Selina tore back the covers like she had a grudge against them, stumbled into the bathroom, and splashed her face with water. Then she glared at the face in the mirror.
“You again,” she breathed. “Welcome back, Mirror Bitch. It’s been a while.”
Superficially, her reflection looked just as sleepy and shaken from her nightmare as Selina felt, but there was always that vague glimmer in the eye after a particularly vivid dream, as if part of her knew something the rest of her didn’t.
“Woof,” Selina declared, a parting shot as her shoulders slumped slightly and she trudged back to bed.
“Mirror Bitch?” Bruce asked with a grin.
“Sorry if I woke you,” Selina grumbled.
“I don’t mind,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her once she was back under the covers. “I can sleep in tomorrow, now that the board meeting is out of the way. I can get back on a normal schedule.”
“A normal Batman schedule, you mean. Calling your schedule ‘normal’ without the Bat-qualifier abuses the language.”
“That’s the ‘Mirror Bitch’ mood, alright. Haven’t heard from her in a while.”“Yeah, well…” Selina murmured, settling into the embrace and closing her eyes again. “It was a dream I haven’t had in a long time.”
A purrfect night for a prowl. The air was chill, the moonlight glistened off the water, and the purrfect prize had come to Gotham, had come right to her…
The European art world was still buzzing over the heist, and no one more than Selina’s fence, Igor. Epoque Fine Jewels, one of the Europe’s largest dealers in antique jewelry, had been burgled right in their stall at the Belgian Art Fair. Over two-hundred pieces taken, signed pieces by Cartier, by Lalique, by Van Cleef & Arpels. The papers estimated the value at 2 million Euros, but Igor said it was closer to 2.8. If he was fencing, maybe as much as 3.
He was livid. It was the second time Epoch Jewels were taken. The last burglary was at the Antwerp Diamond Museum. Several pieces Epoch loaned to a temporary exhibit of Art Deco gems netted Igor’s biggest competitor a million U.S. A million U.S.! Not to mention a stable of new thieves, the patronage of a dozen new collectors, and contacts within Igor’s own network of international jetsetters that had previously been his own private monopoly. In the years that followed, she’d been using it all to muscle him out of the first tier. Now it was happening again: two hundred vintage pieces, masterpieces signed by Lalique, by Vever, by Boucheron and Giuliano; art nouveau gold, pearls, enamels and ivory. Igor threw himself on Selina’s mercy. He didn’t know who had done the second heist, but he knew they were not bringing the proceeds to him. They brought them to that banshee of hell, Sabine Evrard, and with a war chest like that, there was no telling what she’d try next!
What she tried next was absolutely appalling: She rented a megayacht called The Merry Old Gentleman, which she was taking from luxury port to luxury port as a floating showroom for the stolen art, antiques and jewels she peddled. If a client wished, they could even make the buy in international waters—although that struck Selina as silly. If you’re that squeamish about buying a stolen Vermeer, a transaction that takes all of fifteen minutes, how do you go about owning it for the next thirty years?
In any case, Igor’s nemesis, Sabine Evrard, had brought her vulgar floating showroom to Gotham, where it was sitting in Slip 8 of the Gotham Yacht Club. Catwoman had already circumvented the yacht club security, such as it was, which left only the yacht itself. Getting onboard required a few acrobatics, evading the cameras until she could get on top of one without being seen by the others, and then setting up a tape loop. The resulting blindspot on the first camera made getting to the second easier, and the third and fourth were a breeze. All that remained were a few ordinary locks to pick (hardly worth mentioning), a motion detector in the salon, and cracking the actual safe...
Except it seemed the last two would be unnecessary since the motion detector was already switched off and the door to the salon unlocked. Catwoman had opened the door warily and saw someone was in there—presumably Sabine Evrard judging by the muumuu, the turban, and the fact that she had the safe open! A miniature mountain of diamonds and emeralds glistened inside, and then:
“Oh, it’s you! Hi, Selina!”
The muumuu’d figure had turned, and it was…
Nightwing in drag?
“Stand down, everyone, it’s just Selina!”
The lights flicked on and Robin came running out.
“Oh hi, Selina. Did ‘Wing tell you how much I liked your show?”
She bolted up in bed—chasing the cats away in a frenzied panic—
Her heart was pounding—pounding—pounding—
“Not again,” she murmured, tipping her head back and letting the weight pull her back onto the pillow. “This nightmare thing is contagious.”
Once upon a time, when their relationship was new and the significance of dating the World’s Greatest Thief was only just sinking in, Bruce Wayne hired Catwoman to document all the security weaknesses she could find at Wayne Enterprises. The job took a nasty turn when she discovered it was all in response to corporate espionage initiated by Talia Head at LexCorp—and that Talia knew the head of Wayne Enterprises was Batman.
Selina couldn’t believe that Bruce didn’t see the significance of that information. Against the rest of the world, Wayne Enterprises security was simply Wayne Enterprises security. Sure it included Bruce as the head of the company, but nothing beyond that. Bruce Wayne was a figurehead, Lucius Fox was the brains of the operation, etc… But to someone who knew Bruce Wayne was Batman, how could he not see that that little factoid changed everything? She called Harvey and arranged a diversion that would keep all the Bat Team occupied at various locations around the city. Knowing they were occupied, she snuck into the Batcave and broke into Bruce’s desktop, simply to document that weakness along with the others. It was necessary, it’s what he had asked her to do, it’s the job he had hired her to do… but she felt terrible doing it.
Those days were long over. She lived at the manor now, she had lived in the cave for the last weeks Bruce was laid up with that back injury, and two nights a week, she fought crime right alongside Batman. She could use the Batcomputer any time she wanted without attracting attention, no matter who was in the cave. Yet there she was, waiting for Batman to leave, feeling just as guilty and nauseous as she had that first time. It was his cave, it was a part of him, an extension of all Batman meant. Waiting for him to leave so she could use the computer without his seeing, it seemed so… wrong.
But it wasn’t wrong. There was no point upsetting him. It was Eddie, it was personal, it was their friendship, and it was crimefighting. If there was a recipe to spike Bruce’s blood pressure, that was it. Nothing good could come from getting him involved, particularly before she knew there was anything to get him involved with.Their date night project included some feline intelligence gathering on the Z. Their clubhouse on West 48th wasn’t the most challenging of break-ins, but the Tower of London couldn’t compete with breaking and entering for Batman. It was still the biggest thrill she knew. Once inside, she’d unearthed all kinds of receipts and packing slips, mostly for meaningless purchases: hammers and nails and potato chips consumed as the Z set up lairs and fronts for the name Rogues. The Z were notorious for passing on every expense—every related expense and any number of unrelated expenses—onto their clients. There was just that one receipt, glimpsed by chance: Petite Abeille. Meaningless at the time, a half-remembered name. Petite Abeille, an egg sandwich and coffee, $6.75. It meant nothing… until Oracle’s report of upcoming Arkham releases.
Both cats hopped back onto the bed, and Selina decided against getting up. It would just disturb them again. What was the point in getting up, anyway? It was just a dream. Bound to happen after all that was happening with Bruce. Cat pins now! Covered in diamonds, emerald eyes, vintage Cartier, iconic Cartier. The most perfect vintage examples of the signature Cartier panthers, two of them—made for the Duchess of Windsor, no less! Bruce giving her the second one exactly the way Dick had predicted, it was perfectly natural that it might spark a dream or two. Batman was Bruce Wayne. He had the money to buy something like those cat pins as nothing more than bait for Catwoman, and now he’d given them to her as a gift—just like Nightwing-no-Dick predicted! Robin came to her door and helped carry her bags. If she wasn’t having nightmares, that would be the shocker.
She fluffed her pillow and was ready to go back to sleep, when the phone rang.
:: What sounds like the Riddler’s favorite breakfast? ::
“Eddie, it’s too early,” Selina moaned.
:: That’s why this is an easy one. Listen: My first sounds like you may have guessed… ::
“Look, call me back in a couple hours, I’ll be more fun.”
::’Lina, riddle me this: What’s the point in calling mid-afternoon if I’m trying to invite you to breakfast?::
Selina growled into the phone.
:: ‘Sounds like’ my favorite breakfast food: waffle. Rhymes with ‘baffle,’ get it? And what sounds like ‘guessed?’ Best! Best waffle in Gotham, ‘Lina. A new place, Petite Abeille. Belgian. And what Kitty goes on and on about the fabulous waffles every time she gets back from seeing her fence in Brussels?::
“Oh, I see,” Selina managed, turning on the light. “Well, it has been forever since I’ve had a really good waffle.”
::They have both kinds, ’Lina. Burglar’s Foe is Swell Fees.::
Great. Anagrams. It was far too early for that nonsense… but he said it in that sing-song tone like it was something tempting, so…“Brussels or Liege waffles, got it. I’m in. Where is this place?”
Bruce raised a skeptical eyebrow. Cassie’s language skills were still limited, but they had moved beyond that.
“What is it you don’t understand?” he asked, offering an example of more sophisticated phrasing without blatantly correcting her.
“Body telegraph move. Is always so. Even Batman shift weight back to push forward on punch, and little bit to right if going to snap back for knockout. Always so. Must be so. But now…” she trailed off into a petulant pout.
“Now the bodies lie?” Bruce said, supplying the words she had used when she first came to talk to him in the cave.
She nodded, and Bruce reset Strategic Self-Mutating Defense Regimen 5 to the warm up sequence for his profile. Then:
“VOX command: activate camera Cave-6, start record.”
Bruce progressed through the warm up battle, not quite in slow motion, but as slowly as he could without the process changing his movements and corrupting the data.
“Now, let’s watch the tape together,” he suggested.
They had done this before, soon after Cassie learned to speak. Back then, Bruce thought her uncanny ability to read body language instantly, amidst the chaos of a fight, might help him modify his own tells against such an opponent. It turned out, his tells were no different from Cassie’s own: the ones it was necessary to keep in order to perform optimally in a fight. He abandoned the idea of changing to better defend against this one little girl’s ability that, as far as he knew, no other adversaries shared, at the expense of fighting less effectively against all other opponents.But today’s task was different. Today wasn’t for his benefit. Cassie said her abilities were failing. Well, not exactly. She said the bodies of her opponents had begun to lie. That wasn’t possible, so it must be her own ability to read them...
“Spoiler told you I’m with Selina now.”
Cassie made a face.
“Is hard name… See… See… See-na is Cat. Spoiler say Sensei with Cat now. Yes. No get.”
“Right… Cassie, I know you don’t have a lot of words to work with yet, but you have plenty of advanced thoughts behind them. You understand men and women, what happens. Coupling.”
“Yes. Father teach. Father teach all that is need for kill. Teach about sex. Whores who sell. Get good information from any sell sex, Father teach.”
“Pore-nog-gree too. People that make pore-nog-gree… Porn-og…”
“Yes. Them. Know secret places. Good for find safe house. Good for find drugs. Sometimes good for find blackmail. But not so good for that as whores. All this Father teach.”
“Father teach also: in when doing sex, good time for kill. Target vul-ture-ab-le when pants down.”
“I don’t believe I let you talk me into this,” she grumbled. “This is worse than when you had me wearing green.”
“Oh c’mon, ‘Lina. So we’re on the East End, what’s the big deal? It’s trendy now. There’s no need for the blonde wig, wide brim hat and dark glasses bit.”
“Haven’t you seen the crap the Post’s been writing since my show, Eddie? If you think I will risk being seen here and validating their insulting, preposterous—”
“But it’s not like it’s a slum anymore. It’s shabby-chic. There are like six health food stores on this block alone. They’ve got those herbs that makes you smarter, that ginko biloba, gotu kola, turmeric, cat's claw. Don’t tell me you object to that one.”
“Eddie, after all I went through to set the record straight, I wouldn’t care if Foster and Forsythe set up a ‘Pick our unpicklable lock and win a Golden Bast’ stand on the corner. You will see me organize a dog show for the Justice League in the Tenth Circle of Hell before I compromise on this one.”
“Okay, okay. I didn’t think it’d be such a big deal. I figured good waffles, Belgian hot chocolate…”
“Just wait ‘til it happens to you, Edward my pet… That said, Belgian hot chocolate… Yum.”
“You know if Pammy were here, she’d remind you that you’re never supposed to eat or drink anything when you go into Hades. That’s how they tripped up that Persephone chick.”
“What herbs did you say you’re taking again?”
“There, left arm open out toward camera. Batman know time almost up. Three more punch, maybe four, then Zogger stop. Look! Still breathe hard, but no bother with knockout punch. Know Zogger end on its own now.”
“Cassie, it seems like you’re able to read my movements as accurately as always.”
She watched the screen, which had frozen on the final frame.
“Guess not all bodies lie. Just some. Was not always so.”
“You used to be able to read body language consistently all the time, but now your abilities are unreliable? How long has this been going on?” Bruce asked, shutting off the camera.
“Since teach Tim. Try teach Tim. Tim no learn. Tim have slow head.”
“A slow head?”
“Slow head or maybe slow fist. Must read bodies very fast,” she said, pointing to the darkened screen. “Before hit. Else is no good. Must read fast, then react fast, before hit. If no can block hit, no point in see it come.”
“You’re talking about an acquired reflex, Cassie. That doesn’t just happen without a lot of practice. Just like your kata, it takes thousands of repetitions before the moves become instinctive, a learned second nature.”
“No time practice when pitbull snarling in face. Learn or bleed.”
“That’s how your father taught you?” Bruce said, flashing back to horrible revelations like this when Cassie first came to his attention. “You know that’s not how it works here. That’s why we have the Strategic Self-Mutating Defense Regimen, to master these skills in comparative safety.”
“Zogger no have body. No can read.”
“I see. I’ll see what I can come up with.”
Selina was meditating in the sun room when Bruce found her. Not surprisingly, Nutmeg was stretched out beside her. The cat might not be “meditating” exactly, but it had found the one spot with maximum direct sunlight. It was on its back, its belly stretched out, paws extended, with its eyes closed in an expression of pure feline bliss.
“I hate to interrupt,” Bruce said mildly.
Nutmeg’s eyes opened in a clearly expressed “Then don’t.” Selina’s eyes did not open, but her lips curled into a coy smile before her response:
“But I want you to talk to Cassie before she leaves. I think a woman’s touch is called for.”
“I thought she came over with a Bat problem,” Selina said.
“That’s what she said, but I think there’s more to it. She’s reverting to her early vocabulary and speech patterns when she talks about it. That usually means a subject connected to her early life. Reading body language is something Cain taught her, so it made sense, at first…”
“I don’t know, something is off. Tim’s name came up several times.”
“I am not getting in the middle of that,” Selina insisted. “It’s like when Two-Face started up with Ivy: eyes down, cross the street, and thank the stars it doesn’t concern you.”“This is different. Selina, let me explain something about Cassie’s upbringing…”
“Cain taught her everything an assassin needs to know, which included sex as a biological function during which a target is vulnerable. The world of prostitution, both gay and straight, seems to have been covered thoroughly. Human trafficking, including the sale of children, and the making and distribution of pornography. In terms of the seedy underbelly, she apparently knew more by age ten than I know now. But in terms of the… the ‘facts of life’ talk, sex as an act of love and tenderness that she herself might want to experience some day, that was evidently unnecessary information.”
“Charming,” Barbara winced. “Unnecessary—like teaching her to talk was unnecessary. The more we find out about that girl’s history, the more I think that, given a contest between Joker and David Cain, Cain is the greater evil.”
“Agreed, but at the moment, I’m worried about her side of the equation more than Cain getting what he deserves. She’s unaware of any upside to male/female relations. She thinks of it only as a weakness without any counterbalancing benefit, like… like shooting heroin. Naturally, with those preconceptions, she assumed it’s not a behavior Batman would ever engage in.”
“No comment,” Barbara smirked.
“She’s very worried. Barbara, she came to me because she thinks I have a death wish, because taking a lover—any lover—is opening myself up for assassination. She needs the sex talk. Despite knowing the biological and criminal definitions, she doesn’t actually know what sex is, and at her age, it’s time for her to find out.”
“Well, Dick knows how it works, so you managed to convey the pertinent information at some point. I can’t imagine why you’re coming to me.”
“Come on, Barbara. Let’s not pretend men and women aren’t different. For a girl, this is better coming from a woman.”
Barbara pursed her lips. Every fiber in her being screamed to contradict that blasphemy—but she couldn’t get past the memory of her father, unable to make eye contact for a week and finally fobbing the job off on her Aunt Eunice.
Still, she didn’t like Bruce getting off quite so easily.
“You’re probably right,” she said finally. “If what you say is true, if she looks on sex as the equivalent of ‘shooting up,’ then she’s not going to believe your version of things if you’re just another junkie. She’ll probably think you’re kidding yourself, trying to justify taking up with Catwoman.”
“Ooo, hear the latest?” Barbara said, changing the subject with forced cheer. “That double bust at the Iceberg last night? Scarecrow was taking bets before ‘Wing and Robin intervened. Nightwing put a few dollars on Harley Quinn, just as an opening to get them talking, get some information on how the fight started…”
Batman scowled.“Today it’s the talk of the underworld. Everybody’s talking about how Nightwing strolled into the Iceberg, saw a brawl in progress, and placed a bet like one of the guys.”
Cassie was still at the Batcomputer, happily going over the footage of Batman working out, pointing out the different subtleties that showed how he would move next.
“That’s nice, Cass. But I’d rather talk about where the body language isn’t working rather than seeing where it does.”
Cassie shifted uneasily in her chair.
“Bruce send you because he know I lie?”
“He… sensed there was more than what you were saying, and he thought it might be easier to talk to me.”
“Thought so. You no fight as good as Bat. Not make sense he send you to talk about fighting. Is true what say to Bruce. Say bodies lie. Did not used to be so. Always can tell by shifting weight how body will move. Also by where eyes point and sometimes by tilt of head. All these things tell how will body move. Now, sometimes can tell. Sometimes not. But did not tell Bruce when bodies lie, is not when fighting. Is when do other things. Not tell that part but he know. So he send you.”
“Not bad, little detective,” Selina smiled. “So, the bodies that are lying, the ones whose body language you can’t read anymore… if they’re not fighting, what are they doing?”
“Is only one. Is Tim. Body say Tim want to talk, then no talk. Body say Tim want to kiss, then no kiss.”
“You were seeing another boy, Cassie. Men are very sensitive about that kind of thing.”
“Still, body no should lie. If say going to lean forward, should lean forward. Is always so.”
“Okay, I can see a few possibilities here. First, this might be one of those areas where what works in a fight doesn’t work the same way in another context.”
“Always has before. Can tell who carry gun from way they walk. Can tell who eat big dinner from way they walk. Can even tell when driver get ready make turn before use turn signal. Can tell when couple leave restaurant if had fight inside and who mad at who, all from walk, just like with gun…”
“Yes, but this is different. This is a boy deciding if the moment is right to kiss you.”
“Cassie, you were right earlier. I don’t fight as well as Batman. But I always got away, and I beat him more than once. Can you guess why?”
“No can predict outcome of fight from training or skill. Too much other factors.”
“Okay, close enough. There is one particular ‘factor’ when it’s me and Batman, one particular variable, and it plays hell with all his other abilities. Maybe it’s the same with your ability to read body language when you’re alone with Tim.”
“Or… ‘Stupid Cassie?’ Maybe? That’s the other possibility, Kiddo, but I wouldn’t call it ‘stupid’ exactly. Cass, if you’re not reading Tim’s body language correctly, it might be because you’re seeing what you want to see.”
“Okay, we’ll put a pin in that one for now,” Selina smirked. “Either he’s sending mixed messages—which means he needs some encouragement—or else he’s not on the same page you are—which means you should also offer a little encouragement. Let him know he’s invited, just in case the thought hasn’t occurred to him.”
Selina tilted her head back, interlacing her fingers slightly… the soft smile on her face softening even more as she reached a decision.
“They all fall for that, don’t they? Bruce especially.”
“You get just fine, young lady. You just don’t like what you’re hearing.”
Cassie scowled.“I tell you what,” Selina said in her best, old-time tempting-the-Bat voice. “You help me out with my problem, maybe I can help you out with yours.”