Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales: String Theory

String Theory by Chris Dee

KREEEE


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KREEEEEEE

The ear-splitting wail of Canary Cry echoed through Wayne Manor while Selina marched calmly through the chaotic battle as if through holograms.  She offered a light fingertip wave to the chimera of a mind-controlled Martian Manhunter swinging Superman into a headlock.

“Morning, Boys” she said sweetly.

A pink, fin-headed alien lifted Hawkman by the throat and yanked the wings from his back in a single vicious stroke. 

“My favorite part,” Selina noted.  “Now cue the clock.”

As he had every 43 minutes since the anomalies began, Hawkman picked up the grandfather clock and brought it crashing down onto Batman’s head.  Batman answered with a fierce uppercut… and Selina blew him a kiss.

“Big red robot,” she said, pointing, just before Red Tornado entered.  “Superman,” she added swinging her arm to point in the opposite direction just before Superman charged to the spot. “And the tnuc,” Selina added, pointing upward just as Zatanna materialized from above. 

Selina gave her the finger before strolling through the gaping hole into the clock passage and proceeding down to the cave. 

“43 minutes,” she announced.  “You can set your clock by it.  At least you’ll be able to once the clock resets itself for the next show.”

Batman didn’t turn from his workstation but Jason smiled politely.

“Good morning,” he said mildly.  “I trust you slept well.”

“Yeah, ‘Kreee’ shaking the plaster off the walls every 43 minutes makes for a wonderfully restful night.  Not to mention who is doing the kree-ing and who she has with her.  You don’t imagine either of us would get a wink of sleep with… with them running amok in this house.”

Jason made a sour face; Selina watched the back of Batman’s head.

“Have you had coffee?” she called softly.

“No.”

“I could make some,” she offered, “unless you’d prefer tea?”

There was no response, but Selina was unfazed.  She walked up behind his chair and turned it around to face her. 

“Hi,” she said simply.  “I called Alfred, I told to him take another week in Vermont.  He wants to know why and I couldn’t really figure out how to phrase it, so you’re on your own for that one.  Number is next to the phone in the kitchen.  When you’re ready to take a break from all this, go up and give him a call.”

Jason was amused to see the intensity of the Batman persona flicker a bit during her speech. 

“Anything new upstairs?” he asked.

“It’s all new,” she said.  “Apart from the Justice League Rockettes doing their kickline in the study every 43 minutes, all the rest of it seems like these random one-shots.  I saw Dick around age 15 sneak into his room upstairs with a couple -ahem- magazines I doubt he was allowed to read at that age, and a costume party going on in the Great Hall.  You were Henry VIII, which I must say isn’t an ideal look for you, but I made a stunning Catherine of Aragon, so we’ll assume that’s why you went along with it.  And, oh yes, Ivy—I’m not kidding, Queen Chlorophyll herself wearing little more than a leaf and a smile—out on the patio.  We will not discuss what she was doing out there, other than to say it’s lucky for you that I know that’s an alternate universe.”  She broke into an exaggerated cheery smile.  “So what’s happening down here?”

“For now, the dimensional anomalies seem confined to the house,” Batman noted dryly.  “Dr. Leiverman is checked in at the Hyatt and the Wayne Foundation has provided him with an office in town, all the computer resources he’ll need, and Oracle has established a shielded network so we can send him as much data as… as is prudent.  He says he’ll be available 24/7 for any kind of consultation until this is over.”

“24/7,” Selina noted.  “He’s another one that doesn’t eat and sleep, I take it?”

“No scientist would sleep with something like this dangling in front of him,” Batman told her.  “He knows only a tenth of what’s really happening and he had tears in his eyes:  culmination of his life’s work, etc.”

“Okay,” Selina said with that distinct ‘humor and handle them’ expression.  “That’s Alfred, and Dr. Leiverman.  Now how are you?”

“I’ve finally mapped out that scene looping in the study,” Batman answered brusquely.  “Still a fair amount of conjecture, since we can’t hear much of what’s being said.  And given the speed and violence of the battle playing out, it’s not easy to read their lips.  But the alien is called Despero; he obviously has mind control abilities and he evidently took control of several leaguers at some point before the… the anomaly that we’re seeing begins.  He appears to have had Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and “me” to start with, picked up Black Canary and Green Lantern as he went along, leaving Flash, Green Arrow, and Hawkman to fare as best they could—which isn’t very well from the looks of it.  Superman seems intent on protecting Alfred, who I’m evidently trying to attack… Despero goes after Superman; Red Tornado intervenes.  Zatanna appears, freezes Despero, and uses magic to snap everyone out of it.” 

“Fascinating,” Selina said, like she’d rather have heard Joker tell the octopus joke.

“From the body language and the remarks I was able to observe, I suspect this League’s history isn’t very different from ours,” Batman said coldly.

“I see,” Selina murmured.  Then in an obvious attempt to change the subject, she turned to Jason.  “Ettie have any input on this?”

“Etrigan has not spoken since his outburst yesterday when the two of you looked into the water. He’s gone quiet before and it’s usually bad news, but this feels very different.  This is… When an animal is sick or injured, it retreats from the world, an instinct to hide itself lest it appear weak before predators.”

“You’re saying Etrigan is hiding under the bed like a puppy with a warm nose?”

“Not a perfect analogy, perhaps,” Jason admitted.  “All I can say is it doesn’t feel like one of his conniving silences.  I believe something is… very, very wrong.”

Batman touched several controls on the workstation and a large hologram of the manor floorplan appeared in the center of the cave.  He took a light pen and marked off the upstairs hallway leading to the bedrooms and the Great Hall.  Then he turned to Selina.

“Where did you say Ivy appeared?” he asked casually.

“North corner of the patio,” she answered just as calmly.  “We’re charting the dimension leaks,” she told Jason sweetly.  “When reality bubbles are popping all around you, you’ve got to do something to stay grounded, and we’re doing this.”

“Can we be so sure these are dimensional variations and not temporal ones?” Jason asked, trying to get into the nonchalant spirit of the conversation. 

“Yes, we can,” Selina said firmly.  She turned away, rather less casually, and joined Batman at the hologram.  She pointed to a glowing mark on the grid, indicating (Jason surmised) the apparition of a costume party in the Great Hall.  She said something softly, and Batman tapped a small palm console with a stylus.  A time notation appeared next to the glowing point on the hologram.  They repeated this exercise for the patio and the upstairs hallway. 

Jason cleared his throat, prepared to try again. 

“What I meant was that the first of these ‘visions’ to manifest was the final confrontation between Azrael and Batman, which really occurred in our reality, didn’t it Bruce, in just the way you saw?”

“Jason, for pity’s sake!” Selina exclaimed, wheeling on him like a charging wildcat, “Did you not see that goggled, flat chested insult to all things Catwoman straight out of the pages of the Gotham fucking Post standing in the study every 43 minutes?”

Batman gave the console a final tap and turned silently back to his workstation, absorbing himself in the graphs on the screen.  Jason Blood, he reflected, might be an immortal with the experience of a dozen lifetimes under his belt, he might have seen nether realms and possess magical sensitivities that could foresee a man’s destiny or penetrate secret identities—but never had the limitations of “special powers” been clearer if, for all those advantages, he didn’t know better than to pull that particular cat’s tail. 

Neither Bruce nor Batman had mentioned the “goggle-cat” in the Justice League scene since the apparition’s first appearance.  It had been the elephant in the room all night with Selina, every time Black Canary’s KREE signaled the scene was repeating again in the study.  Bruce knew better than to introduce any subject that could lead up to it, and his strategist’s brain had quickly mapped out all topics that could lead to that unwanted destination.  He could guess how the prospect of any Catwoman anywhere resembling, even superficially, the Gotham Post’s depiction of her would antagonize Selina to the point of… to the point of… Well, that was the troubling question, wasn’t it…

“Jason,” Selina was saying testily, “It may, in fact, be a matter of time until Hawkman hits Bruce with a clock, but short hair, zip-up biker chick catsuit and goggles ARE NOT NEGOTIABLE!  It’s not just how they look—although they look terrible (and look at me, Jason, am I going to mess with a look that can rock Batman back on his heels?)—It’s what they MEAN!  They’re that guttertrash East End whore, and if you think for one minute that I—”

“I’m going to call Alfred,” Batman announced quietly, while Jason slid his hands into his pockets and patiently waited out the storm.  Bruce removed his cowl, ran his fingers through his hair, and walked thoughtfully to the kitchen.

…When it was just pixels on a page, nothing more than the blatant lies of a supermarket tabloid, Selina had been moved to overturn her life and interrupt her career as Catwoman in order to stand on a stage and make the truth known.  Now it was a life-size three-dimensional image.  But not flesh and blood, Bruce quickly noted.  He was acutely aware that, whatever these apparitions seemed to be, whatever he theorized about them as alternate realities, they could be nothing more than illusions created to manipulate them.  It could all be nothing more than a shadowplay designed to provoke a response.  

The possibilities with respect to Selina were truly… frightening.  Ra’s said she was the heart of the coming apocalypse.  Jason said it.  And Etrigan said it.  What if…

“Practical,” Selina spat, coming up behind him, continuing some dialogue all her own.  “Stupidest goddamn thing I ever heard, what does a man with two-tone hair—never wore a catsuit a day in his life—know about practical, hmm?  You want to talk practical, Handsome, lose the cape!  Kittlemeier’s been on you about it since he saw that movie.”

Bruce watched her affectionately as she stormed around the kitchen pulling tins from the cupboard and slamming a teapot down on the counter, all the while muttering about the “impractical” lengths women go to with mascara, curling irons, and leg wax.  Reality was melting all around them, Existence itself threatening to implode, and she was ranting about her costume.

“Maybe you really are the apocalypse,” he said quietly. 

Wayne Manor, Mundus Alius 3

It was fifteen years since Thomas Wayne Jr. had wrested control of the Wayne fortune from his father, and twelve since he’d ejected the miserable old coot from the manor.  So how in the name of a Manus Masked Owl did Alfred Pennyworth get back inside the house? 

Pennyworth.  That repulsive sycophant that had to “stay with the senior Mr. Wayne” even when Tommy Jr. offered to triple his salary.  Of course, he’d only wanted Pennyworth to stay in order to deprive his father of that last retainer.

But Pennyworth wouldn’t hear of it.  Tommy knew that must mean he had dirt on Wayne Sr. that made employment there more profitable.  And Tommy wanted that dirt—but when bribery failed, and a few go-rounds with the business end of a lit cigar on that gnarled liver-spotted hand failed to produce anything useful, Tommy gave the old man a broken wrist to remember him by and sent him on his way.

So how—how was it possible that he’d just seen Alfred fucking Pennyworth walk down the hall and into the kitchen?  Since then, there hadn’t been any sign of the old snake, but Tommy would find him if he had to tear the house apart piece by piece. 

∞ ∞ ∞

Wayne Manor, Here and Now

Bruce sipped his tea and looked suspiciously at Selina.

“How did you make this?” he asked while she loaded the pot, milk, sugar, and Jason’s mug onto a tray to bring down to the cave.  She smiled secretly, but didn’t respond to his question. 

“Selina,” he repeated, “That’s Alfred’s tea exactly.  How did you make this?”

“Hot water and tea, how else?” she said, starting for the elevator in Alfred’s pantry.

Bruce’s determination to learn the answer was evident by the sudden, perceptible density shift—followed by the Bat-voice.

“There are only four tins of tea in this kitchen,” he said, following her to the elevator.  “I’ve tried them all, nothing tastes like this.  Dick’s tried to make it; Barbara’s tried.  I think once Leslie tried.  It never comes out like this.  Selina, I’m going to ask you one more time, and you’re going to tell me.  How did you make this?”

˜˜Alfred taught her when the girl Stephanie-Spoiler came to my realm.˜˜

The words sounded in Bruce’s mind, an eerie but familiar mind-voice. 

“Did you hear that?”  Selina asked, growing pale.

˜˜Leave us, Dark Mortal.˜˜

“I know that voice,” Selina said, turning towards a clammy patch of cold she felt stirring at her right arm.  The cold congealed into a whitish mist; split into two parts, half white and half black; and then solidified further into the body of a woman.  Half of her face was lovely; half ugly and misshapen.  From her waist up, her skin was pink and alive, while her waist down was dead and rotting.

“Hella,” Selina greeted the figure with a sickly smile,  “Bruce, you remember Hella, goddess of the underworld, daughter of Loki, girlfriend of that big demon-ugly that took over Robinson Park last year, turned everybody into Berserkers and tried to bring on Ragnarok.”

˜˜Janus and I are no longer together,˜˜ the mind-voice announced, regal but somewhat defensive.  ˜˜He has departed the Fifth Circle and elected to go ‘on walkabout’ in the infinite void.  No one misses him. He was a minor god—of doorways, and the mortal cults which worshipped him passed long ago into the ether.˜˜

She turned to Bruce sharply.

˜˜I told thee to leave us, Dark Mortal. And thy opinion of Janus’s motive for leaving the Netherworld thou may keepest to thyself.  I would speak to the sister in private.  If it will induce thee to leave us alone, thou may converse with thy parents, who wait for thee beyond that door.˜˜

“I will not leave you alone with her,” Bruce growled, stepping between Hella and Selina.  “And I will not believe that anything you conjure is my parents.  It might look like them, sound like them, but—”

KREEEEEEE

“Oh good, that’s just what was needed,” Selina muttered.

Hella turned towards the sound of the piercing Canary Cry, and walked, fascinated, towards it.  Bruce and Selina looked at each other, then followed.  They reached the study just as Zatanna made her entrance and froze the finheaded alien attacking Superman. 

“-POTS!  Eugael ekaw pu!” she cried.

˜˜Behold, Sister.  Behold, Dark Mortal.  Behold the cancer, the Mother of Oblivion, the heir of that which should not be and so will not be.  Your fault, Empty One. Your magick.  You would not be content with rabbit and dove, you would not be content with illusion.  ‘The Great’ ‘The Amazing’ ‘The Master of Illusion’—You would not be content.  You had to know true magick.  Edging your way to the center of the invisible labyrinth, was it worth it, Empty One?  Talking backwards, you could not go back.  Such power without cost.  Knew you what cancer you brought into being?  Knew you what this, your true child, would bring forth in the hands of your blood child?˜˜

A man with white hair suddenly stood beside her, in the white tie and tails of an old-fashioned stage magician.  His right hand was stained with blood, his left held a tophat with the bloody carcass of a white rabbit resting inside.  Selina shrank back from the image. 

“That’s the man from the posters in Zatanna’s apartment,” she whispered to Bruce.  “Her father?  Zatara?”

Bruce nodded, and Zatara turned to both of them and offered a slight nod that was almost a bow.

“You can see us,” Bruce noted.  “None of the others have.”

“I am not like others,” he said.  “I am not like any other.  I am—I was, like you.  I am of your world, and I was born, like you, to live and die a man and hold no sway over the powers of the cosmos.  I was an Illusionist, but I wanted, like all who deal in smoke and mirrors, to believe there was something more.  I married a woman born of mystics.  Her people were all magic-folk, they toiled for their powers, they crafted it over generations, it was—she was—quite… beautiful.  And I was seduced.  

“I could not live content in a world where such powers existed when I had none but the cheap trickery of stagecraft.  So I found my way to the maze, to the hollow at the center of all.  There I found the power I craved.  And it was Empty.  It was ash in my mouth, talking backwards.  But there was no returning, no way back.  Talking backwards, walking backwards, there was no way to go back.  So I hid in illusion and the cheap trickery of stagecraft once more.  Strings and sleight of hand.”  He turned to Hella before adding “And then death.” 

“Okay,” Selina said calmly.  “Couple questions.  First, while that was all very poetic, is there a reason none of you people can ever come right out with a nice straightforward explanation?  Just up and announce ‘They’ve got priceless cat icons in the vault at Sotheby’s, I’m going after them tonight, stop me if you can?’”

Zatara looked at her with a sadly amused smile, then at his daughter who he watched intently as he spoke.

“Can one ever tell a headstrong young woman something she doesn’t want to hear?” he said.  “I’ve said as much as I dare, Selina Kyle.  What I have wrought is my own burden.”

“Well that’s useful,” Selina said acidly.  “Hella, your turn.  Why me?  Why bring this whole magical mess to me, hmm?  Do I look like Harry Potter to any of you?”

“I came here, Sister, because it is the place to be.  I brought the Empty One because he is under geas to speak, that the spark which smolders be put out before it bursts into flame that consumes all.  The Music of the Universe will not be silenced.”

The room darkened perceptibly, and a spotlight from nowhere fell on Zatara.

“The Fire of the Berliani comes again,” he said.  “won sdne arataz.”

Blackness fell like a tarp over the study, there was a clap of thunder, a flash of lightning, and when normal lighting returned, Bruce and Selina were alone—until an eight-year-old boy that looked very much like Bruce came running through the room with a deerstalker cap and a magnifying glass. 

“Come Watson,” the boy called, “The game’s afoot.  The Hound of the Baskervilles awaits us!”

He ran out, and again Bruce and Selina were alone.

“Well,” she said after a long moment, “If we live through this, Eddie’s going to have his work cut out for him.  This is going to be hard to top.”

Wayne Manor, Mundus Alius 3

Tommy Wayne still hadn’t worked out how Alfred Pennyworth got into his house.  He still hadn’t found where Pennyworth was hiding.  But he’d uncovered the first clue as to what the limey scum was up to on his father’s behalf…

His father, the sniveling rat-bastard coward.  It was Thomas Wayne Sr. who was responsible for Bruce and his mother being killed in that alley.  Tommy had a hunch he’d engineered it: give her a fat strand of pearls, lead her right to the gunman and be done with her—maybe score some insurance and move on to fresher meat.  And Bruce, his little brother Bruce, must’ve got in the way.  But even if his father hadn’t engineered the murders, he never ate a bullet.  Tommy knew the only way his father could have survived that encounter was by striking some cowardly bargain with the gunman.  He’d vowed to take down that monster, and that vow gave birth to Owlman.  As Owlman, he’d come into contact with beings of incredible power—incredible power and no more brains than dirt.  Ultraman was easier to maneuver than a trained spaniel; Superwoman could be kept in line with a good fuck every few weeks; Power Ring was just smart enough to see who was really running things and he kissed ass accordingly; and Johnny Quick was helplessly bound to whoever could provide his next fix.

In controlling those four, Owlman controlled the world—which was gratifying, but it had taken time away from his vendetta against his father.  He’d let the old bastard live too long, and now look at the result:  his flunky Pennyworth roaming free in the house.  His flunky Pennyworth freeing Selina.

Tommy had just seen her walking into the morning room just as casually as Pennyworth himself had gone into the kitchen earlier.

Selina.  In the MANOR.  It was obscene.  Downright kinky, in fact.  So kinky Tommy was sorry he hadn’t thought of it himself—but not like this.  Her place was in the cave, on her leash, with just enough chain to reach the gym to keep herself fit and pretty, to reach the bar to pour his drinks when he returned from patrol, and to reach the niche under his workstation to… entertain him while he logged the night’s plunder.

∞ ∞ ∞

KREEEEEEE

Jason and Bruce remained impassive as the echo of distant canary cry reached the Batcave.  Selina looked hatefully towards the clock passage and made a scratching motion, then returned her attention to the meeting. 

“The Berliani,” Jason said anxiously.  “You’re certain he said The Berliani?”

“The Fire of the Berliani comes again,” Batman quoted.  “That’s what Zatara’s ‘ghost’ said right before he incanted himself out of existence.  What does it mean?”

“It means our situation is very dire,” Jason answered. 

“We knew that,” Batman said coldly.  “Anything more specific?”

“I’m afraid not, not until I can do some research.  I recognize the name, it’s… a very obscure legend among magic-users.  I don’t recall the details.”  He closed his eyes with a pained expression.  “And I trust it is not Etrigan keeping me from remembering.  He is still very quiet.  It is most disconcerting.”

“I’m more interested in what Hella said,” Batman noted brusquely, reopening several screens on the workstation.  “She used the same phrases as Selina when you asked what she saw in the water:  a spark smoldering that will become a flame—and evidently burn up most, if not all, of existence.  And then she said ‘the music of the universe won’t be silenced.’ Remember what Dr. Leiverman said about string theory, that there was an ancient Hindu sect that believed almost the same things that string theory is based on?  The entire universe is sound, vibrating filaments of sound.  That’s why all the chanting, by the way, to tie into the primal sound of the universe.”

“Y-yes,” Jason said uncertainly, as if sensing a trap.

Batman pointed to the largest screen looming over the cave, which displayed a perfect sine wave.

“That’s what sound looks like: waves.  Sound waves.  A pure tone is a perfect sine wave.”  He pressed a button and a low, steady tone played on the right desktop speaker. 

“This is the same tone 180-degrees out of phase,” Batman said, bringing up a second wave displayed immediately beneath it.  He pressed a series of buttons and the right speaker turned off, then the same tone emanated from the left speaker.

“The tone is the same because it’s the same frequency, but this is 180-degrees out of phase.” 

Another series of buttons and both speakers played.  The effect was strange, Jason noted, like someone was repeatedly covering and uncovering his ears at opposite intervals and at a high rate of speed.  He actually had to grab the back of the chair to steady his balance for a moment as his equilibrium shifted.

“Waves are mathematical, zero sum.  Add opposites together, they cancel each other out.” 

Batman took a speaker in each hand, brought them close together, sitting them only inches apart on the desk, and turned them to face each other. The sound volume dropped to nothing.

After a moment, Batman pulled the speakers apart again and turned off the tones.

“The ‘music’ of the universe won’t be silenced?” he graveled.  “If Leiverman is right, if everything that exists, energy and matter, is all vibrating strings—and magic is a way of changing their vibrations…  Jason, think about it, alternate dimensions bleeding in all over this house.  What if two of them, two magic-users, reached out at exactly the same time in exactly the same way to change a given string’s vibration—and that is the result!”  He pointed at the main screen as the two waves merged into a single flat line. 

“There’s your spark—they stopped a string from vibrating—to use the Hindu analogy, they silenced the music of existence in one spot, -spark-,”  He snapped his fingers.  “And now it’s… smoldering, literally smoldering in the fabric of space-time, one stilled String, slowing or stopping others around it.  Little patches of instability popping up at random, but eventually…”

“An inferno,” Jason said grimly.  “An inferno of… negation?  Silencing the music of being.”

Neither man said anything more, and after a few seconds, it occurred to Batman that Selina hadn’t made any contribution to the conversation.  He looked over, and she had performed that maneuver only she could: curling into a feline ball, a seemingly impossible feat in the Batcave chairs, and falling asleep.

He jerked his head sharply to the side, signaling Jason to follow him across the cave.

“Let her be,” he said in a hushed whisper.  “She hasn’t slept in two nights, between the anomalies last night and Joker the night before.”

Jason hid his amusement that, of course, Batman knew Selina’s secret about not sleeping while he was out battling Joker.  Instead, he returned to the more pressing issue, matching Batman in the quiet intensity of his whisper. 

“Let’s say you’re correct, two or more magic users trying to ‘affect’ the same strings at the same moment.  Since Wayne Manor seems to be the heart of the cosmic disturbance, can we assume the seeing ritual I began with Selina is one of those ‘inciting incidents?’”

“No,” Batman said definitely.  “You hadn’t even started it, Jason.”

“Selina was involved, Bruce.  And Selina is the heart of this.”

“She didn’t do anything!” Batman hissed emphatically. 

“She hates Zatanna,” Jason said simply.

“Jason, between us, if that was enough to start an apocalypse, we’d be on cosmic annihilation thirty-five since January.”

Jason looked across the cave to the chair where Selina slept, then turned back to Batman.

She looked into the water and screamed,” he said.  “Etrigan looked into the water and screamed and hasn’t been heard from since.  Bruce… I really think that ceremony is the key.”

“IF you’re right, then what?  If that ceremony is the key, and if this whole crisis really is multiple dimensions magically accessing the same strings, then which are they, how do we find them? What did we touch?”

“I don’t know.  I truly don’t know.”  Again he turned and watched Selina sleep.  “But she may.”

“Let her have her catnap,” Batman instructed.

Rather than press, Jason smiled.

“Bruce, she’s not really a cat.”

Batman too had turned to watch her sleep, and his lip twitched markedly at this comment.

“Isn’t she?  Look at that, grabbing ten minutes wherever she can.  Jason, I’ve known that woman for a very long time, and there’s more to it than a name to rob jewelry stores by.  She is a cat-woman in so many ways.  I don’t claim to understand it, but—Jason?”

Jason Blood’s face had gone deathly pale.

“That—” he sputtered, then swallowed.  “That possibility had not occurred to me.  That— Bruce, no, she’s an ordinary woman.  She couldn’t—  If—”

Jason felt his heart pounding in his ears as it hadn’t for decades.  Selina Kyle was an absolute cocktail of contradictions.  Dark circles and such tired eyes that morning, unable to sleep because Batman had been out late battling the Joker.  Reference the fact that she began as Batman’s enemy, and she wouldn’t blush.  Not so much as an awkward glance or a discomfited pause would answer you—a naughty grin was the most likely response.  Now she was his wife in all but name, but the slightest hint at that obvious reality would bring embarrassed denials, angry hissing, and probably a lifetime exile from the Wayne dinner table and the pleasures of Leg of Lamb a la Pennyworth.

“Spit it out, Jason.  What are you trying to say?”

“Cats are unique in the magic world, Bruce.  They’re the exception to every rule.  Their ‘essence’ is a mystery, and they defy any means of classification necessary to make the magicks run true.  Trying to hex one can bring about the most unpredictable reversals.  The powers of a black cat potion are the most difficult to call or control… I, I shudder to think what magic performed on a ‘purple cat’ might—”

DON’T say what I think you’re about to say, Jason.  Don’t even think it.”

“Infinite dimensions, Bruce.  Think about it:  Zatara was named as the source of a cancer.  Zatara’s magic living on in Zatanna, who we know has abused her powers in at least one reality.  If any Zatanna anywhere in any dimension tried to cast a spell on Selina—”

Batman’s fist pulled back in a blinding blur and stopped short within inches of Jason’s jaw.  Through the eyeslits of the mask, Jason saw the same lifeless, isolated emptiness he’d seen on Bruce as he watched Selina take her seat at the ritual table.

“I see you already have thought about it,” Jason said shrewdly.

Batman turned on his heel and left the cave.

To be continued…


 

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