Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 52: Vault

Vault
by Chris Dee

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Cats move with infinite grace, breathtaking beauty, and at times, with deadly speed.  They do not move faster than news through a Gotham nightclub.  Catwoman had finally come to Vault, and the whispers of excitement swirled in miniature, independent cyclones around the main floor.  Occasionally one would crescendo into a chorus of expectant titters, so a God’s eye viewer could have followed the spread of news around the room and up the stairs to the VIP level.  When it reached Raven’s podium, Wren was dispatched with an invitation.

She had only been waitressing at the Iceberg for a few weeks before the fire, not as long as most employees who had made the transition to Vault, but long enough to take a normal amount of craziness in stride.  When a leopard passed her on the stairs like it knew where it was going, she knew not to react like it was anything strange.  She didn’t even react when it said “excuse me” in an ordinary human voice.  Wren also knew to postpone her mission and wait at the bar when she saw the leopard was heading for the same table that she was.  The leopard had to be Clayface, and he was going to talk to Catwoman.  Anyone working in a rogue bar for even a few nights knew to stay out of the way when A-listers put their heads together.  So Wren drifted to the bar and Sly promptly met her eye, assuming she had an order or a message.  She waved him off and pointed to Catwoman’s table.  Some newbie with a matchstick in his mouth (who clearly wasn’t as smart as Wren when it came to meddling with A-listers) was practically sprinting to reach Catwoman before the leopard did.

Sly just nodded and turned his attention back to the patrons at the bar.  Wren watched and waited, and after a minute, she guessed that her mission was null and void.  Clayface himself must be inviting Catwoman upstairs, for all three of them—Catwoman, the matchstick guy, and the leopard—were now heading up the stairs.

Wren sighed.  There would be no tip from a grateful A-lister admitted to the VIP floor.  She could only hope that Catwoman would have her own table and not join Clayface at his booth in Feather’s station.  Feather had seniority, and Raven seemed to give her all the big tippers. 

It was a setback.  Not a disaster, but undeniably a setback.

Between the barbecue and the home theatre, Oswald had managed to conduct his affairs in Arkham without laying out much actual cash.  Saul Vics was greedy and stupid.  Greedy and stupid was easy to deal with. 

Most of Oswald’s lieutenants were stupid, but they were ambitious and stupid.  That could be dealt with too, but it required a sharper eye.  An ambitious bird would not be content feathering his own nest if he thought he could take over yours.  But a man who was merely greedy, that was infinitely more manageable.  There was a docility in Saul Vics’s greed, a happy acceptance of what he was offered.  Quite refreshing really, if rather sad.  Oswald was beginning to feel he’d underestimated the profit potential in these respectable people with jobs… at least, he thought that until Talon and Crow got their beaks into his Arkham pigeon.

When Oswald’s men delivered his barbecue, Vics had tipped them as instructed.  It was extra money, and Oswald would have guessed that Talon would go straight to the OTB and blow it on some nag paying three-to-one at Belmont while Crow spent it on liquor and whores.  Unfortunately, both men were already flush from a phonecard scam that just paid off.  They were planning a trip to Atlantic City and mentioned it to Vics.  Said they’d pull a slot for him in payment for the generous tip.  Vics, still greedy and stupid, started getting ideas.  Now he wanted to cash out the $2300 he had accrued for the home theatre to go “try his luck at blackjack” in Atlantic City.  Kwakwakwak.

$2300 Oswald had to pay out.  $2300.

How was he ever supposed to get his club rebuilt if he had to actually PAY OUT the bribe money collected from his fellow inmates for various services?

Yes, kwak, it was a setback.

Cats move with grace, beauty, and deadly speed, but not as fast as news through a nightclub.  By the time Catwoman reached the VIP level, there was practically a line waiting.  Five sets of eyes watched Raven lead her to a table, and four sets of legs were in motion to triangulate on the spot as soon as her party was seated.

Rescue came from an unlikely source.  The one watcher who was not maneuvering to approach Catwoman himself was a Ghost Dragon called Wanchai.  Acting as the eyes of Edmund Dorrance, a.k.a.  the Ghost Dragons’ blind but formidable leader King Snake, Wenchai simply bent down and whispered a brief overview of the situation in his master’s ear.  Dorrance clapped his hands like a monarch demanding attention and waved invitingly in Catwoman’s direction, pointing to the chair opposite him.  She regarded it like a cat considering the cushion on the sofa vs.  the sunny spot under the window, but really she was looking at Double Dare and Magpie bearing down on her from different directions, and she wisely opted for escape.  She went to Snake’s table, the line of Ghost Dragons that surrounded it parting before her like a curtain.  She sat and crossed her legs, her whole manner exuding Gatta Corleone, the queen of the underworld.  Her entourage followed, and Matches grunted at the Dragons like a petty man who wanted to emphasize his rise in status since the last time he approached Snake’s table.  The leopard sat beside Catwoman’s chair, its back straight, its head held high, like an exceptionally well-behaved pet.

“Ordinarily, I would have sent a bottle of Cristal to your table by way of breaking the ice,” Edmund Dorrance declared, the epitome of a civilized man in an uncivilized world.  “But I was informed that a gesture of this kind might be more welcome.”

“Thanks,” Catwoman said dryly. 

“Who informed you?” Matches piped up. 

Even in the noisy club, Dorrance could pinpoint the exact location of the speaker and tilted his head up at Matches.

“You allow your creature to speak?” he noted, addressing Catwoman only.

“Why not?  It’s a fair question.”

“Wanchai,” he indicated his man with a vague gesture, “is always informative.  Tonight he has gleaned that Double Dare have a diamond necklace, a ruby ring and… what was the last?”

“A star ruby ring, sir,” Wanchai said promptly, “a diamond choker, and a heart-shaped emerald pendant surrounded by black diamonds.  They spoke as if the last was the most valuable.  Magpie has two specimens from the natural history museum, a palm frond fossil and a mummified falcon.”

“Why?” Catwoman asked archly.

“To fence, my dear,” Dorrance said smoothly.  “Hard to believe, I know, but seeing as you have no private office the way Cobblepot did, they are evidently meaning to plunk the merchandise right down on your table in full view of everybody.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am merely speculating.  One could never tell about the way Cobblepot conducted his affairs.  But I trust you and I will be able to coexist on far more cordial terms.”

Catwoman raised an eyebrow, the leopard growled, and Matches deftly redirected the conversation.

“You drank in Penguin’s club often enough,” he said sharply.

This time, Dorrance did not acknowledge that it was Matches who had spoken.  He simply directed his answer conversationally to Catwoman.

“It’s quite true that I used the Iceberg Lounge as a convenience, but even at that, I kept my back to the wall at all times.  I find this new arrangement, coupled with Cobblepot’s absence, to be much more agreeable.”

“Well… great.  Ciaomeow,” Selina said brightly, standing to go.

Wanchai caught Matches’ eye, a signal Matches understood by instinct.  As Catwoman walked back to her own table, he remained behind for a private word with King Snake’s man, bodyguard to bodyguard.

“There’s been a bit of traffic in and out that door,” Wanchai confided. 

“Opposite side from the johns,” Matches said, showing that he’d already worked out that much of the layout and could eliminate that explanation.  “You think it’s trouble?”

“No,” Wanchai shook his head.  “I was thinking it might be useful if the catlady wanted some privacy.”

“Thanks, mate.”

Matches gave a curt nod and joined Catwoman at her table.  The leopard had snarled right and left as she walked, keeping Double Dare and Magpie at bay and ensuring that there would be no unwelcome visitors dropping by the table, at least for now. 

At least, there would be no one unwelcome from Matches Malone’s point of view.  From Bruce’s, the leopard himself was the intruder.  What the hell was Hagen doing attaching himself to Selina like some kind of pet?

The Melting Pot was the kind of neighborhood place Dick Grayson loved.  The margaritas were salty; the cheese fondues, rich and gooey; and the owner’s daughter was a cop.  Dick and Barbara couldn’t go as often as they’d like, but whenever they did, they were greeted by name and usually given the same table along the wall, the one with a scooch more room for Barbara’s wheelchair.

Wally and Linda arrived first, and each had a timid little glass of white zinfandel in front of them when Dick and Barbara showed up.  Dick kissed Linda’s cheek and then shook his head sadly at Wally.  “I can’t believe we’re friends,” he chided.  “What the hell is that you’re drinking, pink lemonade?”  Explanations ensued, and soon four of “the best margaritas in Gotham” were brought to the table. 

A second round was ordered with the fondue, and before long, the table erupted regularly into spirited laughter.

“I don’t know how the damn story got started that I think faster than anyone else,” Wally said through his teeth, then continued in a normal tone of voice, “but I’m just trying to get through the damn book like everybody was that weekend.  It’s actually taking me twice as long, because I have to stop and answer the phone every five minutes.  Everybody that, y’know, knows me thinks I must have got to the end by now.  Kyle’s asking where the last horcrux is before I even knew what a horcrux was.”

Barbara laughed just a little louder than the rest.

“They should have asked me,” she confided.  “I was checking the printer’s mainframe twice a month since April.”

“And I,” Dick announced proudly, “am happy to say, I don’t care.  I still don’t know what a horcrux is, or a voldemort, or the intricacies of ‘wand lore’ that frankly sound like a load of BS to cover the fact that wands are fickle and not to be trusted.”

“His father’s son,” Barbara noted.  “Magic bad.”

“It’s not ‘magic bad,’” Dick insisted over the snickers.  “I just have enough to do with my time without trying to work out why somebody’s wand turns on them if they lose one lousy duel.”

Everyone stared at him.  Wally finally spoke the universal thought.

“Sounds like you know a lot more than you’re letting on, Dick.”

“I was staking out a Yakuza safehouse,” he said with an air of long-suffering dignity.  “And let me just say that any respect I had for those guys went out the window after listening to them spend a day and a half debating ‘phoenix feathers versus unicorn tail,’ and why Voldemort’s old wand was prone to ‘recent victim leakage.’”

Oswald had to stand on his bed, stand on his toes, and stretch like mad to reach the ceiling and withdraw his nest egg hidden behind the acoustic tiling.  With the payoffs to Vics, Nurse Chin, that Orson fellow at the reception desk, and Rudy the temp, he was down $6,100 since forming the collective bargaining unit.

Long term, it was still sure to be a worthwhile investment.  Arkham had a constant population of inmates who were Iceberg customers on the outside.  He knew how one alibi turned into six more over the course of a year.  How one diversion on the docks “just to keep Huntress away from the Biskin place until midnight” would turn into a dozen more incidents to occupy this vigilante or that one.  ‘Just this once’ customers became repeat customers as long as you offered a quality product and gave the people what they were paying for.  Long term, Oswald would have a steady stream of income from the little extras these corrupt Arkham staffers provided for a price.  But long term wasn’t doing him any good right now. 

He had to find a quick influx of cash to cover his startup costs for this Arkham operation, to rebuild the Iceberg, and to restore the steady flow of income that supported promising little investments like this. 

So… how to obtain a quick injection of cash in the middle of an insane asylum?

After the cheese fondue came a boiling pot of coq au vin to cook up a bewildering selection of shrimp, bite-size sirloin, pork, duck, and vegetables, each with different cooking times and each with a different recommended dipping sauce.  Although Dick and Barbara had been to the Melting Pot many times, they confessed that they could never keep it all straight and said the confusion was “part of the fun.”  Only Linda had logged the complicated instructions in the waiter’s hurried recitation, and she reproduced it as needed with a reporter’s expert recall.

“Three minutes on that,” she reminded her husband.

“And it’s good in the teriyaki?”

“Or the mustard sauce.”

He nodded. 

“So, what’s new in Bludhaven?” he asked suddenly. 

Whenever Bruce left town now, Nightwing covered for Batman in Gotham.  He asked Wally to “run through” Bludhaven each night, just to make sure nothing was brewing in his absence.  Wally had developed a fondness for the city, and now he always asked about it whenever he saw Dick.

“It’s good.  They’re building one of those historic riverfront deals.  The local families and the Gotham mobs both tried to muscle in on the construction.  B and I did some coordinated ass kicking to shut it down, both sides of the river at once.  That’s really all the excitement there’s been.”

“Cool.  Think the riverfront thing’ll be any good?”

“I don’t see that there’s much point to it,” Dick admitted.  “Shopping and restaurants.  That close to Gotham, who’s going to care about more shopping and restaurants?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Linda said, poking Wally’s arm.  “There are advantages to a restaurant not being in Gotham.”

“He’s not that bad,” Wally said mildly.

“You’re kidding,” Dick grinned, guessing what the veiled reference meant.

“You’re kidding,” Barbara echoed, guessing the same.

“He’s not kidding,” Linda said emphatically.  “He called it in right before we left Keystone.  Coming into Gotham, proper notification must be given.”

Everyone but Wally laughed.

“Because Barbara and I asked you to dinner!” Dick said, unbelievingly.

“Tell you the truth, Dick, I don’t see anything wrong with it.  I used to make all the jokes like everyone else.  ‘His city’ and having to check in and all that.  But y’know, the thing is, he was right.  Seems like nobody is willing to admit that.  All the paranoia—what we called paranoia—was justified.  So, if he wants me to give him a call before I breeze into town, I really don’t see that there’s anything out of line about that.”

There was an abrupt shift in the air when Matches and Catwoman left Vault.  He never broke character.  Selina merely felt the strange tingle that once warned her when the Dark Knight was near.  They were four blocks from the club when Matches coughed, once, and turned to her.

“I’ll leave you here, boss.  Pick you up at the lair, usual time?”

“Sure,” she said carefully.

Matches glanced upward, which Selina took to mean ‘go back to the lair by rooftop.’ 

“Oh, and Matches?” she said lightly, uncoiling her whip to confirm the instructions. 

“Yeah,” with the slightest of nods.

With a savage crack, she snared the nearest fire escape and prepared to climb. 

“Next time you meet someone like King Snake, don’t speak until spoken to.”

She winked, she left, and Batman intercepted her nine rooftops from the lair.  With the minimalist greeting “roll with it,” he launched one of the fiercer attacks in the history of their rooftop encounters.  Four minutes and a wrenched shoulder later, she found herself in the Batmobile.

“That hurt,” she said, rubbing her arm and neck. 

“One minute more,” he grunted, checking several scanners inside the car.  “There.  We’re definitely alone.  I wanted to make sure.”

“Yeah.  I had a hunch.”

His lip twitched. 

“Sorry,” he mouthed.  “The way Hagen was hanging around, I couldn’t take any chances.”

“He didn’t mean any harm.  He was bored.  And I’m fun.”

“No doubt.  That’s why I couldn’t risk that he might follow you home.  Bad enough he wrecked any chance of serious investigation on that upper floor.”

“Wasn’t a total bust, was it?  We found out Oswald did his fencing in his office, Double Dare have better taste in jewels than I thought, and Magpie needs some serious career counseling.”

“None of which is news.  I did get a lead on a room that’s in use up there; nobody seems to know what it’s for.  But I didn’t have a chance to check it out myself.  I’m going back to do that once I get you out of the way.”

“Excuse me?!  Get me out of the way?!”

“Selina, you can’t be a part of what happens next.  This is ‘crimefighting’ with a capital ‘C.’  Catwoman just left Vault with her trained brute, she can’t very well go breaking in an hour later with Batman.”

“Look Stud, I appreciate the vigorous separation of Cat from all things crimefighting, I really do.  But I also happen to be the world’s greatest living expert on breaking in, and I’m telling you right now that if you’re planning on being seen, you’re not doing it right.”

“I’m not planning on being discovered, but it could happen.  If it does, I don’t want you compromised.”

“And I don’t want to be home waiting in an empty bed.  So how about a different approach entirely?  I go back tomorrow in street clothes, walk in the front door, and say that Harvey asked me to pick up a Collected Works of Charles Dickens that he left behind.”

Batman’s head slumped forward as if struck from behind.

“There’s a Tale of Two Cities joke coming, isn’t there?” he said, bracing for it.

“N-no,” Selina replied carefully.  “Harvey really has a very beautifully bound volume of collected Dickens.  First American edition, I believe.  Green leather, marbled endpages, top edge gilt.  His pride and joy.  Don’t tell me he never showed it off to you.”

Batman massaged his brow, longing for a simpler time when a rooftop fight with Catwoman was just that and the rest of his enemies were soulless embodiments of criminality.  Now they were all human beings with a favorite book or they got bored and trotted around a nightclub all evening as a leopard because Selina was fun to be with…

“Hey,” a soft voice purred as a clawed glove reached across the car to settle on his shoulder.  “This is why I shouldn’t leave for such a long time.  All the psychobattitude builds up in there.  Let’s go home.  Release some tension.  In the morning, you’ll see I’m right.”

“No.”

“You damn near pulled my arm out of the socket.”

Don’t do that.  If you want to go home, we’ll go home but… the shoulder, the fight, that was work.  This is us.  Don’t… mix them.”

She laughed, musically.

“Why stop now?  C’mon, Handsome, that line has always been awfully fuzzy with us.  What’s really bothering you?”

“Nothing.  I’m tired,” he said simply.

“Have I ever mentioned what a rotten liar you are when where the subject of ‘us’ is concerned?”

He glared, waves of denial and dark intensity pouring off him.

“Bruce.  What’s wrong?”

Muscles contracted through his chest, preventing a sigh.  His name on Catwoman’s lips echoed with the same strange power it had on the floor of her lair.

“The line has always been blurry,” he admitted finally.  “This latest, this ‘queen of the underworld’ business, was a lot easier to take when you weren’t around.  At home, in the cave, even out patrolling, it was… more like it used to be.  Now that you’re back, it’s… harder to reconcile.”  He met her eyes.  “And it could get rough.”

“Ah,” Catwoman said with a note of resignation which then blossomed into a winning smile.  “Of course, darling, and you really are quite terrifying.  Now… can we please go home?”

The meal concluded with a chocolate fondue into which bite sizes squares of cake or marshmallows could be dipped.

Barbara and Linda merely looked at each other while the men ate the lion’s share of the uberrich dessert.

“I can’t indulge since the twins,” Linda said sadly.  “That last ten pounds just won’t go away.  And I have to live with this.” She tilted her head disgustedly in Wally’s direction.

“What?” he said, a slow droplet of chocolate oozing from his mouth like blood from a vampire’s.

“See what I mean?  Five minutes, if I could just hook up to his metabolism for five minutes.”

“How are Jai and Iris?” Barbara asked.

“Oh they’re wonderful, of course.  But don’t let anyone tell you babies are a blessing, a joy, a wonder, a delight, or the longed for fulfillment of any woman’s life.  When I was working, I always thought those women singing the June Cleaver ‘All I want is to be a mother’ song were either stunted, damaged, or lying.  Near as I could tell, that Lynette character on Desperate Housewives was the only one willing to say it out loud.  Well, now that I’ve been there myself, I congratulate myself on my perspicacity.”

Wally whistled.

“Tell us how you really feel, Linda.”

“I love my children,” she said resolutely.  “But they are an infinite pain, the source of endless stress, and that’s even with you taking diaper duty.”

“Three seconds,” Wally snapped his fingers.  “Old one off, new one on before any of the inherent hazards that diaper duty comes with can be initiated.”

“Yeah, well, for every plus, there’s a minus,” Linda put in.  “Have you ever heard a baby cry at hyperspeed?  It sounds like… there’s no describing what it sounds like.  Take the Hamster Dance on 3000 rpm, drop it into the eye of a hurricane… and maybe slaughter some pigs.”

“My wife has a way with words,” Wally laughed.

“Does it or does it not sound like that?” Linda demanded, eyebrows arched.

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“A prepayment card?” Ivy scoffed.  “Have you completely cracked?”

This time, Oswald refused to pay for a private meeting with anybody.  He went to the common room for social hour and was making the rounds on the pretext of getting everyone to sign a birthday card for Mad Hatter.  The lucky stoke there was if some loudmouth like Ivy started spouting off, the word “card” confirmed his cover story.

“Indeed,” Oswald said smoothly, as he always did before reviewing the product benefits with a reluctant customer.  “For those repetitive services, it’s always more economical to buy in bulk.  Why pay two hundred dollars for a single dinner in your room with a guest if you can get five for six hundred.  Redeemable at any time within a year of purchase, kwak, I do call that a bargain.  A simple punch on your prepaid card, printed on recycled stock, Pamela, a touch I’m sure you will appreciate.”

“You’re a loony bird and you should be locked up,” Ivy growled.

Rather than pointing out that they were both locked up, Oswald merely glanced across the room where Harley sat with Joker.

“The dinner with Ms.  Quinn did not go well, I take it.  I did warn you that, with Joker around, she wasn’t likely to be very receptive.  But look at the proposition long term, my dear Pamela, Joker may be released before either of you, leaving you an open field.”

“Fat chance.  He’s twice as crazy as everybody else here, and you know it.”

“Or…” Oswald mused, in the sure tone of a man with a trump left to play.

“Or?”

“For an additional fee, I could be persuaded to refuse any ‘private time’ requests from Joker.  It would be quite expensive, you understand, my colleagues on the staff would be reluctant to turn down their first customer.”

“How much?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we Pamela?  There is also a certain amount of hazard pay, since it is Joker you’re expecting them to say no to.”

“How much?”

Oswald smiled.

“I’m sure we can agree on a price.”

As Catwoman predicted, things did look very different in the morning.  It began as soon as the horizon began to brighten, just as the Batmobile returned to the cave.  Rather than go up to bed without him, Selina made cocoa on the Bunsen burner while he wrote up the log entry on Vault.  When they reached the bedroom, the cats betrayed the lie that his life had been “more like it used to be” while she was away.  They were waiting on his side of the bed and, as soon as he walked in, Whiskers jumped down and serpentined through his legs while Nutmeg rolled onto her belly and purred.  Either because she found this performance adorable, or simply because she was glad to be home and sleeping in her own bed again, Selina was grinning and purring all around the room before settling in for the night.  When she finally did slide between the sheets and curled up against him, she murmured “I missed you, Bruce…” as if the whole episode in her lair never occurred.  She was only now “coming home.”  For her, home is Bruce, not Batman, which is why any attempt to swap the real pearls for the counterfeit will fail.   

Bruce saw these words flicker on the workstation screen as his fingers typed the log entry, the light and shadow of larger words flashing above him as they were echoed on the oversize screen that loomed over the cave.  A miniature hologram of Catwoman circled just in front of his keyboard.  She appeared just as she had on the stage of the Hijinx Playhouse.  Without realizing he was doing it, he paused his typing and absently touched a spot on the back of the hologram’s knee.  It responded with a squirming giggle, and typing resumed without Bruce’s fingers ever having to touch the keys.  A telepathic link now existed between his mind and the Bat emblem on the oversized screen, translating his thoughts into words: A tactical analysis of ticklish knees, the pivotal research begun by Professor Wilfreder, Cambridge Criminology Chair 1956-1979...

“Are you coming up any time soon, Stud?”

Selina’s voice.  Selina in the cave.  Selina standing right behind him, with those words analyzing her strategic weaknesses gleaming down on them in 400-point type.

“What is all this?” she murmured, looking up at Psychobat’s exhaustive analysis of Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Selina Kyle, now updating on the fly to incorporate a thermal x-ray simulacra of the ticklish knee response, and postulating how this maneuver accomplished what Batman-proper never could: putting Catwoman out of business.

“I’m doing what I’ve always done, fighting the criminals who prey on this city,” Bruce explained while mesh representations of Whiskers and Nutmeg flickered on the sidescreens.

He walked past her without a word and entered the costume vault, pealed off his face and rested it on the false head built to hold the cowl in place. 

She was standing behind him, he could feel it.

“I told you to go,” he said without turning.

“Yes, I know.  You said it’s not safe to be around you.  And when that didn’t work, Psychobat reiterated the point by breaking Eddie’s legs.  I know a tiny fraction of that was for me.  I know it would have been better for whoever Batman ran into tonight if they were someone who’d never sent me a birthday card.”

“You’re nothing like any of them—and not just because you look better in purple.  You never preyed on people.  I never thought of you as one of ‘them.’  You wouldn’t be here if you were...”

“Then why did you want me to help with Oswald?”

When he whipped around to answer the question, she was gone.  A Bat-vanish. 

He was alone in the costume vault, alone in the cave, alone in the manor. 

He saw himself as Batman staring down at Bruce Wayne in the empty house.  He was at the Watchtower.  Clark, Arthur, and J’onn stood behind him, all looking at the main viewer, all looking at Bruce Wayne, alone and isolated.

“We tried to warn him,” Arthur noted.

“It’s really about trust,” Clark interjected.

“No,” Batman shook his head.  “Not anymore.  It was once, a long time ago.  Now it… isn’t.  Now it’s safe.  Now it’s home.  It has to go on being that.  I don’t want any more reminders of what it was before.”

Bruce sat up in bed, a salty taste in his mouth.  He looked down at Selina, her eyes opening sleepily at the disturbance.

“Is it 5 o’clock already?” she asked blearily.

“Yes—No,” Bruce lied, then he thought the better of pretending it was his usual nightmare he was waking from.  “No.  Selina…  In the morning… the thing you wanted to do with Vault, going back and saying you were getting a book for Harvey, you should do that.  However you want to be involved in this… If we’re going to work together, you should have some say in how we go about it.”

“Sure, put it in the vrinkarickormon,” she said, pulling his pillow over her head as she turned over.

Bruce’s lip twitched as he shook his head.

It was a short walk from the Melting Pot back to the Graysons’ co-op.  As they went, the men drifted to the edge of the sidewalk, the first chance they’d had to talk privately.

“Hey Dick, I hope I didn’t overstep before, about Bruce.”

“Nah, of course not.  I know it’s a different perspective, working with him in the League and all.  Sorry about that thing in the Post, by the way.”

Wally winced.  Dick was referring to a special series the tabloid had run: A Day Inside the Watchtower, making the most of their “unprecedented access inside the world’s most famous global security facility.” 

“Well that’s just it,” Wally said thoughtfully.  “He told them.  He tried to tell them if they let some damn tabloid in to do a story it would wind up a fiction at best, a trainwreck at worst.  You saw what they came up with.  Made it look like an episode of 24.  They ripped off 24 and called it the JLA.  He was right.  Again.  They didn’t listen.  Again.  And they’re making him our to be the paranoid psycho again.”

“Yeah.  It bites.  But you know, Wally, he doesn’t care.  Why do you?”

“I dunno.  It’s the twins maybe.  I’m looking at a lot of stuff differently since they came along.  Having a son, especially, that’s kind of… new perspective time.  If we can’t learn from our mistakes… What kind of League are my kids going to wind up in if we just keep stepping in the same damn quagmire?”

“…”

“…”

Dick looked around, feeling a lighten the mood change of subject was called for.  Finding no inspiration in the fire hydrant, streetlight, or newsstand, he thought back to the dinner. 

“So, you really can’t, like, super-speedread?”

Wally shook his head.

“Technically, I can tap into the Speed Force and zip through the five hundred page manual on how to disarm a ten megaton warhead that’s going to go off in thirty seconds.  But the retention is just about that, thirty seconds.  The faster I read, the faster I forget.  Not much use on anything I’m doing for enjoyment.”

“Oh, you better not be talking about what I think you’re talking about,” Linda said, a suggestive tone warming the words that might have been hostile in another context. 

“Oh no, dear,” Wally said with a roguish smile.

“I’m thinking you guys don’t want to come up for coffee,” Dick laughed.

Selina shook her head, blinked, and stared across the street once more.  She was fairly sure she wasn’t dreaming, but the sight of Harvey Dent coming out of her old building walking Binky Sherborn’s two corgis was just a little too surreal to be absolutely certain.  She pinched herself.  And Harvey was still there, waiting to cross the street into the park.  She clicked her heels together and recited “there’s no place like Gotham.”  Harvey was still there, standing on the curb.  She called out to him and waved, and waited at the park entrance until the traffic allowed him to cross.

“Selina!  You look wonderful,” he beamed. 

“Harvey, you look wonderful right down to mid-calf, where there seems to be two slobbering wet-nosed creatures that I hoped never to see again once I moved out of that building.”

“Yes, well, I needed a place to stay and Jason Blood arranged this housesitting job with your old neighbor.  I was smart enough to make sure there were no plants to water.  I didn’t think to ask about dogs.  Watering the flytrap pales in comparison to walking these two little beasties around the damn park twice a day.”

Selina laughed as they strolled along.

“I’m looking on it as punishment for ‘our’ sins,” Harvey added as one of the little mutts strained at the leash to reach a bench it always had to investigate.

“Is that one Balmoral or Sandringham?”

“How the hell should I know?” Harvey asked archly.  “I’ve been calling them ‘Twin’ and ‘Twain.’”

“Those were the two henchman that you…?”

“Yes, may they rest in peace.”

“Okay, not a fan of the welsh corgis then.  Not that I blame you.  Other than the four-footed roommates, how’s it going?”

“Not bad.  New neighborhood means new restaurants, new drugstores, new dry cleaners and all the rest.  Funny, it’s been so long since I set up a new hideout or anything.  Lost the knack.”

“Seriously?  I assumed stuff like that was like riding a bike.”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s me.  I’m not like you, Selina.  I’m not ‘nostalgic’ about it.  I want to put Two-Face behind me.  Get on with my life as if it never happened, to the extent that that’s possible.  That’s why I’m steering clear of that damn club, even if it does mean walking these two twice-damned mutts twice a day right past Petal’s little nest back there.”

Selina felt if there was ever a cue to change the subject, ‘Petal’ was it.  She cleared her throat and proceeded with what she came for.

“Well, Bruce and I feel just terrible that we didn’t find out about your plight until Jason mentioned it.  We want to make it up to you.  Lunch cruise on the Gatta?”

“That… would be very nice,” he coughed, strangely embarrassed by the invitation. 

“And be sure to bring swimming trunks.  There’s a jacuzzi on the sundeck, it’s absolute heaven.” 

“I, uh, suppose I could stop by the Flick and pick them up.  Not exactly something I brought with me to move into this place.  Or just buy a new pair.”

“Oh,” Selina said, surprised by the dilemma and struck by a sudden thought.  “Well you know, Harvey, I’m running a few errands in that part of town this afternoon.  I could pick them up for you, and any other little things you didn’t think to bring.”

“Selina, we’ve said it before.  You’re too good to be two.” 

The wincing biting back of pained laughter was once a familiar experience whenever Selina and Harvey met.

“Didn’t Darth take those damn two puns with him?” she sputtered.

“Most of them, but now and then, I just can’t help myself.”

To be continued…


 

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