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

String Theory by Chris Dee

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Batman, Jason, Superman, Etrigan and Hella waited in study as the decimated grandfather clock miraculously reset itself and a soft, methodical ticking began, underscoring the tense silence.

“How will we know if she’s succeeding?” Superman whispered to Jason Blood.

“We’ll know,” Batman graveled definitely.

Jason regarded Batman coldly and, as the question had been directed at him and not Bruce, he turned to Superman and answered it.

“I’m not sure there will be any perceptible signs on this plane,” he said apologetically.

“We’ll know,” Batman repeated.

The seconds ticked by in a slow, ominous rhythm.  Everyone remained still until Superman and Jason abruptly turned, as if trying to confirm a faint and not quite audible sound.  Etrigan didn’t say a word but calmly put his arm around Hella.  The sound that wasn’t exactly a sound grew more distinct.

“Is that… music?” Jason asked.

“It’s her,” Batman said, nodding towards Hella. 

The noise rose to become distinctly identifiable as Hella’s mindvoice, but it “sang,” not with her usual monotone, but as several different melodic voices, all female, softly warbling some ancient Nordic lament.

Etrigan explained:

“Every mortal knows
One day he breathes his final breath.
Not so us, these anxious woes.
‘Tis new to us, these thoughts of death.”

“No one is going to die,” Batman growled.  “Selina will get there… Be ready.”

The clock ticked again… ticked… ticked… until the tension got the best of Jason and he took a sharp, and sharply audible, breath.  The release was contagious, and in the next second Superman echoed it.  Another second ticked by, and then the edgy silence was cut by a third sharp intake of breath which made everyone start.

“Good heavens,” Alfred exclaimed as everyone turned. 

“Alfred, I said stay away until I gave the all-clear,” Batman graveled.

“I could not, in good conscience, sir, when the situation was clearly—”

“Never mind, there’s no time now.  Go to the far side of the house and stay—”

KREEEEEEEEEE

“Too late,” Batman muttered as the ear-splitting wail of Canary Cry sounded just before the wall beside the clock exploded into shards as an AU chimera of Superman was hurled through it and a chimera of that world’s Alfred Pennyworth, invisible a moment before, ran to his crumpled form.

“My word,” the present Alfred exclaimed.

“I’ll explain later,” Batman said gruffly as his mind-controlled doppelganger entered through the shattered wall and crouched to attack.  While Alfred gaped, the jaded observers barely registered these familiar developments.  Five pairs of eyes: human, Kryptonian and demonic, all scanned the emerging scene for a single figure who might vary from the well-worn script.

After a moment, “Catwoman”—the goggled variety—came into view as she always did through the dark mist of settling rubble.  She was still in the cave, at the base of the staircase now visible through the ruptured wall.  She was hunched over, as always, protecting her ears from the excruciating Canary Cry… she rose, just as always… she reached for her whip, just as always… and then… then… she froze, midreach, and shuddered as her face puckered into a mute howl of outrage as she realized what she was wearing.  Her whole upper body spasmed in revolted shock, and she seemed to twist in several upward half-turns, as if trying to extract herself from some clinging, stinking goo. 

“That’s her,” Batman announced. 

Green Lantern was zapping wildly around the chamber, trying to prevent Flash from reaching Despero—while Catwoman ripped the goggles off her face and flung them into the power beam.  They popped into a ball of green flame before falling as a flaccid ember, and then crumbling to ash as they hit the cave floor.  None of the observers needed Batman’s skill to read her lips clearly:  “I. wore. goggles!”

“C’mon, c’mon,” Batman urged.  “Selina, you’re not moving where you did in the old timeline, get out of the way, get out of the way.

She shook herself again and dashed deeper into the cave just as Aquaman hurled a huge stone fragment at the spot where she stood.  She ran past the point where the observers could see but where they knew the vortex was located. 

Tense seconds passed during which Superman, then Jason, then Etrigan, and finally Hella all stole glances at Batman.

“Breathe,” Superman suggested.

“We could never see beyond what’s visible from this room,” he said tersely.  “We don’t know what she’s up against back there.  She could—”

At that moment, she was hurled back into view with what looked to be Martian Manhunter coiled around her thigh and Flash around his.  They landed in an unseemly ball, from which Catwoman was the first to emerge, stabbing Flash with jagged shards of purple glass.  He seemed to be apologizing, he was trying to protect her, but his protests were cut short by another “chain” of hurdling heroes, this time Black Canary, Green Arrow, Aquaman, and a sizable chunk of the display case containing Jason Todd’s costume.

Catwoman marched furiously up from the cave and into the study, as heedless of the airborne energy beams, batarangs, and heroes as she was in her own reality where these were formless phantoms.  For one unable to see into their world, she judged admirably where the half circle of observers would be standing in the study and waved the shards of broken glass furiously at them, mouthing a single name distinctly:  “JASON!”  She happened to be standing directly in front of Etrigan as she said it, and he gestured with a gamely grin for Blood to take this one himself, by all means.

“MARTIAN— JACKASS— BROKE— THE— WITCH— ORB” Catwoman mouthed distinctly.

In the chaos of the battle, none of the Justice League seemed to notice the one non-participant removing herself from the melee.  Only Despero turned to watch the deranged woman waving her arms at nothing like a South American dictator haranguing an imaginary populace.

“Jason, do something,” Batman hissed. 

“Яέςŧįŧůo φŗБιs,” Jason Blood decreed, and Catwoman started as the fragments in her hand quivered and rose, flashing white, and then floating for a split second as a reconstituted whole before dropping heavy again into her hand.  She offered a grateful smile-shrug before being flung into the wall by the backlash of a green energy mace aimed at Flash.

The Batman of the present flinched, the instinct to act colliding fullspeed with the rational knowledge that there was nothing he could do.  Jason was able to affect that world, he was able to repair the orb for her, but all Bruce could do was stand helpless and watch while the woman he loved was in danger.  Mind, body and soul all screamed for him to do something, but there was nothing, literally nothing he could possibly…  No one but Clark noticed the flinch, and he silently placed a hand on Bruce’s shoulder.

In the throes of the energy beam, Catwoman wrapped and twisted her body swiftly around the orb, hoping to shield the fragile ball from the impact, but causing her back to hit the wall with a force she clearly didn’t expect.  She seemed dazed for a moment, then shook it off and turned her attention to the orb she was cradling—and her face creased again into that lemon-pucker of disgust. 

“THIS WOMAN HAS NO TITS!” she mouthed in distinctly outraged contempt—

—And the Bruce of the present let out a thankful breath.  That she could still rant about her appearance in the face of all that chaos and turmoil…

While her outburst had no more sound than the rest of the anomaly in the here and now, it was clearly audible in Catwoman’s reality, for Green Arrow froze mid-swing and turned to her in disbelief—permitting Batman to smash him in the back of the head with a brass bookend.  His opponent vanquished, he turned his attention to Catwoman, as Martian Manhunter swung Superman into a headlock.

“It’s begun,” Jason muttered.  “If she can’t get into position because of Batman’s… attentions, this could be exceedingly—”

“She can do it,” Batman declared with calm certainty.

As if to validate his words, Catwoman’s hip, back and shoulder dipped as one, undulating in a graceful waving motion that seemed to both yield to Batman’s aggressive attack and blend with it, sending him sliding over her onto Green Arrow’s crumpled mass, while Despero lifted Hawkman by the throat and yanked the wings from his back in a single vicious stroke. 

“My favorite part,” Catwoman’s mouthed, squirming out of the way before Batman could rise.  “Now cue the clock,” she said, racing to get to her mark.

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 Catwoman reached her position by the bookcase.

“Big red robot,” she said, extracting the yagi baton from her sleeve just as Red Tornado entered. 

“Superman,” she breathed, sliding her finger through the little circle in the base of the witch orb and then holding it high over her head, eying the spot where the claw-footed table would rest if it hadn’t been blasted into splinters.

“ßųŁŁą Îģήσŧųş,” Jason Blood murmured quietly in the present.  “ßųŁŁą Îģήσŧųş ĄſſıЯшσ et ąđЯogaήŧia…  May it be enough to shield you, child.

Superman charged—as always…  Catwoman’s heart pounded.
Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and Black Canary fell on Red Tornado—as always… Her heart pounded.
Despero grabbed Superman, and the room yellowed with the glow of his telepathic mind-beam… And Catwoman’s heart pounded as she brought the yagi baton into alignment with the witch orb, holding it as low as possible, so a perfect arc might form from the claw-footed table through the orb and into the baton, an arc which would pass directly through the spot where—

—A spark of pink-white fire exploded—

—and Zatanna materialized, hovering grandly over the room.

“POTS!” Zatanna ordered —and the room erupted into a rainbow of sizzling coils of snaking, snapping lightbeams.  A trio of twisting funnel energy sprung into being at the point where, in other worlds, the claw-footed table still stood un-obliterated.  It thrust in an upward arc towards the ceiling, warping around Zatanna in a cocoon of glowing energy, and arced back down into the yagi baton held by Catwoman, jolting her into a rigid stance as one paralyzed by a high voltage shock.  Both her arms, the right holding the witch orb aloft, the left holding the yagi baton low, shook with the magical voltage surging between the two objects, and she winced and squinted from the unexpected heat of the lightning-like energy.  The effect coursing up her arms was akin to a powerful and constantly shifting recoil, as if she was holding high-pressure hoses in place with unimaginable energies gushing through. 

One of the snapping snakeheads of energy whipping free of the main arc passed through Hawkman’s severed wings, igniting a smoky, smoldering flame that none of the leaguers, mind-controlled or free, seemed to notice.  Everyone’s attention was riveted on Zatanna, her body contorting wildly in the honeycomb of energy thrashing and crackling around her. 

Sounds began to bleed into the present reality, the crackling of the beams in the anomaly, a baby crying, Bruce’s voice “No, no, I like going,” and then in an entirely different tone of voice “How about blue,” morphing finally into a pained murmur “You’re hurt. You lost a lot of blood…”  Selina’s voice answered “Not that much”  “But you just got back from patrol…” “A crimefighter with a purse? I don’t think so, Stud.” “I wasn’t sleeping. I heard the whole thing.  Bruce, what in God’s name is going on with you and the League?”

Superman jumped back as the ghostly chimeras of other Bruce Waynes folded and unfolded in the space in front of him, one in the batsuit, one not.  Each were seated at the claw-footed table across from—Superman blinked—a variety of figures that faded in and out of visibility, but all of which bore an unsettling resemblance to Lex Luthor.

“I knew it was true, but I don’t think I really believed it,” he muttered, inaudible over the rising noise level.

“Hella,” Jason said, straining to be heard as Selina’s scream from the original seeing joined the other sounds rising in a whirlpool of strangely ordered chaos.  “Hella,” He repeated, then paused tersely. “…Be ready…”

Superman explained quickly to Alfred, “When Zatanna’s power is gone, the crisis is presumably ended and our ability to see into this reality would cease.  Hella’s job is to hold the visual portal open from that point on.”

Despero—like everyone—was momentarily distracted by Zatanna’s arrival and the resulting pyrotechnics.  But he recovered himself quickly and returned his attention to Superman, captive in his clutches.  Deciding that whatever the explosive arc of energy was, he’d rather face it with Superman in his power, he resumed his effort to take control of Superman’s mind. 

“Etrigan, quickly,” Jason prompted.

But before the demon could speak, the telepathic beam appeared again from Despero’s third eye.  But instead of blasting into Superman’s forehead as before, it shot off-course at a sharp angle, tilting sideways away from Superman and across the room into the yagi baton.  Everyone in the present reality gasped as the beam hit the baton and Catwoman contorted from the force of the hit.  She struggled to keep her balance as the new force flowed directly into the baton, while the energy flow from Zatanna continued to be drawn, somewhat more erratically, into the baton by way of the orb.  More snake-like wisps began striking out from the main beams and snapping randomly around the room, and Catwoman strained to keep the orb positioned between the baton and the Zatanna beams. 

In the present reality, the sound increased, the extra power vibrating through the room like a giant generator. Batman took one look at Catwoman, struggling to keep control of the power coursing around her, and he threw all logic aside. He leaped across the room toward her, braced himself right behind where she stood and tried to wrap his arms around her, trying to provide additional support, to add his strength to hers… anything to somehow help her out. Of course, his hands passed through her as if she was a ghost and he stumbled to the side.

Superman was instantly beside him and grabbed his shoulders, half-keeping him from falling and half-holding him back from trying that again. Surprisingly, Batman accepted the hold, instantly realizing the futility of his attempt. With just a hint of desperation creeping onto his face, he turned to Jason.

“Despero’s an alien,” Batman barked, “His power is from the Flame of Py’tar on his world; it isn’t magic. That shouldn’t be happening—”

“Etrigan, quickly,” Jason repeated.  “Bruce, it may not be what you classify as magic, but it is power driven by will.  That is essentially magic.  The yagi baton seems to think so.”

“DO SOMETHING!” he ordered.

Not impressed am I, thus far.
The Flames of Hell trump
The
Flame of Py’tar…
Chump.

The beam of light from Despero’s eye dissolved instantly into nothingness.

In the present reality, Superman whispered to Batman, “Power driven by will. Bruce, that means if Hal uses his ring, it would be drawn into the baton the same way.  She can’t possibly handle it.”

Bruce flinched again and felt Superman’s hands squeeze gently on his shoulder, more in a comforting gesture than anything else.  “I know,” he rasped.

Now still the blood of Kalanor.
And Will to cag’ed minds restore.

Despero stiffened and froze where he stood, and the mind-controlled Leaguers shook their heads in confusion.  Etrigan smiled smugly and posed for Hella, flexing his muscles.

Catwoman repositioned, clearly relieved by the minor improvement in her situation but still struggling to keep control of the orb and baton while the original power beams thickened and glowed whiter.  The free wisps and tendrils grew fewer and the light burned redder and thickened more—then bluer as the last snapping wisps joined the main arc—and finally the light beams blushed into a full, rich purple.  

The cacophony of layered sound fell away. 

With effort, Catwoman slowly brought her arm holding the yagi baton up and over her head, until at last she could bring it into contact with the witch orb.  The instant the baton touched the orb, Zatanna’s body arched violently backward until her head nearly touched her heels, then she snapped right and left within the glowing web of purple light, like a tree branch twisting in brutal gale-force winds.  Despite the physical strain of maintaining her position, the corner of Catwoman’s lip curled upward into the subtlest of feline smiles.  She hissed—and all the observers started—for that one sound echoed, clear and distinct and unnaturally loud, from the otherwise muted anomaly.  All other sound had ceased the moment the arc-light went purple, a slight re-pressurization had pulsed in everyone’s ears at the sudden eerie silence—and now before anyone could process what was happening, that hiss, feline and feral, sliced the silence—nature herself unleashing her wild, untamable scorn and her final, unappealable judgment. 

As one, Zatanna, Catwoman, and Hella jerked and the purple arc of light blinked into nothingness.

“It is done,” Hella said, a harsh strain deepening her normally dead monotone.  “The window into this world would close but for my hand that holds it open.  Speak, Dark Mortal, when thou hast seen thy fill, and thy home and manor shall be thine once more.  Of here and now alone and tainted by no other prospect.  One world and one truth, one—”

“Shh, later,” Batman spat, watching the anomaly intently as Catwoman slunk towards the corner while the recovering Leaguers clustered around Zatanna.

“Jason, it worked?” Superman asked urgently.  “They didn’t see what she did?”

“The spell I cast is called ßųŁŁą Îģήσŧųş,” Jason said, watching the Leaguers as critically as Batman was, seeking any clue as to their precise state of mind.  “A spell of validation, if you will, obscuring that which would contradict this League’s pride, and allowing them to see only that which affirms their worldview.”

“And since it’s inconceivable to this League that they’ve been cosmic outlaws and that it would fall on Catwoman to save the situation by stripping one of their own of her powers…” Superman mused.

“They never saw it,” Jason concluded.  “They seem to believe it was Zatanna who stopped Despero, just as before.”

They watched as the League argued among themselves. 

“It’s not inconceivable to all of them,” Bruce noted gravely.  “That world’s Batman, J’onn and Wally all looked her way in the first moments after Despero was frozen.  Batman and J’onn were still shaking off his influence, and whatever they glimpsed, they evidently attributed to that.  Wally, I’m not so sure.  He’s glanced at her a couple times, but then he realized they’re playing ‘settle the dust’ and redirected his attention to the League proper—for now.”

The cluster of heroes blocked the clock passage and the cave beyond, making it impossible for Catwoman to reach the vortex unnoticed.  Instead, she ducked quietly behind Bruce’s desk.  In the present reality, Batman stood closest to the desk and watched with some amusement as she opened the drawer “through” the space occupied by his leg, and quietly stashed the orb inside it.  Then she backed quietly away to tend to Alfred as her double had always done.

The Batman of the present calmly opened the drawer, and there sat the orb. 

“Zatanna’s magic,” Jason said. “Take it quickly. For Selina’s safety and ours, it cannot be removed too swiftly from the vicinity.  Pennyworth, if you would, as quickly as may be, take this item to some distant part of the housenot the cave, for these Leaguers may yet return there.  Take it to a part of the house that is private and little used.”

Alfred nodded and did as he was asked, hesitating for only a moment at the door to regard Catwoman helping his otherworldly twin to his feet.

“Little help here,” Catwoman said—as she knew her goggled double always had at this point in the proceedings to announce her presence.  In fact, she spoke a little sooner than the double did, but she was so infuriated by what she was hearing, she wanted to make sure she was in the conversation before Zatanna attempted to poof out.  She had witnessed this scene countless times in the anomaly: the League clustered around Zatanna, the gestures, the hair toss, so she knew exactly when Zatanna planned to depart.  But hearing the words that went with the pointing and headshakes—

“I used magic to stop him and rid you all of his influence.  I didn’t ask for your permission or for a show of hands.”

—the italicized barbs directed so pointedly at Batman.  Even though this wasn’t her Bruce and she knew nothing of him, it made Selina’s blood boil.  She wondered if the “rule of three” about using magic to inflict harm applied to non-magically shoving a yagi baton down someone’s throat.  Or up their—

Whatever.  She had to do something.  So she jostled her shoulder to support Alfred’s weight and spoke.

“Little help here,” she repeated, a little louder this time.

Batman turned to her, concerned, and spoke on cue. 

“You’re both wounded, here let me—” 

“Your rug is on fire,” she pointed out coolly, interrupting just as her counterpart always had, but undoubtedly with different words. 

“And now I have some unfinished business to attend to,” Zatanna announced importantly behind him.

“Rug is on fire,” Catwoman repeated, though no one but Alfred was listening to her. 

“You mean the Secret Society,” Batman spat, wheeling back on Zatanna. 

“Hawkman’s wings, been smoldering on the floor there for a couple minutes now,” Selina pointed out to Alfred. “Just sprouted a little red flame…”

“I created this mess, Batman,” Zatanna said, clearly building to a big exit line.

“…and is quietly devouring the Aubusson carpet while these idiots stand around belaboring the obvious…” 

“ll’I naelc ti pu,” Zatanna concluded.

Absolutely nothing happened following Zatanna’s incantation, and an apprehensive silence fell over the Justice League while Catwoman’s voice continued on, filing the silence with calm felinity.

“…which is either an elegant metaphor, an amusing irony, a tragic irony, or infuriating as hell.  I wore goggles, so you can guess how I’m inclined to see it.”

“ll’I naelc ti pu,” Zatanna repeated, slower and a bit louder.

“Hey Spitcurl, somebody with ice vision, cold breath,” Catwoman suggested. 

Flash looked at her piercingly. 

“…or maybe a pitcher of water,” she added, treating him to a coy smile.

“ll’I naelc ti pu,” Zatanna said again, distinctly.

“Zee, what’s wrong?” Green Lantern asked, concerned.

“Traped,” she said, and then when nothing happened, “I don’t know.  TRAPED.  TIXE.  OG.”

“Not gonna work, honey,” Catwoman said sweetly, offering a nodding salute with the baton as she turned to the door with a cheery.  “G’night everybody, try the veal.”

“Catwoman, wait,” Batman called abruptly, as did Flash. 

“The rest of you can show yourselves out,” Batman added hatefully, glaring at Flash.

“Zee, seriously, is this for real?” Green Arrow was saying.

“My wings are on fire,” Hawkman declared, standing over the smoldering remains.

“You guys are so screwed,” Catwoman muttered, as Superman finally put out the fire.

“I evael won,” Zatanna declared.

Catwoman leaned in and spoke confidentially to Batman, “The AA definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, exactly the same way, and expecting a different result.”

Although she had spoken softly, Superman turned slowly toward her and Batman, and she acknowledged that he was listening by making her next comment in a normal tone of voice and speaking pointedly in his direction.  “And much as I would love to stick around for Step 4:  ‘Making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves’ (and God help you all on Step 8: ‘Making a list of all persons you’ve harmed and making amends’), I wore goggles.  I wore goggles and this idiotic biker chick getup in which I have no goddamn tits.  So rather than stick around for what I’m sure will be the best bloody dinner theatre since the Roxy/Ivy catfight, I’m going home for a full fucking bodypeel!”

She turned and stormed towards the door, waving off Batman on the one side and Green Arrow on the other with a venomous “Nobody fucking touch me, I wore GOGGLES!”

“NAMOWTAC POTS!” Zatanna called out.

“AAARRRGGGHHH,” Catwoman screamed, never breaking stride.  The frustrated wail grew fainter, fainter, and was then punctuated by the violent slamming of the front door.

“That didn’t look good,” Jason observed, noting Catwoman’s muted but impassioned exit.

“No,” Batman concurred.

In the battle-torn study of the anomaly, the usually sound plaster rained a thin sprinkling of dust down onto the Justice League in response to Catwoman’s vicious door-slam.

“Out the front door,” Superman noted in the present, lightly directing focus from the phantom-League’s embarrassment.  “How will she—”

“Get back to the cave?” Batman completed the thought, “Around to the rose garden, past the conservatory and down through the Batmobile entrance.  The rate she’s going, it will take her about 5 minutes.”

“I see.  We should wait until she’s safely back before closing the portal,” Superman suggested.

Batman grunted and Hella nodded; then she looked around curiously.

“Where is Etrigan?” she asked in her usual monotone.

Jason shut his eyes, as if a heavy, painful weight had settled again on his shoulders. 

“He is… in the dining room, he followed Alfred to the dining room.  I can sense him.  The magic shackles that bind our souls are back in place.  Though he is still free physically in this world, we are joined again as we were before.  Once either of us speaks the incantation, it will be as it was.”

“Jason, I’m sorry,” Superman said sincerely.

“Don’t be.  A world where Etrigan runs free is… not something you want to experience, certainly not a world to have risked what we have risked in order to preserve.”

“POTS, she says!” they heard, distant but distinct in the cave.  “’Cause when your only tool is a hammer, you treat everything you see as a nail.  Smug, self-righteous—‘I made this mess,’ she says—Sure fucking did, sweetheart, and I had to wear east end gutter trash goggles to clean it up—POTS, my sweet purple ass, you parched…”

Batman nodded curtly at Hella, and she lowered her hands, closing her eyes.  She pursed her lips and blew a wispy glowing mist which slowly filled the room. 

Catwoman’s voice grew louder as she crossed the cave and approached the stairs to the study.

“…like to see how you’re gonna manage now, Cupcake.  Learn to drive or take the bus.  Pay $85 for a shampoo and set then get caught in the rain and ruin it, heh.  Iron a wine stain into your favorite blouse.  And oh yes, in at least one reality the almost-wife of the richest man in the country would like to ruin your life.  Good luck with that one…”

The remaining Leaguers and the physical debris of their anomaly dissolved into nothingness as it came into contact with the white filmy mist, and Catwoman’s voice, which had been growing steadily louder, now grew softer—

“…only booking you’ll be getting for the next 5 years is the Turtle Spirit Indian Casino in Bottleneck, North Dakota—opening for Tina Yothers…”

—as the mist reached the clock passage and the wall separating study from cave passage solidified. 

Almost immediately after the clock reset itself into physical reality, it clicked and opened, and Catwoman stepped through.  She glared around the room, exuding a fierce and feral hostility, so much so that, as her eyes landed on Superman and then Batman, one could almost envision a wildcat angrily thumping her tail, riling for a fight. 

“Gentlemen,” she snapped with quiet irritation.  “Your League sucks.”

“khm, well,” Superman coughed, as if to move on to a new subject.

“Welcome back, Selina,” Jason said mildly.

˜˜And well done, Sister,˜˜  Hella’s mindvoice added.

Catwoman said nothing in reply but merely stared, intently, at Batman.  A tense, silent moment stretched into two, then five, then nine. 

Superman coughed and nodded toward the door.  Jason and Hella filed out awkwardly, while the grandfather clock ticked, ominously underscoring the complete absence of any other sound in the room.  Superman fell into line behind Hella, glanced back for a split second at Batman and Catwoman, and then left the two alone.  The moment hung suspended in the icy stillness of a Gotham rooftop.  And then—

Selina lunged forward and threw her arms fiercely around Batman’s waist, burying her face between his neck and shoulder.

“It’s okay, Kitten,” he whispered into her hair.  “It’s over.  You’re home.”

She hugged him tighter but said nothing.  After a long moment, he began softly rubbing her back, and at last she spoke.

“I wore goggles,” she managed weakly.

“I know.  But they’re gone now.”

“Awful black-zip-biker outfit.”

“You’re purple again,” he assured her.

“And no hair.  Short awful hair.”

He silently stroked the long curly locks that poured out the back of her cowl.

“And I was like an A-cup,” she moaned.

“You’re fine now,” he noted.

“Double-A,” she said.

“You saved the world, Selina.”

“Like the battery,” she sobbed.

He shifted his weight, very slightly, producing the effect of a gentle rocking.  Through this comforting motion, Selina felt his chest rumble with the rhythmic puffy-grunt which marked that alternate Batman’s laugh.  Selina’s half of the embrace began to vibrate with a weary chuckle as she thought about that laugh and the subject which provoked it in the other world: Felix Faust and the wand-kabob. 

“Well,” she said finally, pulling back with a tired smile, “That’s it for me and the cosmic FUBARs.  Next time anything needs saving, Spitcurl can go.  Say, do you think his heat vision would be capable of some kind of low level laser-graft skin peel?  I think I could just about live with him seeing me naked to get that top level of skincells that touched the ick–gogglesuit burned away all at once.”

He stared as he used to when she made some rooftop proposition and he couldn’t tell if she was serious.  Realizing it was better to play along than mutely gape, he permitted himself a lip-twitch as he said:

“He does owe me a favor.”

“You all owe me a favor,” Selina said archly.  “I wore goggles.”  She shuddered and then sighed, “Guess I’ll settle for a very long, very hot shower.” 

She turned towards the door, pulling off her cowl as she did, and then froze, almost as if belatedly hit with Zatanna’s parting POTS.  She turned back and regarded Batman thoughtfully.

“By the way,” she said tenderly.  “Just in case you were thinking along the same lines as those other Bruce Waynes, wondering… worrying… if Zatanna had done anything to change me?” 

She walked up to him and softly tapped the side of his cowl, indicating clearly that it should be removed.  He hesitated for a split second, then took it off.

“I know Zatanna had nothing to do with my choice to stop stealing, Bruce, for the same reason you knew the logs were wrong.  You change someone’s thoughts, you have to put something new in place of the old, right?  And you can only do that convincingly if you know and understand who they are.  You had a chunk of time where your memories just weren’t you. You were Zatanna’s idea of you: a flighty, shallow, middleclass, less-educated, less-sophisticated nitwit’s idea of ‘Batman.  Well as little as they understand you, m’love, that League of yours haven’t any clue whatsoever about me.” 

She paused, awaiting some grunt of acknowledgement.  When it didn’t come, she continued. 

“Do you know when I made the decision to stop stealing, Bruce?”

“After the Mad Hatter affair,” he graveled definitely.

She shook her head no.

“No, not the last actual theft, but the choice.  When I stopped at first, it was ‘for now.  It wasn’t a life choice.  I was dating Batman and that was complicated enough without running into each other at Tiffany’s after hours.  So I tapered off.  But it wasn’t… it wasn’t what you thought, what I let you think.  It wasn’t a conscious decision that the last thing I took was the last thing I would ever take.  Not until Halloween that second year, not until that costume store, ‘Come As You’re Not.’”

His eyes drilled into hers, darting back and forth from her right to her left as the bat-‘density shift’ rose and fell, intensifying then dropping out completely as never before.

“I don’t understand,” he said finally.

“You came to lunch that day at d’Annunzio’s with news about the folklore museum,” Selina said gently.  “The Sherlock Holmes exhibit, a costume party to kick it off… I’d never seen you like that.  You were so excited.  Right after lunch, we went to get costumes.  The store was called ‘Come As You’re Not,’ and you went ahead of me into the big warehouse they had in the back…” she paused, surprised at how her heart and breathing quickened as she spoke.  “When I got back there, I walked through the door… and there you were, collecting pieces for a Sherlock Holmes costume.  You’d just found a tweed jacket.  You were so—It was so completely YOU, and at the same time it was so unlike any part of you I had ever seen and I—I…  It just hit me.  How I loved you, how deep I was in.  This was it; this was my life now.  And that was that.”

“…”

“Does that really strike you as something Miss Tophat-and-Fishnets could have invented?”

A warm silence passed between them for a few breathless seconds and then he finally spoke.

“No.”

“Meow.”   She smiled.  “Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I’m going to take that shower.”

To be concluded…


 

 

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