Apart from the luxurious furnishings, there were three points where Ra’s al Ghul’s incarceration in Atlantis differed from its equivalent on land. Aquaman was the final authority underwater, and the bribery that could be taken for granted in a land-based principality was simply not an option. Aquaman also liked to visit his prisoner once a week whenever he was in the capital (on the pretense of checking the air filters and pressure settings, but in reality, to be an arrogant, chatty and patronizing thorn in Ra’s al Ghul’s side). And finally, the Atlanteans felt an obligation to those who died or risked death in any conflict. When a battle was over, they studied it to learn whatever they could from their failures and make sure whatever went wrong wouldn’t happen again. Ra’s al Ghul may have failed in the end, but he had learned of the undersea fortress called Kapheira. He had moved in and taken over a valuable Atlantean property, and he could, in time, have posed a considerable threat if undiscovered. Every few weeks some new official from their university, military, or the ministry of this-or-that came to interview him about the episode.
It was the last that bothered Batman. He was pleased that the Atlanteans were incorruptible, and he would be the last to deny Arthur those weekly visits to poke Ra’s al Ghul in the ego. But he did fear the example the Atlanteans were setting with those interviews. The one thing Ra’s never seemed to do with all those lifetimes of experience was learn from his mistakes. Atlantis’s practice was admirable—for Atlantis. It was undoubtedly how they’d become such an advanced society. But Batman didn’t want them giving Ra’s the idea.
He needn’t have worried as far as the schemes The Demon’s Head himself initiated. Ra’s was confident of his own wisdom and supremely confident in the inability of lesser minds to best him. The months of questioning from self-doubting Atlanteans had not led him to examine his own failure with Kapheira, or with any other operation—but Falstaff's was another matter. Ra’s needed no subliminal prodding to indulge that most basic human instinct: figuring out what the other guy did wrong.
In Falstaff’s case, he decided, it was underestimating Bruce Wayne. It was one thing to know the Detective’s name as a collection of English letters. It was another thing entirely to understand the man. To understand the force of will, the drive and determination, the dedication and discipline necessary to become that man among men. Batman was not some childish whim that was forgotten as Bruce Wayne grew to manhood; it was the work of a lifetime building himself into that formidable creation. Shouldn’t one who revered Ra’s al Ghul, who had sworn his life to the service of The Demon, understand that the Detective’s pledge was just as absolute, just as lifelong and all encompassing?
To imagine that Bruce Wayne would have simply accepted Falstaff’s takeover—to imagine he’d simply quit after a setback? To think one with such a lack of understanding was permitted to execute an operation in Gotham—a very costly operation in Gotham, it was appalling, simply appalling. And to think that Ra’s himself had awarded the fool a bowl of fruit—an apostrophe and a bowl of fruit. That would be the first thing remedied when he got out of here. Until then, he would have to make what he could of this disaster. To begin, he must purge his thoughts of all Falstaff had told him. Anything and everything the fool said must be considered suspect, as it could not be known when the Detective began deceiving him. Any or all of Falstaff's plan as Falstaff related it might be a fiction of the Detective’s own making. Ra’s simply had to ignore it and focus on the only new data that was reliable: that brief conversation in Bruce Wayne’s office when he was so openly and obnoxiously content.
“That’s my girl,” he had begun. The Feline, obviously, who Falstaff had so stupidly made a focal point of the operation. As if the Detective wouldn’t be agitated enough by a slur on the memory of his parents that further goading would only… No.
No, no, no, this would not do. He had to purge all thoughts of Falstaff and focus solely on what he knew.
Ra’s al Ghul took a deep breath, closing his eyes and then… as he opened them… he regarded the koi pond the Atlanteans so thoughtfully provided to aide in meditation and reflection. He slowed his breathing… and watched the largest of the three fish as it made its way around the small, shell-shaped enclosure… He breathed again. And in his mind's eye, thought back to that entry into Bruce Wayne’s office. The man seated behind the desk, legs crossed informally, looking down at that mechanized tablet with a pleased smile, “That’s my girl...”
Ra’s had become so engrossed in the mental picture that he didn't hear the telltale approach of feet outside his door or the hum of the locking system being deactivated. He heard nothing at all until the mechanical swish of the door opening behind him. He turned, thinking it was too early for the weekly visit from Aquaman, so this must be that minion of his: the handmaid called Valerina. She would be introducing some new visitor, no doubt, from the Ministry of Let's Bother the Most Distinguished Prisoner Atlantis Has Ever Been Privileged to Capture. They would have another questionnaire–yet another questionnaire that was really beneath his dignity to answer. (But he would indulge them, since it gave him the opportunity to talk about himself.) So he turned with royal condescension, prepared to meet this new individual as a monarch equal to their own King Orin, one who had merely suffered the kind of reversal so many great rulers had over the…
“You,” he breathed, seeing it was indeed the handmaid Valerina escorting a new visitor, but a visitor who needed no introduction.
“Ra’s. You always know how to make a girl feel welcome,” Catwoman said with a smile.
That's my girl, Bruce reminded him in his mind’s ear.
So this is what the inside of a jail cell looks like... The words had hovered on Selina’s lips as she looked around the small but luxurious suite of rooms The Demon’s Head now called home. They hovered, but she squelched them. Ra’s had always been the ‘civil and courteous’ type of villain, and she always detested the capes who have to answer that kind of thing with aggression. It cost nothing to answer courtesy with courtesy, after all. And once he got over the shock of seeing her, Ra’s had been nothing if not courteous. He offered her a choice of refreshment: the tea Atlanteans blended from specially cultivated seaweed or a kind of sangria that blended surface wine with some mysterious ‘sea fruit’ that was apparently impossible to peel and eat in any other form, but was too delicious to ignore.
It was as though she was the high bidder in some “Atlantis Experience” at the silent auction: Visit the undersea kingdom and enjoy an afternoon of tea and conversation with a land-born expatriate now living in the capital city Poseidonis. Cough-fighting or not, she would not be the one to break the smooth surface of civilized gentility with rude allusions to who was in jail and who wasn’t. Instead, she complimented the furnishings as if Ra’s had picked them himself and noted a clay pot on a side table which, judging by its lines and proportions, looked Minoan. Ra’s praised her keen eye and, while the tea steeped, he speculated at length whether Atlantis might have influenced the Minoans or—more likely, in his opinion—the Minoan culture had a hand in shaping ancient Atlantis.
“I must remember to ask King Orin when he next visits,” Ra’s said, lifting the lid of the small teapot and sniffing the steam as if judging its readiness. “A very arrogant man leading a very arrogant people. It will irk him no end if a lowly land-dweller like myself suggests they may have found something of value in the surface world they consider so inferior.”
Judging the brew ready, he poured and set down the pot, smiling like a contented cat.
“So,” he said, oozing satisfaction that, for once, the social pleasantries had been observed without interruption. “You have come, I presume, to reclaim the... what is it called... the mechanized 'tablet' which Falstaff presented me to reestablish contact with my minions?”
“You can keep it if you want,” Selina said. “It's not good for anything but solitaire at this point.”
“Then why have you come?” Ra’s asked, still gracious in tone but with a spark of suspicion lit behind his eyes.
Selina set down her cup.
“I wanted to see you personally to let you know, well... Were you aware I’m in the crimefighting game now? Probably not, it’s not the kind of thing your guys would notice, let alone care about enough to put into a report. But, uh, I am. And, well, I’m going to be handling you from now on.
“You see, Bruce won a bet. It’s my own fault; I was pissed and cocky and trying to make a point. I said he could name any prize he wanted. This is it. He chose not bothering with you anymore. You’re now my problem.”
“This is an obscenity,” Ra’s said flatly.
“No, it’s geography. Bruce is Batman, and Batman is Gotham. You’re not. You’re just not, Ra’s. And Gotham has plenty of its own concerns and its own criminals to keep both the Dark Knight and his day face fully occupied.”
“I do not accept this! I do not believe for one moment the Detective would be so—”
“Yeah, well, geography is one of those pesky things that exist whether you believe in them or not. Maybe you're thinking of Tinkerbell.”
For a moment, Ra’s lip trembled with unspeakable emotion, then he collected himself, refreshed his tea cup and took a sip as if he no longer saw Catwoman in the room with him.
“It won't be that bad,” she said coaxingly. “It’ll take some getting used to, but I’m sure we can learn to make each other just as miserable as you and Bruce did.”
Ra’s appeared to look through her at a random spot over the koi pond.
“Ah,” Selina said, realizing he was ignoring her the same way Whiskers did when he was offended. She decided not to share that observation but figured the same response was called for: give him all the time he needs, alone by himself, to get over it. “I’d better be going then,” she said, rising. “Thank you for the tea.”
As the door to the prison apartment closed behind her, Selina felt the thin, barely visible particle beams hum to life behind her, sending an ionized buzz through the back of her hair and across the back of her rump.
“Hey,” she squawked, jumping forward. “You could give me two seconds to get out the door before you turn those back on.”
“Sorry,” an unexpectedly masculine voice answered, and Selina turned. She had expected Aquaman’s assistant Valerina to be waiting to escort her back to the transporters, not the sea king himself.
“Hi, Arthur,” she said.
Not quite “the sea king,” for there was nothing King Orin-regal about him, and nothing Aquaman-heroic either. He was pinning some kind of green, glowing cocoon-thing against the wall with his hip, which was apparently why he’d jumped the gun reactivating the particle beams. He swore (something about goldfish and the Galapagos Rift) as he folded the cocoon-thing over itself, and as he slung it over his shoulder, he had the look of a man who had expected to spend the day watching football but found himself trapped at a shopping mall instead, waiting for his wife to buy shoes.
“One second more,” he said, jostling the glowing cocoon again and then turning with a brave smile. “Valerina had to step away, so I’ll be taking you back to the transporters myself.”
“You’re a pretty cool boss,” Selina observed. Then she pointed to the cocoon, now pulsing through different shades of green and varying intensity of glow. “I’ve got to ask, what is that thing?”
Arthur looked at her like a man deep into act two of a three-act bedroom farce.
“It’s a dress,” he said—in a tone that said it was the One Dress he had walked a thousand miles into Mordor to destroy in the fires of Mount Doom.
“In a radioactive garment bag?” she pressed.
“Lantern energy,” Arthur explained. “The casing is lantern energy. The contents are a dress. Selina, when I woke up this morning, I was ‘His Majesty, Orin, by the Grace of Poseidon, of Atlantia, Pacifica, and Dominions beyond the Reefs, King and Defender of the Seas.’ Now I am standing here with a beaded evening gown from 1936 encased in temporal stabilizers, because my secretary had to step away, leaving me to send you back to the Watchtower myself—which, by the way, violates about fifteen diplomatic protocols, because those transporters are technically a Justice League embassy. So we’re lucky today’s ‘ambassador’ is a woman who doesn’t mind breaking five or six laws at a time—And if you asked me why all this happening, I assure you, you would not believe me.”
As he ranted, Selina abandoned the Catwoman-teasing-the-hero persona for that of Bruce’s sympathetic girlfriend.
“You’re having one of those days,” she said mildly.
“Something like that,” he panted belligerently.
“Tell you what,” she said, “Live through it, come to Gotham tomorrow and we’ll have an afternoon on the Gatta. After all those fundraisers, it will do Bruce and I a world of good to do a little entertaining for someone we actually like.”
Arthur smiled and said he’d check his schedule. Then, after hanging the ‘radioactive garment bag’ on the side of the transporter bay, he helped Selina into the chamber and bowed over her hand with the formal nod of a monarch seeing off an ambassador. Then he turned away, forgetting to retrieve the garment bag, and moved to the control panel to send her on her way.
Only when she and the garment bag had completely vanished from the transporter did he permit his lip to twitch.
“When I woke up this morning, I was ‘His Majesty, Orin, King and Defender of the Seas,’” he repeated in a much different tone and with a naughtily impish smirk. “And now I am Batman’s wingman.”
When the Justice League instituted their global transport network, Bruce balked at the idea of having every TP station anywhere able to teleport into the Batcave. Trusting his identity, his home, his cave and the lives of his loved ones to the premise that no Leaguer anywhere would ever drop the ball, it was absurd. So the Batcave transporters were on their own circuit, connected only to the Watchtower and each other. To reach Atlantis, Selina had gone through the usual process, changing into costume in the Manor cave, TPing to the Watchtower, waiting a short time for her biorhythms to recover, and then TPing again to Atlantis. She expected to return the same way. But instead of materializing at the Watchtower, she found herself… um… outdoors.
She was outdoors on a warm night, looking out on a large, full moon hanging low over… a pyramid… Ruins and a pyramid… Three chills of recognition hit in a triple wave. First: she was looking at an archaeological dig at the ruins of an Egyptian city. Second: Her arms were bare, her costume and mask gone, and she was wearing a beaded black and white evening dress. Third: Bruce was rising from a chair in front of her, wearing a tuxedo with a high waist, vest and wing collar shirt that, like her gown, seemed of another era.
“Welcome to Bubastis,” he said, stretching out his hand to help her off the teleport pad. “Center of worship for the feline goddess Bast.”
“I’ve heard of her,” Selina murmured as Bruce offered his arm and led her to the small table set for two, with a white damask cloth, a basket of flowers, candles, and a bottle of wine at the ready.
“Under other circumstances, this would be champagne,” he said casually. “But you see, we’re in what can best be described as a ‘time bubble.’ I didn’t know how long you were going to be with Ra’s, and this seemed the best way to provide for the variables of time and date: I wanted a time of day and time of month for a full moon over the pyramid, and once I’d gone that far, it only made sense to choose an era when they were more welcoming towards Western tourists. The ‘20s and ‘30s, heyday of rich Americans and English en vacance, a request like this for a moonlit supper overlooking the dig site is easy enough to arrange—once you have the period currency, of course. I mention that only because of the trouble involved. This isn’t something you can improvise on the spur of the moment.”
“I see,” Selina said softly.
“I doubt that very much. Let’s sit down…” he answered.
He held her chair and went on to explain that champagne was certainly the expected beverage to be serving, but with her knowledge of wine, he figured she would prefer to take advantage of being in the past and sample an 1898 Château Latour.
She managed a nod—barely—and he poured.
“They think I’m quite eccentric anyway for arranging this here rather than the Giza plateau,” he said, with the slightest hint of the Fop in his tone. Which was just jarring enough for Selina to pull herself together.
“So why are we here, specifically?” she asked, swirling the wine and taking a deep, rich inhale of the once-in-a-lifetime bouquet.
“Well, there is the obvious,” Bruce began, sitting back with a pleased smile to explain the nuances of his choice. “Whether she’s called Bast, Bastet or Sekh-met, the goddess is often depicted with the head of a cat on the body of a woman. The full moon is for Selina, ‘daughter of the moon.’ And—less obvious, but far more important to me—that square hole right over there, that’s where, in about five weeks, they’re going to discover that Sekhmet statue that’s in your curio in the bedroom.”
“Our first compromise,” she grinned. “The one you let me keep when I moved into the manor, even though it’s, a-hem, stolen property.” She attempted her throaty impersonation of his bat-gravel on the last words, and Bruce’s warm playboy smile faded into the stern mask of a Bat-scowl… which then flickered into a lip-twitch.
“Well, like you said at the time, it was the first time you escaped from Batman with the loot,” he said.
“Oh, you jackass,” Selina laughed. “Even here, even now, you’re ready to sit there and go on calling that a compromise. You lent that statue to the museum, Bruce. They didn’t own it, you did. And now it’s back in your house. Big compromise there, stud.”
“How did you find out?” he asked, sipping his wine.
“I ran into it at some point in the logs, it’s not important,” she smiled, then looked adoringly across the table. “You win, this is a perfect place for a proposal.”
“Oh, I’m not proposing,” Bruce said swiftly. “There are three false conclusions you have about what happened at the MoMA that night, and this is to straighten out the first one.”
“You can’t be serious,” Selina said, echoing the words from a hundred rooftop declarations.
“Do I look like I’m joking?” he answered as he always did.
“Pour,” she ordered.
He did. She sipped, he sipped, and they looked out at the moonlight, the dig site and the pyramid for several minutes, as if a lengthy telepathic exchange was taking place. Then, as if by mutual agreement, Bruce cleared his throat to continue aloud:
“You wanted a protocol because you believe my not having planned the moment out in every detail meant it wasn’t important to me—that my ‘winging it’ meant you weren’t important. You wanted a protocol, so I’m giving you one.
“But the truth is, Selina, my improvising wasn’t what you think. All my life, my emotions have been… intense, powerful… and I’ve put a lot of work into self-discipline. Control is necessary. You know better than anyone, there is a rage that I cannot ever lose sight of. When I have Joker’s scrawny oh-so-breakable neck in my hand, control is the only thing that allows me to… remain human. To punch him out without smashing his skull into the concrete.
“And then you came along. And there were feelings besides hate and anger to be controlled. Can you imagine for one minute what it was like for me when I felt myself attracted to a criminal? The first night—scratch that, the first night was nothing compared to—it was months after our first encounter when it really sunk in, when I realized it wasn’t going to go away. It wasn’t novelty. The desire was getting more intense with time, not fading…
“You said once that the ‘obsessive control thing’ was ‘beneath me,’ that it’s the behavior of insecure people who know they're not good enough to handle whatever might come along. People who don’t trust their instincts, want to have a plan for every possible contingency because they just don't trust themselves to figure out what to say or do in the moment. And you were right that that’s not me. I am ‘above that’ in that I have no fear of my instincts letting me down in the face of whatever crisis might come along. But you were also right that the desire for control, the need to have a plan is not entirely trusting myself. The things I feel, I feel so intensely. And I have enemies like Ra’s and Joker who will orchestrate events, perpetrate horrors, just to provoke a reaction. Having thought through a hundred permutations in advance and made a plan on how to proceed... helps. I can be just that much more confident that the rage won’t take over.
“So it’s no small thing that I can ‘improvise’ with you, Selina. And it certainly isn’t disrespect. It’s… what happened that night at the MoMA, the first night, asking… asking about the… asking…”
“About the Monet,” Selina prompted.
“Yeah,” he said, meeting her eyes across the table. “It was like the first time swinging off a roof on the Batline, nothing but cold wind under you for a hundred feet. I let go, I stopped ‘being Batman’ with you, and I just… spoke from my heart… and it turned out pretty well.”
“Yes. It did,” Selina admitted.
“The second time, not so much,” he said lightly.
“Well, in retrospect, ‘since you brought it up and we’re here’ does sound a little different now.”
“You said ‘you don’t even want to marry me’ and we were right there, virtually on the same spot where I ‘winged it’ the first time. It seemed like fate. Everything we are now seemed to lead back to that moment, so I…”
“Winged it,” they said in unison, then laughed. Then an easy silence settled.
“You said there were three assumptions?” Selina noted.
“Yes, but this isn’t the time or the place to go into the others,” said Bruce.
“Oh come on, you’re on a roll,” she teased.
“Ra’s and Joker have both been mentioned at this table. That’s definitely exhausted this setting for any further discussion of us or our future. But… we do have the use of the time bubble for another few hours, so since the location is already tainted, you could tell me how your meeting went. How did he take it?”
“Pretty well, all things considered,” Selina said, sitting forward and leaning across the table. “Well first, you were right. That ‘cell’ of his is bigger than Cassie’s apartment.”
“And furnished like the lobby of—”
“—The Star City Hilton, yes!”
“The koi pond—”
“He served me tea from this beautiful little pot—”
“With the matching cups carved from some kind of blue-green crystal—”
“‘Sea-jade’ he called it. Now if they’d just donated something like that to the silent auction, do you know how much we could get—”
“Next year you should go down in person and pick out what they’re going to donate.”
“’Pick out’ like ‘window shopping on Fifth Avenue,’ or ‘pick up’ my way, like ‘meow?’”
“Six of one.”
“Did you just sanction a burglary to benefit your Foundation, Mr. Wayne?”
“It’s not stealing if you leave him a receipt.”
The next week saw the Gotham Times, Post, Observer and Daily News each mangle the story in their own way. Falstaff Inc. was in forfeiture and Gregorian Falstaff a fugitive, that much was certain. Opinions differed about what he’d actually done: if it was insider trading, tax evasion, embezzlement, or a ponzi scheme. Whatever it was, none of the old guard Gotham establishment voiced surprise:
“I have seen these people come, and I have seen them go,” Mrs. Ashton-Larraby declared at the Bristol Country Club.
“What do you expect from the kind of person who spends a million dollars on logo placement,” Ted Layne declared at the Butterfield.
“Plastering his name all over the red carpet at someone else’s Foundation,” Frank Endicott sniffed at d’Annunzio’s.
“I never liked him,” said Bunny Wigglesworth and her husband agreed, adding “Whenever they come up that fast out of nowhere, you can be sure they’ll go down just as quick.”
Richard Flay wondered, aloud and repeatedly, what became of the Edgar Brandt fire screen Falstaff had ‘stolen from him’ at the Crispin auction, and it was the last Selina decided to act on.
Now that Bruce had the satisfaction of answering those insults to the Foundation with Batman’s fist, he was positioning himself above the petty social posturing. He wouldn’t even answer Lucius’s pointed queries with anything more than a lighthearted “I told you not to worry about it.” Selina wasn’t that sort. She didn’t want to be above it all, to move on and forget it ever happened. Now that Falstaff was driven from Gotham in disgrace, she wanted to reward those people who had the loyalty, sense and judgment to dislike him from the beginning, and now had the good grace to be dancing on his grave. After four galas and a dinner party, she didn’t relish the idea of doing it in the social arena, which is why Richard Flay presented such an appealing prospect. His reward was something Catwoman could obtain, no engraved invitations needed, no popping champagne corks required. A few hours research had determined that the contents of Falstaff’s apartment were in storage at the Cardmoor Warehouse, pending arbitration of competing seizure claims from multiple government agencies. (Meow.) Further research determined that the Cardmoor was owned by a bunch of morons who had no grasp of false economy. They’d replaced their human security guard with an ordinary Rodman 200, never upgraded the software, and they even let the site license expire. (Meow.) And a quick check of the Crispin catalog determined that either the Edgar Brandt mirror or the fire screen would fit in the trunk of her old Jaguar with enough room left over for the Goldscheider Aphrodite. (Meow-meow-meow-meow-meow.)
The next night, she had just found her spot in the narrow alley between the Cardmoor and its twin owned by a more reputable warehousing firm, that perfectly situated sweet spot where she could disable the alarm without fear of being seen—when a wedge of black metal dropped down in front of her, suspended by the deceptively thin-looking Batline.
“Cute,” she said, shifting her balance as she wrapped her forearm around the line a few times, then gave it a signal tug. Instantly, she felt herself yanked upward as the line retracted. When she reached the edge of the tilted roof, she let go of the line and stepped carefully until sure of her footing. Reaching the top of the incline, she walked the narrow path to the very end and stepped up, up, and up again to join him on an adjacent girder—and survey one of the grimier and more derelict views of the industrial downtown neighborhood.
“Not exactly a picture postcard, but it has its charm,” she said, guessing his thought. “The Gotham only you know.”
“I’d hardly say that.”
“I would. Look where we are, only two or three flights up. Nobody but you would ever find a spot like this. It’s an unusual perspective.”
“You’re here,” he noted.
“Because you invited me. Thanks for the lift, by the way.”
He grunted, and they looked at the view in silence for a minute. Finally, Selina spoke.
“If we’re here to straighten out another one of those false assumptions about the MoMA, I’m going to need a little more to go on.”
“You were here to steal,” he remarked.
“I salute you, World’s Greatest Detective.”
“I was wondering where to do this,” he said. “It’s a low roof, like the train station. Not quite as interesting a neighborhood, the landscape of the rooftops and alleys, but still fitting. And you are here to steal.”
“I am not the world’s greatest detective, stud. I’m still going to need more.”
“The first time. Our first encounter. The top of the train station.” He turned away from the view and looked into her eyes with all the piercing intensity of that first encounter. “I approached too soon that night, began the confrontation before you had retrieved the stolen items.”
“Like you did just now?” Selina grinned.
“Tonight was deliberate,” he graveled—and stepped in closer, until they could feel each other’s breath. “Then came the second encounter at the train station, after you’d robbed the Excelsior. Remember?” He pressed his body against her like a lover, and grabbed each of her arms where he’d held her down when that night’s fight went against her. “Just because you’re done, doesn’t mean I am,” he quoted.
“I remember,” she said, lips parting.
“Then came the museum, Cartier, Gallery Blu… You know, part of the reason things went so poorly that night at the MoMA is that we just had that big fight about NMK and all the fundraisers stalking you, and I think… I think that’s what I wanted. I wanted to ask you while we were fighting because… because I’m jealous. You were always my girl, Batman’s girl. I found you. Bruce was wasting his time with a lot of shallow, stupid women it was a penance to spend time with… and I had you. You were part of this world: the rooftops and the alleys, the crazies with guns and the crazies without guns. I’d finish the logs and climb up those stairs each night. Up to the manor, then up to the bedroom. It wasn’t one of Bruce Wayne’s bimbos I was thinking of when my head hit the pillow. It was the claws, the whip, the woman in the mask…
“And after all those years, it happened. It actually happened outside of my imagination—and we made love, what, six times before the masks came off? Six times before he took you for himself. “My name is Bruce” and from that moment this… takeover started. This slow, methodical takeover. And I guess I… finally rebelled. We were in costume, we were fighting, you were still mad at me—it was the perfect time to… take you back. That moment wasn’t going to be ‘Bruce and Selina’ it was going to be you and me.”
“Br—um,” Selina stopped and made an exaggerated ‘patronizing the loony’ gesture, “Dark Knight, Caped Crusader, Mr. Batman, sir. Do you have any idea how completely nuts that sounds?”
He surprised her by nodding.
“Yes. On the surface, it seems completely crazy to me too.”
“On the surface, in the middle, and on the bottom.”
“But we both know who I am under the mask. It took the confrontation with your Comte de Poulignac to make me realize: he thought he was talking to a Batman who had lost Selina to Bruce Wayne. Made me realize that a part of me feels like that’s exactly what happened.”
“Wow. So hijacking the proposal was sort of… marking your territory?”
“Something like that.”
“I kind of like that,” Selina breathed—then her eyes grew feline…wary…hard… and finally, naughtily playful. “You do know that, no matter what happens with us down the line, I’m not getting that bat silhouette tattooed anywhere. You do know that, right?”
The bat Walapang and his little friend, mercifully unnamed, hung low on their favorite perch over Workstation One. Beneath, Bruce copied the confirmation from the respective insurance companies that the recovered jewelry belonging to Sophia Beaufort, Lily Coleman and Linda Brodland had all been certified as genuine, and with that, he marked the file on the Wayne Fete cat burglar CLOSED.
He typed rapidly on the console keyboard, glanced back up at the file, and gave a light, satisfied smile.
CLOSED, PENDING FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS, he read, double-checking the links to François de Poulignac the individual, Château de Poulignac the vineyard, and the banking records for each. He briefly thought through other data streams that might be worth monitoring, when the clip-clip of Selina’s heels made it prudent to close the file.
“I brought tea,” she announced unnecessarily as Bruce sniffed the smoky blend Alfred had taught her alone how to make.
“Someday you are going to tell me the secret to this,” he said, sipping with the thoughtful scowl that appeared whenever Batman put aside some line of inquiry for now, in the interests of securing her cooperation to stop the current threat to Gotham, but had no intention of leaving that debit in want of a credit forever.
“I’m really not,” she grinned. “I have to assume Alfred has some very good reason for not telling you, just like you must have a very good reason for hiding that file you were working on when I came down just now.”
He grunted and punched a button on the console, bringing up the file on the cat burglar.
“Ah, I should have known,” she said tersely. “You should be hiding it, jackass. We had an agreement, that was my half of the case. You had Falstaff-the-boring, who might not even have been a criminal for all you knew, and I had a sexy jewel thief going after cat-worthy baubles of Gotham’s elite. I had engineered the perfect snare to smoke him out, and you just stepped in and took over.”
“Yes, it must be terribly annoying to have someone sneak in and take something you consider your own property,” Bruce said with a lip-twitch.
“I did all the work for you—I lined up the shot—I loosened the lid,” she chanted, too caught up in her own recitation to hear his joke.
“Selina, what would you have had me do when I heard Falstaff talking about ‘the Frenchman’ when he clearly meant the cat burglar? You don’t follow things like the international crimes bulletins, you knew nothing of the Villon robberies in Paris—”
“You could have told me—”
“Like you could have told me about all the Madisons on the circuit snooping into my past!”
“Selina, you already thought I was imagining Ra’s involvement behind Falstaff. If I told you a series of home invasions in Paris was the work of Demon assassins and not ordinary thieves—and that the whole purpose of those robberies was to scare your old boyfriend into working for them to wind up the next wave of Falstaff’s public relations attacks on both of us—I can’t predict your exact words, but I can be pretty sure they would have been punctuated with a whip crack and ended with my cheek bleeding.”
“You got that right.”
“And instead of aggressively and proactively helping me trap the both of them, you’d be off on some rampage to establish Catwoman’s independence. At a time when I most needed you on my team.”
Selina said nothing for a long moment. The day of Falstaff’s press conference, she had wished they were in this cave where the silence would broken by bat squeaks. Instead, the squeaking of the bats only emphasized the oppressive silence between the humans.
“You were right,” she said at last. “When Joker was tracking me that time, you were right. It was necessary for you to trick me into taking that beacon, because I never would have agreed to do it your way. I didn’t know who you were, in more ways than one…
“But that was a good few years ago. I’m not the same person I was then, and I honestly don’t know how I would have felt or what I would have done if you’d given me all the information. It’s entirely possible, if you’d trusted me and told me what you were doing, I would have helped and then… and then we’d have sunk or swum together… We’d really be partners. But you didn’t. And we’re not. So the answer to that question you didn’t ask that night at the MoMA is—”
“I’m glad you brought that up,” Bruce said. “If you remember, there were three points I said you had misinterpreted about that.”
“This really strikes you as a time to tell me how I’m wrong about something,” Selina said, staring with disbelief.
“Where you were heading with that last sentence, Kitten, it is the perfect time. Because you have never been so staggeringly wrong in your life—and thank you for that. I was wondering where and when, and in what state of costume, to get into it. And you’ve just given me the answer. Now. But not here. Let’s go upstairs.”
“No! I don’t think you’ve been liste—” Selina began, only to be cut off by the snap of a Batcuff on her wrist.
“Chiropteran logic, get used to it,” he graveled.
“They do not have words for how much pain you’re going to be in when you pay for—” she began, this time, cut off by a kiss. The kiss of a masked stranger on a long ago rooftop, a kiss that should have begun softly and gently, the tentative moments of a first kiss that were jolted unexpectedly into the future. The startling, naked intimacy of a lover, an angular crisp taste with a trace of round sweetness, a shared piquant breath of spice and ginger and flint…
When it was over, Bruce extended an open palm, seemingly to take her hand.
“Just this once,” he offered.
Selina smiled, deposited the picked Batcuffs into his open palm and closed his fingers around them.
“Just this once,” she said, offering her other hand playfully like a paw.
He took it, and they walked together up the stairs to the manor. Selina was ready to let go when they reached the study, but he held on and led her out to the Great Hall, and across it to the ornate, curving staircase that led to the upper floor.
“Looks like I’ve had quite the string of screw ups,” he said as they climbed the stairs, one at a time. “I didn’t tell you about the Datalock project before Lucius ambushed you. Didn’t warn you about the probable consequences disposing of the NMK properties. I was sufficiently out of touch with my own feelings that I let Batman improvise a proposal and I wound up insulting you. I didn’t tell you when I started to suspect de Poulignac was the cat burglar, I used your expertise and initiative to construct a trap and then elbowed you aside at the crucial moment. Did I leave anything out?”
“Yes, but it’s not worth getting into right now,” Selina said with a playing-along smile. “I sense there’s a point coming. Make it.”
“My point is you’re still here. You went on helping me with the cat burglar after the mess at the MoMA. You went on helping me with Ra’s after I kept you in the dark about de Poulignac.” By now, they had reached the portrait gallery at the top of the stairs and Bruce tilted his head towards the bedrooms. “You still sleep in our bed, interrupt my shower, and come down to the cave with tea when I’ve been at the logs too long.”
“Oh come on,” Selina laughed, “Like I’m going to make you sleep alone because you made an ass of yourself on a museum rooftop? Bruce, this is us!”
“Yes. It is. Selina, can you envision anything that I might say or do, anything I ‘screw up,’ some fight we have—or anything that would happen to us like this Falstaff business—that would end in you packing up Whiskers and Nutmeg, kissing Alfred on the cheek and leaving?”
“Bruce, that’s not funny.”
“Start dating Francois again. Or maybe Dent or Nigma.”
“Seeing on Page Six that I was out clubbing with some blonde.”
“That’s a no. Neither can I. I can’t conceive of going back to climbing these stairs each night after patrol without knowing you’ve beaten me home and are already upstairs in bed. I can’t imagine not waking up next to you every morning for the rest of our lives. Because we are partners, Selina. Whatever comes up, we face it together. And whatever we screw up—and we will both be screwing up from time to time—we’ll work through it.
“You were right about exactly one thing at the MoMA that night, I saw asking you as a formality. I still do. Because you’re already my wife. I’m already your husband. Looking back, I can’t point to a specific moment where it happened. But it did, we’re here now. This isn’t my home or yours, it’s not my life or yours, it’s ours. And I’m sorry that means you don’t get ‘the question’ the way every woman dreams of it. If you remember, I did say that first night that normal relationships just don’t work for people like us. And that ‘They’ will never be able to understand what we have, and that we—”
“Will never be able to make sense out of it using their standards,” she said softly. “Yes, I remember.”
“There are tradeoffs. We have… other moments normal people can never conceive of.”
“The time bubble was definitely up there,” Selina admitted. “You’d have to go a long way to top that one.”
“For my part, I don’t have to go ten feet,” he said, pointing towards the bedroom. “Catwoman’s costume is under my bed, right now. And in a little pouch behind the whip holster that nobody knows about are a set of catarangs… That I made…” he said, expelling the last words with an anxious breath.
“Just like you made the first batarangs,” Selina whispered.
“Whatever men who aren’t Batman have with…”
“With women who aren’t Catwoman…”
The words and the thought dissolved into the anxious, pulsing silence that precedes a first kiss. Bruce swallowed, and as his heartbeat pounded in his ears, his arm reached out uncertainly to find a place at the small of her back. Selina tilted her head awkwardly as their faces moved closer together, with all the tentative clumsiness of one who never navigated that particular nose before on the way to those new, undiscovered lips. She closed her eyes as her tongue moistened the inner ridge of her lip, timidly, in that heady moment before contact. Then came the heat… the warmth of an impossibly perfect mouth… and her hand rose up so that searching, curious fingers could touch, ever so lightly, along that perfectly chiseled jaw…
Until the caress continued, up and to the side, the pads of her fingers continued up and to the side… where the edge of the mask should be… up and to the side… up and to the side… and instead of that cold, graphite cowl, there was still warm, pliable flesh. Selina opened her eyes so that the masked stranger with whom she had never shared a first kiss dissolved into the familiar lover whose name was Bruce.
“Marry me,” he said with Bat-brevity.
“Will Batman feel cheated if I say ‘yes’ instead of ‘meow’?” she asked.
“Then yes,” she beamed.
Their eyes met in a moment of shocked, shared disbelief.
“We should tell Alfred first,” they said in unison—then, resisting the urge to laugh, he went on to say “Then have the kids over, and then I’ll tell Clark…” while she said “Oh my god, no. No, we can’t. It’s going to be an unholy mess!”
“What do you mean ‘no’?! There’s no ‘no.’ You’re not getting out of this, Selina, I can still revive that Blackgate protocol if I have to—”
“Stand down, jackass. I didn’t mean ‘no’ that way. I meant—And don’t flatter yourself, on your best day that Blackgate thing wasn’t going to happen—I just meant— Eddie, Harvey, Pammy, Oswald, Jervis, Harley, Victor—Joker! Remember what they did last time, and it wasn’t even us getting married! It’s going to be an unholy mess.”
“Okay, first, are you under the impression that this is accepting my proposal? Because Nigma, Dent, Isley, Cobblepot, Tetch, Quinn, and Fries is really not a list of names that belong in this conversation.”
“Yes, not to mention Joker.”
“Keep digging there, stud.”
“And second,” Bruce said with a lip-twitch. “I’ll come up with something. I’ve authored protocols for much less important reasons than this.”
Selina took a deep breath.
“We’ll come up with something,” she said. “Partners, remember?”
And she smiled.
“But,” she said, “Until we have a plan, and I mean until we have a plan—twenty layers deep, cross-indexed, cross-checked and verified, marked with that straight-wing bat emblem you only put on keyword clearance files that can only be accessed from Workstation One—we can’t tell anybody. Bruce, we can’t. We have to keep this absolutely between us.”
“I agree,” he graveled. “It stays between us.”
From the Desk of Lucius Fox,
You are invited to
an informal reception introducing
RISE was developed using resources exclusive to Wayne Tech, enabling us to secure your information and property against the most aggressive and proficient acquisition methods employed by today’s criminal element.
Anyway, Bruce said to be sure to tell you, if you do come to the RISE preview, be sure to stop by the penthouse for a drink after and say hello. —L.F.