson was curled on the chair opposite Selina, watching her curiously. “You should be on my side, pal,” she told the cat. “A little feline solidarity, it’s not that much to ask.”
In the manner of cats, Watson responded to this criticism by shutting his eyes and resuming his nap.
“No, no,” she told him. “I know that trick. Look at this, just have a look and tell me if you approve?” She held up the pencil sketch that had fallen from her book, having been substituted overnight for her regular bookmark. “Look at those ears, that’s a bat-cowl. Look at those ears, your ears are much better aren’t they?”
Watson purred—for no cat would argue about the superiority of his appearance—but he declined to open his eyes. Selina rolled the sketch into a ball and threw it at him.
Manor, Mundus Alius 19
Dickie Grayson hung out in the hippest little hideaway in the Northern Hemisphere (the legendary Batcave, underneath Stately Wayne Manor, dontcha know!) twirling the small plastic card between his fingers. What a drag; 16 years of age and he’d just scored the mother lode of liberating documentation—his very own driver’s license. He should have been out crusin’ the streets of ol’ G.C. in the trippiest of transports: the Batmobile! But no, old man Wayne had put the kibosh on that plan; he’d just informed Dick that—perfect score on the driving test or not—Dick was gonna be required to take some 9-week super-special vehicular training before he’d be allowed to feel behind the wheel of the old ’Mobile.
Man, what happened to his old pal Bruce? Back in the early days, it was just the two of them; the Dynamic Duo! They’d fight for truth and justice, put a hurting on the baddies, buck the establishment, then boogie ’til dawn! But now? Now Bruce was becoming the establishment! It was like at 12:01 in the AM on the day of Bruce’s 30th, everything took a turn for the worse. Maybe he’d been right all along—everyone over thirty was worthless!
Nah, it wasn’t the age thing, Dickie knew. It was her.
Alright, check this: there was no denying that Catwoman was one grade-A, prime-cut female. One peep at the “evening wear” and it was obvious the girl was righteously hot-to-trot. There wasn’t a single, red-blooded male in all of the Americas that could spot that magnificent bod, wrapped in the tightest of purple threads, and ignore the obvious stirrings—and ol’ Bruce seemed to have it worst of all. Dick couldn’t blame him there; hell, even he’d had a fantasy or twenty about a sweaty encounter with the Purloining Pussycat. But that’s all it ever should have been! A one-time (okay, probably more like four- or five-time) encounter, a quick wham-bam-Thank-you-ma’am and then back to the business of saving the world for ALL the groovy chicks out there.
But then, the old man gets it in his head that she’s “more than that” and suddenly they’re thrown back into this Leave It To Beaver nightmare where Bat and Cat (scratch that: Bruce and “Selina”) are upstairs yakking about china patterns and engraved invitations, and good ol’ Dickie’s left down in the ’Cave dreading a future where Robin the Boy Wonder has to wait outside the bathroom for “Mistress Catty” to finish washing her hair!
And Barbara—the only chick in this whole scene that’s supposed to be part of the in-crowd—is absolutely useless in the “pointing out the obvious cat-astrophe” department. One look at the glittery finger weight and she starts “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” like a third-grader seeing her first puppy. Not that Dickie was at all surprised by that turn of events—Babs always was the nattering-nincompoop of the Gotham Nighttime Scene. But even good old stoic Alfie’s gone all blubbery happiness over the upcoming nuptials…
Does no one else catch the hitch here? Hello! She’s Catwoman! (Holy Horrendous Hoodwinks, Batman!) She’s one of the Bad Eggs! And now Batman’s letting the Felonious Feline into his house, into his life, into his bed, and into the ’Cave, but he’s nixing Dickie’s chance at a turn behind the wheel? It was Bizarro-world, Gotham Style! What was next: trading in the Batmobile for a Studebaker and turning the disco-room into a baby-shack?
Dick thought, and not for the first time, that maybe it was time to blow this pop stand and groove on to greener pastures; seek his own fabulous fame and fortune as a solo act. He certainly couldn’t fathom wasting any more of his time living in Kyle-Wayne Manor with Papa, the Missus and any broodlings that were sure to follow.
This was definitely the worst thing to hit the Gotham crimefighting scene since Batgirl first puttered up on her little motor-scooter and giggled “Hey there!”
∞ Wayne Manor, Here and Now
Jason Blood was aghast at what he was hearing:
All matter and energy made up these vibrating filaments called Strings; fine.
The way they vibrated determined what it was they made up; sure why not.
The way they vibrated determined what cosmic laws applied—and then something about gravity and electromagnetism that Jason didn’t quite follow but Bruce seemed terribly excited about. And then, THEN this outlandish suggestion that magick might be nothing more than a way of temporarily altering the Strings’ movement so that different cosmic laws applied?
“It frames the so-called ‘supernatural’ in science…” Leiverman was saying.
Jason looked at Bruce and could sense what the premise really meant to him: …And gets this grossly unacceptable thing called ‘magic’ into a realm where it could be dealt with.
“You think you can control the magickal forces?” he asked, white astonishment blotting out the usual sarcasm in his voice.
“No,” Bruce said simply, “I think it’s already controlled. You all are. You’re operating in exactly the same universe as the rest of us; you just don’t know it yet. The same rules—the same laws—apply. You’re different only in that, through magic, you’ve figured out how to change venue, but there are still laws in place, judges and punishments if they’re broken. That’s why there’s always a price.”
“An… intriguing supposition,” Jason said mildly. “Would you excuse me?”
He got up and left the room, Nutmeg trotted after him and Whiskers after her. Selina looked to Bruce, winked, and joined the procession. “Be right back,” she said lightly from the doorway, but as she turned into the hall, her polite hostess smile melted into a concerned frown.
“Jason, I hope you’re not offended. He doesn’t mean to be rude, you know. It’s… well, I’m just hearing all this for the first time, but the idea, even the remotest possibility that magic isn’t something outside of scientific thought and analysis, it has to be manna from heaven for him. Are you very angry, Jason?”
“I’m not angry, Selina. I am not offended or threatened by the possibilities suggested by this ‘theory.’ I am… in awe. Selina, I have kept silent about many things since the account of Bruce’s mindwipe became known, but the fact is, magician though I am, I sympathize more than either of you know. I respect Bruce and I am fond of you personally, Selina. But that is not why I… empathize as I do. The truth is that it’s happened to me, countless times. Twenty minutes Zatanna took from him, good lord, there are entire months in my past I can’t account for. And false memories, I know Etrigan has crafted some, but I’ve no way of knowing which they are, nor is there anything I could do about it if I did.”
“My god, Jason, I had no idea,” Selina whispered.
“How could you? How could anyone know what it is to have your soul knitted to a demon of hell?”
“This must all strike you as a… a very selfish and self-important overreaction then.”
“No,” Jason said, a forceful compassion creeping into his voice. “I admire Bruce a great deal; I always have. And I abhor the way Zatanna has abused her powers. I’ve also been worrying about it since the day we watched him take his ‘revenge,’ for lack of a better word.”
“Jason, all he did was have Martian Manhunter freeze her telepathically for an hour, ‘taking’ an hour of her life in return for the 20 minutes she took from him.”
“Oh it’s not that, I’ve no complaint with his action. There was an elegance in what he did, truly poetic justice. No, it was something he said to her that day that sparked my concern: the rule of three, use magicks to perform any negative action upon another and it will be revisited upon you threefold.
“Selina, the act of a Martian telepath and a human man don’t count, karmically speaking. Zatanna still has an accounting to make for Bruce, and for Dr. Light, and what she did to that Top fellow in Keystone City… for any abuse of her powers. For any… Who knows? We can’t know everything that she’s done—even she likely doesn’t know, magically speaking, exactly what it is she has done.
“Don’t you see, all Zatanna does is talk backwards. Selina, however else he may be biased, Bruce is completely correct about one thing: with magick there is always a price. All magic-users must work to cultivate their power, there is cost and payment, balance and counterbalance, always, even to…” He paused, smiled, and snapped his fingers, and a tiny white flame appeared at his fingertips. “…Very useful if you forgot your flashlight in the car.”
Selina smiled, and he went on, his tone becoming serious again.
“In the very crafting of a spell, you must grapple with the forces you are using and how you put them to use. And if you’ve tested the limits, crossed some line, you know instantly. It’s like hoisting a heavy weight with your back instead of your legs… You won’t get far before your body tells you you’re making an error.
“And all Zatanna does is talk backwards. It’s like… oh, how to explain this. It’s like quoting a poem compared to writing one. Speak the result you desire without any thought to… For years, Zatanna has channeled the magickal forces this way without any conscious thought of what forces she manipulates in which way—a naïve college student racking up thousands of dollars in credit card debt because it’s so easy to get them and use them. And never quite realizing the true costs being incurred.”
“My heart bleeds,” Selina said coldly.
“I wouldn’t expect you to be sympathetic,” Jason said mildly. “But I worry none the less.”
Manor, Mundus Alius 116
Catwoman pretended to be asleep throughout the scene in the cave… “I thought we could talk this out,” Flash was saying. “You thought wrong,” Batman answered, picking her up. She remained still, limp in his arms, through “Please, Bruce, they were just trying to protect Sue,” “Well, now they need to protect themselves,” and “If the Secret Society remembers what you did to them, they probably remember why you did it.” She remained still and limp as he turned his back on the Justice League and carried her up the stairs… Still until she heard the click of the clock passage closing behind them. Then she leaned her head against his chest and hugged him lightly.
“Go back to sleep,” he said with a soft grunt.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” she said. “I heard the whole thing. Bruce, what in god’s name is going on with you and the League?”
“You don’t want to know,” he graveled.
“Maybe not,” she whispered as he carried her up the steeper staircase to the manor bedrooms. “But I know you shouldn’t be alone tonight.” She eyed him seductively, her fingers tracing the symbol on his chest. She stared directly into his eyes, seduction mixing with promise and a hint of vulnerability. Breathlessly, she uttered, “Stay with me.”
At the top of the stairs he froze, eyes glancing back and forth between the hallway to the guest suite and his own bedroom door. He hesitated between the two directions and glanced down at her cradled in his arms.
“You’re hurt,” he murmured. “You lost a lot of blood.”
“Not that much.” She teased, but even the playful banter was different. It was like that first kiss on the rooftops—the realization that maybe there could be more, that they could make it work. He wanted to—god, how he wanted to—but there were so many questions, so many barriers…
“Just stay with me for a while. We both need a warm touch more than rest right now.” There was such a yearning, almost pleading look in those deep green eyes that he found himself getting lost. He was back on that rooftop, her body pressed hard against his own, lips and tongues entwined.
His lip twitched briefly, and he turned right into his own bedroom.
∞ Wayne Manor, Here and Now
When Jason returned to the study, Dr. Leiverman had set up a line of ritual candles of different colors. Behind each was a hinged trio of mirrors, and before each was a strange gold cylinder with a number of gears and lenses protruding from it.
“Fascinating,” Bruce was saying, looking through one of the lenses. “Jason, what’s yellow represent for you people?”
Jason was surprised by the abruptness of the question, but he answered it.
“If by ‘you people’ you mean Englishmen, yellow jerseys indicate that the Watford Football League is playing a home game,” Jason said dryly. “But if you mean mystics, there are many systems linking colours with specific magical energies. In the Malbrough tradition, yellow is tied to attraction and persuasion. According to Cunningham & Harrington, yellow is the intellect, eloquence, and the power of thought—”
“Why?” Bruce interrupted.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Why? Why does yellow equal persuasion or thought? You guys go to all this trouble to figure out what colors are ‘linked’ to ‘specific magical energies,’ but you don’t find out why? What’s the connection? You don’t come up with any underlying principles of why anything works?”
“I, eh-,” Jason stammered. “Why it works is… is the essence of the magickal force.”
“Jason, yellow light is made of the same stuff as red light. You know the reason it’s yellow? The wavelength is about 570 nm. When that increases to around 590, it looks orange, if it keeps going to 650, it’s red. So what’s the connection, what is it about a 570 nm wavelength that helps you screw with somebody’s head?”
“Bruce, I really don’t—”
“The flames on all of these candles are yellow, by the way, because there’s sodium in the wick and in the wax. The color of a flame depends on the material being burned. Each atom or molecule has certain special frequencies (that means colors) at which it absorbs and emits light, just like a musical instrument has special frequencies at which it absorbs and emits sound. See what I’m saying?”
“I cannot imagine what you are saying,” Jason said sourly.
“Sodium atoms glow yellow very brightly when they’re heated; yellow light is their favorite color to emit. This particular shade of yellow is called the ‘sodium D line’ because of the electron orbits involved in the sodium atoms before and after the light is emitted.”
“Fascinating, I’m sure. But Bruce, this has nothing to do with magick.”
“How do you know? Jason, none of you have ever bothered to find out! Your version of science seems to spend all this time working out what yellow does, but you don’t even know what ‘yellow’ is.”
“It’s the same with the herbs and the minerals, as well,” Leiverman added. “The mystics’ version of science resembles our ‘categorical’ disciplines: classifying phylum and species, indexing the properties of each with great precision. But practically nothing of what we would consider inquisitive study, no research into the greater mechanisms.”
“Dr. Leiverman, would you excuse us for a moment, I’d like a word with Bruce in private.”
Bruce grunted, Leiverman left, and Jason Blood placed his palm over one of the lit candles, causing the flame to rise instantly and dance around his hand.
“May I remind you, Bruce, that there is a demon of Hell caged inside my soul? I don’t have to investigate why my magicks work, I know why they work. They’re Evil. Good and Evil are very real forces in the universe, Bruce. The evil, at least, I feel on a daily basis. Ask Selina if you don’t want to take my word for it. She felt Etrigan’s malice when we joined hands for the seeing.”
“I don’t doubt what you feel, Jason. I just don’t know that it means what you think it means, what all magic-users think it means. Go outside and stand in the sunlight, it feels warm. That’s very welcome if it’s 17 degrees and you’ve been tramping through the snow; the warmth feels wonderful. Go to Florida in August, it’s a different story; that same sunlight is not your friend. How it feels is subjective, Jason, but it’s all solar radiation; it’s all light produced by the fusion of hydrogen and helium in the core of a yellow star 93 million miles away. It all gets here at the speed of light, 186,282.4 miles-per-second, because that is the universal speed limit that nothing gets to break.”
Jason cleared his throat.
“What do you hope to accomplish by this, Bruce?”
“Something is broken, isn’t it? Something large and powerful and destructive is raging out of control, probably because one of you let a genii out of the bottle without knowing what you were dealing with.”
“And how is citing the speed of light going to—”
“’I was born fourteen hundred years ago,’” Bruce quoted, “’I’ve channeled forces that could open a pentagram in your blood but even I don’t know what’s coming.’ Jason, you came to me with this. What did you think I was going to do?”
“I came because I was concerned about Selina and she happens to live in your house. It was not a ‘consulting detective’ scenario, Bruce. I was not bringing ‘a case’ to Batman’s attention.”
“Well, you’ve got my attention anyway. You, Etrigan, and Ra’s all show up in my house in the span of a few days, all screaming ‘Crisis’ and pointing at Selina. Like it or not, you’ve got my attention.”
“Of course, you’re the only one of those three who found it necessary to put a magic ring on her finger.”
“I did what I felt was necessary.”
“And now I’m doing what I think is necessary. Are you going to help or not?”
“That depends. Is my help to consist of more than listening to dubious theories about magick and strings?”
“You know it is.”
“Then I am at your disposal.”
“Shall we call the others back in then?”
Bruce said nothing at first; he was looking down at a burning candle.
“Jason,” he asked softly. “In the magic realm, what does purple mean?”
“Purple is power. Purple intensifies power, it denotes the magickal force made manifest. In short, purple is magick itself.”
Manor, Mundus Alius Nail
Whiskers and Watson wrestled playfully on the floor, and Selina was pleased to see the two cats getting along so well. She had replaced their blue collars with purple ones and made her own sketch for a cowl with a proper set of cat-ears. She had yet to find a good place to leave it where Bruce was sure to see.
She’d tried approaching him directly and that got her nowhere. “Hey, it’s your costume. Design it however you want.” A totally unconcerned brushoff—but the hints kept coming. So she’d tried answering in kind, sneaky hint for sneaky hint. But her first attempts had all misfired. She didn’t know the routine of the house yet, and Alfred kept finding her sketches folded into Bruce’s washcloth in the master bath or rolled in his coffee mug in the cave. He would return them to her with a quiet cough and a polite “I believe this must be yours, Madame.”
It was an unfair advantage. It was his house, and his butler, and his cave. She was outmatched every way she turned, but she simply could not let him dictate something so personal and basic. Her costume expressed who she was and if she gave in on this first clash, what would that mean for their life together?
And as for Alfred, he might have been Bruce’s butler much longer than he’d been hers, but she was lady of the house now, and he’d better learn whose side to take on domestic issues. This was all about her new life with Bruce and her new home. And it didn’t get much closer to home for Selina than what she wore as Catwoman!
She sneezed, as if allergic to the very idea of Batman dictating her nighttime persona, and reached for a Kleenex. Instead of the supple tissue she expected, her fingers felt fabric. She turned and a blue fabric swatch was protruding from the box.
It occurred to Selina that, in addition to being purple, her new costume must also have claws.
Manor, Here and Now
There was a wave of warm dizziness and Selina moved to steady herself against the wall outside the study until it passed. She was surprised by the sudden support that materialized under her elbow.
“Hey, you alright?” Bruce was asking, and gentle fingers touched the side of her face.
“Fine,” she assured him sincerely. “Little gravity shift. No sleep plus no breakfast.”
“We’ll get you something to eat before we proceed, then. Jason’s gone to his apartment to get supplies. We’ve got an hour, easy.”
“Supplies for what?” Selina asked, raising an eyebrow.
Bruce said nothing, but his eyes darkened and Selina felt the unmistakable tingle of Batman’s presence.
“No, you can’t be serious. Magic hoodoo in your house?”
He looked off to the side, remembering a phrase of hers from countless vaults and rooftops. “Those rubies don’t belong to you…”
“Technically,” he graveled.
“I have a very bad feeling about thi—,” she started to say, when she was cut off by a slow, tender kiss. “mm, never mind,” she mumbled.
“You know I love you,” he whispered—the voice too soft to make a Bat-or-Bruce determination, but he was still projecting that Bat-aura that Selina did not associate with loving assurances. “I’ve always loved you,” he added—this time in an undeniable Bat-gravel.
“I’m going to cut you off right there,” she interrupted. “Because the next phrase after that is going to be something like ‘no matter what happens,’ and I don’t do those; they’re bad luck. If we’re going to go dancing on a hellmouth this afternoon, ‘Know I always loved you’ is not the way to go right now. ‘You’re a jackass that can’t be trusted to make a tuna sandwich’ is the note to end on.”
“You’re an impossible woman,” Bruce noted.
“No, it’s not. It’s frustrating as hell. Selina, I wasn’t going to say ‘no matter what happens’ or anything like it. I just… I wanted to ask you to take off that ring.”
“The moonstone? From Jason?”
“Yes. I can’t stand your wearing it. It’s… It’s magic and it’s on your finger, I really can’t stomach it. Please take it off and put this on instead.”
She looked down and saw a familiar glint of pink sapphire.
“That’s the ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever want to be married’ ring from the MoMA opening,” she observed with an amused smile.
Bruce did not look amused. Instead, he touched his tongue to the inside of his lips, opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, took a breath, and glared.
“If that’s what it’s going to take to get that moonstone off your finger—” he managed, his stomach clenching in violent, lurching twists. He took another labored breath, when Selina shook her head.
“No, that’s not what I was saying,” she said hastily, concern swallowing the amusement. “Bruce, I was not asking you to… Look, if it means that much to you, of course I’ll take it off.”
She removed the ring silently and placed it in the center of his palm, closing his fingers around it, then leaving her hand over his.
“I’ve always loved you, too,” she whispered before quickly adding “But you’re a jackass who can’t make a tuna sandwich unsupervised, and I need lunch.”
“Wait. No!” he growled, grabbing her wrists forcefully as she turned to go.
“Have I ever mentioned how much I hate that,” Selina hissed.
He said nothing for a long moment but his grip tightened.
“You didn’t take the ring, the sapphire,” he said then, releasing his hold and sounding embarrassed.
She held out her left hand, palm up, in an impatient ‘hand it over’ gesture. Rather than place the ring in it as she had done, Bruce turned her hand gently, caressing the red marks his fingers had left on her wrist.
“I’m sorry about that,” he murmured. Then he slid the ring smoothly onto her finger, turned, and left.
Manor, Mundus Alius Nail
Selina found the hot shower wonderfully relaxing. She’d explained the costume frustrations to ReflectionTwit and then repeated it to the ShowerScrubbie, and that too had been wonderfully relaxing. Having vented while pulses of warm water soothed the tension from her neck and shoulders, she began to see the humor of the situation. It was rather endearing, really. He was so stubborn. It was so Batman, it just had nothing to do with taking jewels from Cartier. You had to love him for it. By the time those warm pulses of water massaged the shampoo from her hair, Selina was considering a compromise. Purple could look very sharp in contrast with that deep blue of his, a purple catsuit and a blue batcape maybe…
She turned off the showerhead, shook the excess water from her hair, slid open the glass shower doors and reached for a towel. Her hand felt only air where there should have been a stack of thick folded bathtowels. She wiped wet film from her eyes with the back of her hand and peered at the table where Alfred always left the towels—they were gone. She reached for the hook where a terry robe always hung—and there, suspended on a hanger, was the only fabric in the room in which she could wrap herself—there on the hook was a dark blue batcape.
∞ ∞ ∞
∞ Wayne Manor, Here and Now
Jason didn’t like the idea of staging another seeing ritual with Selina so Dr. Leiverman could test and quantify magical reverberations on the physical plane. But he didn’t like the idea of oblivion either, even if it would take Etrigan off his hands. All existence winking into nothingness versus humoring one of Bruce’s wild theories, it was no contest. Jason had known countless “Men of Science” over the decades, and most of their ideas had been preposterous. Just look at electricity: they harness a new energy and think it will cure everything from tuberculosis to gout. Still, every now and then, one of those men of science came up with something truly extraordinary—and on each and every occasion they were ridiculed. At best, they were ridiculed. Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Galileo. Sometimes they were persecuted, sometimes executed, all because their ideas threatened a small mind’s view of how the world really worked.
Jason had seen it play out enough times that he could put his own doubts aside for one day and let Bruce conduct his experiment. He answered every question politely and fully: the bowl he brought was chased silver lined with mother of pearl, a sacred vessel salvaged from the siege of Antioch by the warrior mages of Cilicia. The liquid was water of Avalon, obtained from that enchanted isle by Lyle, the present seer, in payment for the return of an important relic called the leabhar seun, which she had foolishly lost to him. The bottle? Cobalt blue with a silver cap, carved with Celtic knots; that he picked up on Ebay for $14.95.
When these preliminaries were completed: a small table set up for the ritual with two chairs, one for him and one for Selina to sit opposite each other around the bowl, and Lionel Leiverman’s incomprehensible circle of lenses and sensors positioned around them like a mystic circle from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jason took his place at the table and nodded curtly for Selina to do the same.
She glanced at Bruce as if she expected never to see him again, touched a finger to her lip and then flicked it outward. Jason took this to be a none-too-furtive attempt to blow a kiss, and he occupied himself with a smudge on the table rather than deigning to see Bruce’s response. When at last Selina took her seat, Jason held out his hands, palms up.
“Ready to begin?” he asked kindly.
She nodded and placed her hands down on his, palm to palm.
Jason noticed her right hand no longer bore the moonstone ring, and her left now wore a large pink gem—a gem which, to Jason’s eye, advertised its cost and the wealth of the donor. Jason turned slowly to Bruce, remembering that, angry as the man had been about the sage and the witch orb, it was the discovery of that ring which brought about the violent outburst. Now Bruce merely glared, not with the hell-month hatred Jason had seen that day, but with a lifeless, isolated, emptiness. He began to wonder if—
—when the thought was cut short by a scream.
Puking Light and
Selina had pulled her hands away and sat there, chest rising and falling as she labored for breath. She looked dazed and deathly pale.
“What is it?” Bruce yelled.
Selina ignored him and looked to Jason, her eyes dull with a dead horror.
“What the hell was that?” she asked.
Hell is Home, you
“Selina, what happened,” Bruce was saying, “What did you see?”
“I’m going to throw up,” she answered, running from the room.
“Jason, somebody tell me, what happened? What did she see?”
“I don’t know. I saw nothing, but Etrigan… seems to find it quite disgusting, whatever it was. He’s absolutely retching; I’ve never heard him like this. Usually if it disgusts Etrigan, it’s a positive force: joy, hope, faith…”
“I don’t see Joy, Hope, or Faith making Selina throw up, do you?”
“BRUCE?!” Selina called loudly from some distant part of the house. The urgency of her call yanked them all from their chairs instantly.
Bruce motioned for Jason and Leiverman to stay and bolted out of the study, heading toward the dining room. He heard the voice from far down the hallway, a voice twisted with rage and fear—
“YOU are not the Batman! I am the Batman! Now Get Out!”
—and ran faster, the haunting familiarity of that voice slamming into his brain like a spike. It wasn’t just the voice, but the words themselves that tore at his memory. He’d heard all of this before… Dread and realization built together until he reached the door and saw it:
“You were too weak and too cowardly. You couldn’t defeat Bane. He broke you like a twig.”
There it stood—“AzBat”—the hulking armored monstrosity Azrael had made of his mantle. What was going on here? He was watching it unfold visually and in his memory simultaneously. What was Jean Paul doing? And where did he get that bastardization of the suit? Bruce had destroyed that thing long ago…
Bruce was ripped from his thoughts and dove to the floor as the thing pointed its metallic talon at him and shot a barrage of deadly shuriken. Bruce rolled for cover behind the sideboard and looked around for some object to use as a shield. There was a heavy silver tray, if he could just reach it—
—When he noticed nothing was happening.
The attack had stopped.
He looked again, and nothing stood where AzBat had been. The room was empty.
Bruce proceeded cautiously into the drawing room.
“Hey, neat trick,” Selina said mildly as he entered. “You just went that way.”
He’d seen that look on her face before; it was that ‘humor-them-and-handle-them’ look normally reserved for the Iceberg on a Saturday night.
He looked around.
“I did?” he asked, a hint of Bat-growl creeping into his voice as he slipped instinctively into Detective-mode, taking in the details for examination later.
“Other you,” she said. “And Pheromones, flat out crazy as I’ve ever seen him, screaming about his father and firing those pointy ninja bat-shurikens at my Turner.” She pointed at a large stormy seascape with several bat-shaped blades protruding from its canvas and frame.
“As I recall, it was my father he was screaming about,” Bruce said, examining one of the shuriken embedded in the painting. “And he was firing them at my head.”
“Well, your head looked
fine,” Selina answered matter-of-factly.
“But he hit my Turner.”
“Your Turner?” Bruce asked, raising an eyebrow.
“If I’d ever hit this place when I was working, that’s what I would have taken. Now look what the idiot did to it.”
“I’ll remember that at Christmas,” Bruce said wryly. “We have other problems right now.”
“Yeah, I’d say so,” Selina agreed.
Jason reached the door and cleared his throat. “Bruce, I trust you won’t mind, I took the liberty of encasing Dr. Leiverman in a ßųŁŁą rħðmbå and moving him to the relative safety of the morning room. He believes he is watching Selina and I use a Ouija board. I thought that would be best before he saw something that would be… difficult to explain.”
“Difficult to explain,” Selina repeated with a sickly smile. “Jason, you have no idea.”
“I believe I do, seeing as Batman had come into the room oblivious to our presence, and opened the grandfather clock releasing a hail of poisoned darts.” Jason lifted his forearm to reveal two of these still sticking out of his wrist. “Which would be problematic were it not for my unique physiological condition.”
“Any theories what’s going on here?” Bruce asked testily.
Jason paused thoughtfully, then turned to Selina.
“I suppose the first step in evolving any sort of theory about that is to ask what it is you saw.”
She pointed around the room as she announced “Batman. Pheromones. Batty ninja stars in my Turner.”
“Before that,” Bruce cut in. “When you ran out of the study.”
“Oh… that,” she shuddered. “I don’t know what it was. I’d just taken Jason’s hands, I felt Etrigan, I thought of the last time we did this, watching Zatanna.”
“That may have been Etrigan’s suggestion,” Jason put in. “You hate Zatanna, it would be like Etrigan to remind you of that day in order to awaken thoughts of hate and vengeance which he… well… he finds quite attractive in a female in ways it would be difficult to describe.”
Selina shrugged, a rooftop shrug that said she didn’t really care if there were laws against breaking and entering, she was who she was, take it or leave it.
“Anyway,” she resumed, “I thought of that day watching Zatanna, I glanced into the water and—” She broke off and made a frustrated vibrating gesture with both palms along the side of her head. “NO Idea how to describe it. It was…”
“Evil?” Jason prompted, “Good? Hurried? Pleasant? Sin? Salty? Anything, try anything, Selina. The first words that spring to mind.”
“It was a spark… like an electrical spark from plugging something into an outlet, but not a ‘shock.’ It was more… honey. There was something… sweet about it.”
She looked at Bruce, who hadn’t spoken.
“A spark is fire,” he noted. “Was it hot?”
“You’re being a bit literal, Bruce,” Jason answered, “I suspect—”
“No, he’s right,” Selina said, her brows knitted. “It was a fire—not hot—but it’s burning somehow—not big open flames, not yet, but it’s… smoldering.”
Bruce studied her carefully, trying to lock into her description. “Like that spark between a match and a matchbook, just before the match-tip catches fire?”
“I—yeah, something like that…” Selina agreed weakly. “No,” she said suddenly, “More like ‘Firemen think they put out a fire, but there’s still something going on inside the walls, buried in the insulation, that nobody is aware of. They all go home thinking everything is fine, it bursts into flame overnight, tomorrow we find a big heap of ash where the Chrysler Building used to be.”
“A spark, smoldering,” Jason repeated.
A loud ear-splitting KREEEEEEE of Black Canary’s Canary Cry erupted several rooms away, followed by an unearthly crash and angry shouts.
The three of them ran back into the study just in time to see Hawkman pick up the grandfather clock and bash Batman over the head with it.
To be continued…