Batman’s razor-focus predated Batman himself. It was the first skill Bruce mastered in the dojo, sensing when his anger would be useful and when it would impede his technique. When it was useful, he would tap it; when it wasn’t, he blocked it out. He found the discipline invaluable when he returned to Gotham. Bruce Wayne’s life was complex and multifaceted, there was more to balance and manage than the fury he brought to the mat, and when he acted as Batman, the disciplined focus served him well.
In Playa Mansa, for instance, he thought only of the Water Demons, the Triad who conjured them, and the kryptonite-infused kelp that left Superman helpless against both. He spent his layover at the Watchtower writing up a log entry on the incident, and it was only when he returned to the cave, when he stepped off the transporter and onto the hard stone floor, that he remembered Selina would be home. He bypassed Workstation One on the way to the costume vault. Another night, he might have checked to see that the log transmitted from the Watchtower had been properly received and indexed, but there was no reason to think it wouldn’t be. He shed his costume, donned the kimono that had been Selina’s gift, and hurried up the stairs to the manor—until he reached the wine racks positioned immediately inside the clock passage.
They were camouflage originally. In the early days when the Batcave was little more than an in-progress workshop, when he strained to foresee and provide for every possible eventuality. If someone stumbled onto the clock opening by accident, they would see nothing but a row of empty wine racks and dismiss it as a long-abandoned wine cellar… The idea was soon abandoned, but passing the empty racks now did give him an idea. Straining to foresee and provide for every possible eventuality was not a skill from the dojo; it was a habit he’d picked up from Alfred. Detouring through the kitchen, he found a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse chilling in the refrigerator. He grabbed it and headed to the bedroom. Even with the time difference, Selina would be back from her prowl. If she was asleep, no harm done, but he was sure she would still be awake. For once, Bruce and Selina would have the homecoming Batman and Catwoman so often denied them.
At least, that was his thought until he reached the bedroom. Then it was as if a spirit-form of Batman stood beside him, pushed him aside as clearly as if a physical entity was taking the bottle from his hand and stepping forward in his place. It wasn’t a romantic impulse, it was… an instinct. A deeply ingrained instinct that said this was something for Batman to handle.
He looked. Selina was seated in the bed, her knees up, reading a magazine. Nothing about her said “Catwoman.” She wore a silk camisole and tap pants – apricot, not even a Catwoman color. Yet his instincts kicked in, he felt every inch of his body on hyper-alert as if he had come upon a rogue.
“Welcome home, Kitten,” he managed, fighting to keep the gravel out of his voice and overcompensating with a foppish lilt.
Catwoman didn’t notice the oddity in his manner. She tossed her magazine aside, launched at him with a girlish squeal, kissed him, pressed against him, kissed again, readjusted, kissed… and started muttering into the kiss that there was something cold… broke the kiss, realized she’d been pressing her chest into a chilled bottle of wine, giggled like a good sport who just lost a snowball fight, and led him back towards the bed.
Or rather, Selina did those things.
“I missed you so much,” she cooed.
Not Catwoman. Selina.
“I missed you too,” he said, trying to figure out what he was responding to. Was it just that she’d been gone for a few weeks? They spoke on the phone, but he hadn’t seen her. If his mental image was more Selina and less Cat, and now here he was suddenly confronted by an original that was more Catwoman than he remembered… A dubious theory, since Bruce was pretty sure that when his mental image erred, it was in the other direction, more Cat and less Selina. But she was home and happy to see him. He was prepared to accept a dubious theory.
Love making, backrubs and cuddling co-mingled with updates on European art thefts, a counterfeiting operation shut down in Chinatown, and a Black Triad learning the hard way that coming at the Justice League with Water Demons is not something you even want to consider.
Dozing followed, and Bruce’s dreaming mind returned to the problem his waking self had abandoned: what in that first glimpse of Selina was so evocative of the long ago criminal Catwoman? He saw himself at the wheel of a third or fourth year Batmobile, returning to the cave, writing up the log on a second generation operating system… Going to a costume vault with no pressed kimono waiting for him, removing Mark III body armor and changing into the sweater and trousers he’d worn that afternoon… Climbing the stairs to the manor, climbing the stairs to the bedroom—and coming to a screeching halt in the doorway as he saw a fully costumed Catwoman posing on his bed like some Delacroix odalisque.
“Ah, the man at last,” she purred. “What hours you playboys keep, I’ve been waiting forever. Almost gave you up as a lost cause. But since you did manage to get here, I heard a whisper that you like Van Gogh. A buyer has fallen through—well, not strictly true, Luthor commissioned the theft, but then he crossed me, so now he doesn’t get it.” She stuck out her tongue on the last, and Bruce felt… conflicted. Her eyes shone and sparked and danced with vengeful excitement as she continued. “I figure the best way to stick it to him is to offer it to someone he really hates.”
Her cheeks warmed with delighted anticipation…
“And Superman isn’t likely to buy a stolen painting, so it’s your lucky day if you want it.”
And her nipples were hard.
“Oh Bruce, it will absolutely kill him,” she said, rolling onto her back, her costume fading away to reveal the naked body he knew, with only the mask remaining, seeming to merge into her skin… and the claws, no longer connected to gloves but growing naturally from her fingers, digging into the bed the way her nails sometimes did during sex. “How he hates you…” Her voice gurgled wickedly at the thought. “And the painting he wants will be yours.”
Water Demons intruded, and the dream dissolved into a methodical rearrangement of the Playa Mansa affair, his thoughts cementing certain parallels he’d noticed to past demonic threats and recapitulating the strategy that had been so effective against them. An abbreviated Crime Alley dream followed that, and he awoke as he often did with only the vaguest recollection of any of his dreams and no desire to examine the wispy cobwebs for insight. Selina was still asleep. He caressed her calf briefly as he turned to get out of the bed… when he his eye fell on the magazine she’d been reading when he came home. The whole thing—puzzle and solution—flashed in his mind with crystal clarity. She had looked villainous. Wickedly, savagely villainous… No, not savagely, it much more thoughtful and controlled than that… Vengefully, that was it. The heat was long passed, and it was the cool, calculating reprisal she was thinking on.
He turned back to the bed and watched her sleeping. The target of those villainous machinations was presumably DEMON, and Bruce thought ruefully of her words before she’d left: “If you get jealous of me and Ra’s, we’re going to be getting into some very weird territory.”
No weirder than if I start feeling sorry for him, he thought.
Eddie sat before the food tray Saul Vics had placed before him as he had every morning since that last Poison Ivy dinner, waiting, fingers interlaced, as if expecting it to speak. Monday morning at Arkham meant rolled oats cereal, milk and sugar, bread and butter, grapefruit juice, and coffee. Unchanged since 1971. The Board of Trustees did not like change. They never removed ‘Asylum’ from the name. It was a perfectly good word, they said, meaning refuge or sanctuary. If there were old-fashioned connotations of horror house loony bins from an earlier time, there were even older connotations as an inviolable place of safety—a place of safety offered to outlaws and criminals, no less. As such, it was the best possible term for the position Arkham occupied in the Gotham ecosystem. Naturally, an institution so resistant to meaningless cosmetic change was even more resistant when it came to its operations. Monday morning breakfast meant rolled oats cereal, milk and sugar, bread and butter, etc, unchanged since 1971.
Vics stood by, though he had no need to remain. Patients in special circumstance isolation (i.e. Rogues not in the FTRP) were brought meals in their cells because of the heightened risk any time they left those cells. They were not considered at-risk themselves and did not require supervision while they ate. But Vics delivered Patient Nigma’s tray last precisely so he could stay. Previously, he did it so he could receive Nigma’s instructions for the day. Since the Poison Ivy incident, he stayed because—well, obviously, because there was a great deal to be said. He didn’t think he should be the first to speak, however.
Apparently neither did Nigma.
Nor did the pat of butter he was staring at as if he expected it to apologize.
The silence continued.
Tense and unbearable to a man like Vics who had never locked eyes with Batman in January.
Gratingly obstinate to a man like Nigma who had.
He was the injured party. He had not been greened. He might have been a little drunk, but his judgment had been no worse than that of a thousand others in bars and nightclubs that same night who had all been allowed to complete their alcohol-fueled misadventures without a pair of guards in riot gear storming into the room and tearing them apart. He was a cerebral man whose chief pleasures were intellectual. He enjoyed sex, but he did not assign it undue importance. Nevertheless, he’d had a woman literally ripped from his arms. Before an item of clothing came off, before anybody reached under the clothing still on—he was the injured party! Vics may have meant well, and Eddie wished he could be a little more the true Arkham loony and fail to see that. He would like to be less rational, blame Vics for the act and not care that the stupid ass thought he was rescuing Eddie from a pheromone-induced ‘worse than death.’
Unfortunately, he did see it. He could see clearly the way it looked to Vics: Eddie was about to become the boss in name only, merely a functionary and mouthpiece for Queen Chlorophyll. The money would be the same, for a while, but the orders would really be coming from Ivy. Even Vics knew that meant disaster sooner or later. Ivy wasn’t a long game player. Even when she wasn’t in the emotional throes of ‘soul-searching,’ she would only go so long before she let her passions get the best of her. She’d act without considering the other guy’s move in response. Eddie had seen enough of her tactics to know she planned in a straight line, in great detail along the path she expected things to follow but becoming murkier the farther she strayed from that path. When she branched out with ‘what ifs’—if Batman intervened at this point instead of another, if the CEO’s wife came to the door instead of the butler, etc.—her foresight and responses became murky. The further you got from her preferred path, the more she fell back on a vaguely defined sense that she could always use her attack plants and pheromones. At Arkham, systems were in place to prevent her using those abilities, and rather than take that as a delightful challenge, an exhilarating puzzle to be solved, she beat her head against it over and over.
So, yes, if Ivy took over as Queen Rogue, it would mean an end for The Saul Vics gravy train, and Eddie could understand how Vics wouldn’t want that. But he had not been greened! He was in complete control of himself, and for Vics to expect a reward for both himself and his colleague—for ripping the woman out of his arms—No! He had no intention of paying Vics, not one penny. He had no intention of reimbursing him the $500 he’d paid to Guard Kreng either, and he wasn’t paying anyone for their silence. They were all—Vics, Kreng, Ivy and Nigma himself—bound in an undeclared mutual destruction pact. None of them could rat out the others without bringing unwanted consequences on themselves. Eddie had no desire to get the guards fired, end the bribery underground, and be imprisoned at Arkham with some draconian special measures without the FTRP on hand for easy release whenever he wanted it. So he would stay silent.
But he would not—repeat: he would not, New Holdout, Wound Hotel, Ed Howl Until—resume a cordial business relationship with Saul Vics until he received an apology. He didn’t expect tears or even a handshake, but he did expect Vics to man up, state unambiguously how he’d misjudged the situation, and arrange another meeting with Ivy. There was no telling what was going on in that screwed up head of hers since their kiss had been so rudely interrupted. Vics and his associate had somehow, without involving the Arkham administrators, fixed it so Nigma and Ivy were never admitted to the common room on the same day, or even when the same guards were on staff. He hadn’t even been able to find out when her sessions with Dr. Bartholomew were scheduled, so there was no chance of getting a message through whoever had the appointment before or after.
On the one hand, this new situation had given Eddie time to devote himself fully to his plan for the Post-War Riddler’s crime wave, which would certainly cement his position as King Rogue. He’d made more progress in the last week than in the previous eight. Nevertheless, somewhere in the bowels of Arkham a weed was growing, and if he didn’t find some way to talk to it, there was no telling what it might cog up, strangle, poison or suffocate.
Long before Selina came to the manor, Alfred learned that the a costumed nightlife brings a particular schedule and that the passionate and volatile personalities who choose such a life can react unpredictably when that schedule is altered, as for an extended trip abroad, and then recalibrated again on their return. He knew better than to enter the Wayne bedroom the morning after Selina’s return from Europe. He simply placed one of Master Bruce’s sensors on the wall in the Blue Room which shared a wall with the master bath. When it detected water flowing through the pipe, it signaled him in the kitchen. Judging that it was Master Bruce who was up, he prepared a tray with a carafe of juice, one glass, and the morning newspaper. Sure enough, he was just reaching the top of the stairs as Master Bruce was entering the hall and closing the bedroom door behind him.
“Selina’s still asleep,” he said, taking the juice from the tray. “Best not to disturb her. I’m going for a run, then I’ll work out in the cave for an hour or so, and we’ll get her up then.”
It was nearly two hours later when he returned. Coming from the cave, bruised and perspiring after a punishing session on Zogger, he felt more like ‘Batman returning from patrol’ than he had on the previous night. Perhaps that’s why the moment struck him so forcefully as he stepped into the bedroom and, standing on virtually the same spot as the night before, he saw Selina in the bed in virtually the same position. Again she was awake and reading, this time paging through the tablet Alfred programmed to digest the morning news.
“Ah, there you are,” she said, stretching—a feline stretch, but by now Bruce knew it wasn’t that creating the powerful aura of ‘Catwoman’ around her.
“You’re waiting to spring something on me,” he graveled. And she laughed.
“Not exactly. More like I’m waiting for you to spring something on me,” she said, turning the tablet around to display yesterday’s Post cover depicting a heavily photoshopped Cognitive Dissonance. “When were you going to tell me about her?”
“Now don’t get me wrong, I never expected to be the only female to break a law in this town, but rrrrrreally now.” She raised an eyebrow. “Just look where she has her hands.”
It was obvious that she wasn’t serious, and it was also obvious that, not having an opening to tease him this way in years, she was having a ball. For her enjoyment as much as his, he responded the way he used to: by ignoring all subtext and innuendo.
“She’s not bad,” he said crisply. “Her abilities as a thief are quite modest, so she has to be smart choosing her targets. In each case she’s found a place with average or below-average security.”
“Making her appear much better than she is,” Selina said, completing the thought. “Doesn’t explain how she got away from you and Batgirl. This nonsense on the cover is creative license, I know; they didn’t even get the chest emblem right,” she said pointing to the unconscious Batman in the cover image and letting her own fingers flutter over her favorite spot where the oval should be . “But there were two encounters, one with you and one with BG. I got that straight from Gordon.”
Bruce’s eyes flickered at the name, and Selina’s answered I’ll tell you later as if he’d said it out loud.
“Her ‘escapes’ were luck,” he said. “Or else incredibly smart stage management. Neither Batgirl nor I had an encounter with her. We were each in pursuit of another felon, less colorful felons. The witnesses—and in my case, the Post reporter who hacked the traffic camera—assumed we were there for the costumed, masked figure.”
“Who got away,” Selina said thoughtfully. “Damn, that is smart. That is smart.”
“I was preventing the head of that counterfeiting ring from murdering the sculptor who made the counterfeit plates,” Bruce went on. “Batgirl was working on a smuggling operation in the garment district. There was a crate of blouses with drugs sewn into the beading. She couldn’t let that out of her sight to pursue Cognitive Dissonance.”
“Oh of course, I understand your priorities,” Selina said quickly. “I would have taken advantage of them too—to escape, but not to promote myself as Bat-worthy in the press. That’s… She’s really good.”
“It probably wasn’t planned, Selina. Most criminals are simply not that smart. That’s why they become criminals in the first place. They—”
“This lady is smart, Bruce. Did you even see this picture. Look at this, look at what the Post did to her, with the bunny ears and that silly outfit. That’s why she called herself Cognitive Dissonance, because she knew those morons would turn her into something like this. It’s an elegant joke. An elegant and very intellectual joke. You don’t think someone capable of that would be up to timing her crimes so she’d be a low priority.”
“And therefore free to show up where the action is, be seen and mistaken for someone ‘cape-worthy,’” he murmured, approaching the bed to have a better look at the image on the tablet. He considered it in light of the ‘joke’ as Selina interpreted it. “Perhaps,” he said. He wasn’t convinced, but if she was right, if Cognitive Dissonance was that media-savvy, then there could be something more going on. The thefts and the faux-encounters could be more than they seemed. He would grab a quick shower, then go back down to the cave—he and Selina would go back down to the cave—and go over the case together. The corner of his lip twitched at the thought, that perspective she brought to a case, he was glad to have her home.
He turned to say so but the words froze on his lips and the thought flew from his mind as he saw her, saw the eyes looking up into his. She had been studying him studying the picture but…
“You notice anything else about her?” she asked.
…and the way she asked. That voice, those eyes and that voice. Was she jealous? No, that was preposterous, but there was something about her. What was it about this subject that made her seem so...
“I noted the similarity to your mask,” he said cautiously. “And her eye make-up is similar to yours, enhancing the resemblance.”
“She’s not trying to look like me. It’s just the nicest style of mask she knows. And the way I make up my eyes for the mask is also the way she knows, from seeing me up close a number times.”
He looked down at the picture again in light of this new information and scrutinized the facial features that were visible.
“It’s Doris,” he breathed at the same instant Selina said it.
“And suddenly the Post angle snaps into focus,” she said sweetly. “When Doris and Eddie were together, they went to the Iceberg and she came to the parties, but she was never a Rogue. She was never even a henchwench. She was a nice ordinary girl, a civilian who never did anything ‘bad’ – except once.”
“Helping you and the others strike back at the media.”
“Precisely,” Selina purred. “The Post’s screwy attitude towards women and how they get everything wrong because of it is—”
“Is the aspect of Rogue Life she knows,” Bruce interjected, his mind snapping at the insight and beginning to race ahead with the implications.
“I think it’s more than that,” Selina said, recognizing Batman’s mind about to race off in a crimefighting direction and trying to catch the train before it left the station. “It’s not just that the press is her one insight to Rogue life, it’s that she got a little tingle being bad—maybe not a ‘little’ one. And a few weeks later, she and Eddie had split. I never put it together before, but now it seems so obvious. She must be like those people who have a few drinks in college, enjoy it a little too much, figure they’ve got a predisposition to alcoholism and swear off it forever.”
“And now she’s ‘off the wagon,’” Bruce said grimly.
“Eddie’s been miserable since they split. Maybe she has too.”
“But if what you’re saying is right, and she’s the one who ended it—”
“Bruce, you and I could have gotten together a lot sooner than we did. Falconi Jewelers, to name but once. Don’t tell me you never thought about it after: What if I did this, what if I hadn’t said that… Did I make a horrible mistake?”
“Nigma’s performance in the war was impressive,” Bruce admitted.
“Yes, the war,” she said, that glint of Cat from the night before beginning to gleam in her eyes.
“If she did have regrets, and then saw what the media picked up of his marshalling the rogues… Decided to come back... Yes, it’s possible… And all Nigma’s birthdays come at once.”
“Or they would,” came a voice from the past—and a glimmer of the Bat sparked instinctively in response. It was a dark voice, a dangerous voice, the voice of the villainess who recognized no law, commandment or lawman that stood between her and the object of her passion. “All his birthdays would come at once… if he hadn’t crossed me,” she said.
Bruce’s jaw stiffed, the precursor to a shift that was instantaneous and involuntarily. His entire demeanor changed suddenly and abruptly, the jaw clenching, the eyes darkening, and his whole body seeming to grow denser.
“What are you talking about?” Batman asked in the tone used for criminals planning some dastardly plot.
“You know very well what I’m talking about,” the unmasked Catwoman answered in a low, pleased, seductive drawl. “The war… Bane… You know what I’m talking about. I said I was a patient cat; I am. I said I would wait, I did. And now Fate, friend of cats, has laid the key to his happiness at my feet. Doris is back. Suited up to play, as he put it. He betrayed my friendship, betrayed my trust. He tried to make trouble between us. And now… he is going… to pay.”
The last time Oswald saw Catwoman she was upside down—or so she appeared to him, strung up by his heels to explain the part he’d played in the destruction of Anthony Marcuso’s wedding to Susannah Pelacci. It was considered uncouth in Rogue circles to hold onto such grievances for long, for unless the participants forgave and forgot, nobody would be speaking to anybody and there could be no more fresh quarrels. Nevertheless, Oswald had only attacked the Marcuso-Pelacci wedding in the mistaken belief it was Bruce Wayne marrying Selina Kyle, and he sensed she would be holding onto that particular offense a little longer than usual. It made his present mission somewhat delicate. He had no doubt that the Cobblepot Charm would win her over if he could speak to her face-to-face, but it was rather a lot to expect from voicemail. Yet voicemail was all he encountered, day after day as he tried her cell phone. In desperation, he tried calling Wayne Manor and was told she was out of the country. KWAK!
The choices before him were limited: he could answer Ivy’s summons in person, he could send someone else, or he could wait for Selina’s return. He had sworn never to set foot in that awful place again voluntarily. The others available consisted of Harvey Dent, Matt Hagen, and Harley Quinn—all out of the question considering it was Ivy. She hated Hagen, and if she wanted to see Harvey or Harley, that would have been the message. They might not have a phone number as permanent and publicly accessible as the Iceberg Lounge, but she could have had this Guard Vronska call him, just as she had done, and say ‘Tell Harley to come see me, I have a job for her.’ Instead, she’d asked for Oswald.
He didn’t want to send civilian staff like Sly or Raven. And Nigma had already poached Saul Vics, who had previously been Oswald’s man at Arkham, so there was no way he was risking Talon or Crow. That left waiting for Selina, which he had done. Checking his calendar, he saw that the day had finally come. She was home. He waddled into his office, patted the Golden Finch for luck, and dialed her number.
..:: Meow, meow, ::.. she answered. And Oswald could have sung out in joy. Instead, he cleared his throat and put on the smooth, affected tone he reserved for the telephone.
“Selina, my felonious feline, please don’t hang up. I know our last meeting was not altogether felicitous, but even so, you were good enough to prevent the Iceberg being blown up. An act that demonstrates a largeness of mind in keeping with your very fine—yes, of course, I will come to the point. It’s Eddie. As you know, he’s up at Arkham with so many of our friends, and it seems there’s been some trou—Hm? Oh, about a week ago, I believe. Our dear Pamela got in touch with me, through one of the guards. It seems she’s having trouble getting a message through. She asked that I go see her, and then go see him. Be their go-between, as it were. But I’m afraid my schedule is so very busy these days, I simply haven’t managed to make the time, and I wondered if—what? You will? Thank you so much.”
And with that troublesome duty discharged, Oswald scratched it off his list, patted the Golden Finch again, and left his office.
Ivy accepted long ago that, as a class, men were screw-ups. She gave what she thought were very clear instructions, and a greened man in particular must certainly want to please her, yet they often found some way to screw it up. No matter how clear and adamant she thought she had been, no matter how obvious she thought it was which elements were vital and not subject to change, they didn’t know what was important, took it upon themselves to make little alternations, and viola: Screw-up! Going through a chain of men as she had last week: greening Jervis to bribe some guard other than Saul Vics to call Oswald at the Iceberg… well, she knew there was a good chance something would go wrong. She knew entrusting something like this to not one, not two, but three of the clueless tripods, somebody was bound to mess up something.
But even so. Selina! How could they possibly—how could they be so incomprehensibly lacking in comprehension that they decided to change that? Selina! When a week passed and Oswald never came to see her, she naturally assumed the plan misfired. But now, to be brought to the interview room after a week to receive a visitor, finally after a week of waiting, only to find that visitor was not Oswald but Selina? She nearly had a hyperventilative fit right there in the doorway. It was lucky there was a chair waiting for her, and she sat with a heavy plop that in no way evoked the dignity of a goddess. Fortunately, only Selina and Guard Raskin were there to see, neither of whom had an elevated opinion of Ivy’s dignity.
“Well, this is unexpected. How nice of you to visit,” Ivy said, producing a light smile which Selina mirrored until Guard Raskin left the room. As soon as the door closed behind him, both smiles broadened into the hungry frenemy variety.
“I know, you were expecting Oswald,” Selina said casually. “Sucks to be you.”
“Maybe… not,” Ivy said thoughtfully. “For all your faults, Selina, you’re not a man.”
“How observant,” Selina said, adjusting a bra strap that didn’t need it.
“And your very presence here shows that men can’t be trusted to get the job done. Maybe you could help me more than Oswald.”
“Probably,” Selina said, “if I had a reason, little quid pro quo. Since you need me to take a message to Eddie for you, maybe you could start by telling me what you did that you can’t get a message to him yourself.”
Ivy’s eyes shot daggers at the mention of a quid pro quo, but once she saw that what Selina was asking was something she’d have to give anyway—there was no way to frame the message that didn’t reveal the pertinent facts—she settled into a petulant pout.
“Very well, I suppose that’s not too much to ask,” she said. “As you know, Edward is still the Big Bad since the war, and there are certain perks that go with it. You can guess what the food is like in a place like this, he’s able to order take out, and, well, he is a man. It’s understandable he’d want company… He started asking me to have dinner with him, and now it seems he’s quite smitten with me.”
“Oh Pammy, you didn’t green him again,” Selina said, rubbing her brow.
“Why does everybody always assume that any man who touches me must be greened?” Ivy said indignantly. When Selina offered only a deadpan eye-raise in reply, Ivy deflated a little and astonished her by saying “Yes, okay, I know why.”
Well that’s new, Selina thought, but she hid her surprise well enough that Ivy continued talking, her narration taking on the rambling quality of an inner monologue.
“There may have been a little scotch involved, or 4/5 of a bottle, actually. Perhaps 5/6 or 7/8, I don’t know! The point is there was still liquid left in that bottle when I kissed him, we weren’t that drunk.”
“Wait a minute, you kissed him?” Selina blurted.
“He kissed me right back. I mean, boy did he kiss me back. Real Rhett Butler stuff. You know he—”
“TMI, Pammy! Stop right there, some pictures I don’t want in my head. I assume we’re coming up on the reason you now need a go-between to talk to him?”
“Two of these jackbooted guards,” she said through clenched teeth. “Jumping to the same conclusion you did. No man in control of his faculties could possibly be putting his tongue in my mouth of his own free will.”
Selina shook her head reflexively, trying to break free of the mental image. “I asked you not to do that,” she said quietly.
“They burst in, pulled us apart, dragged me back to my room and I haven’t heard from Edward since. The guards—the whole staff, in fact—are being ridiculously uncooperative. Bribes, threats, absolutely nothing works, and if I resort to, you know, the pheromones, it trips all kinds of failsafes. Much as I want to get a message through to the poor besotted fool, I’m not about to go into solitary for months and months to pay for it.”
A softer version of the frenemy smile returned to Selina’s lips.
“Well, Pammy, since the ‘poor besotted fool’ is a friend of mine, I guess I could do you both a favor and take a message to him. What exactly do you want me to say?”
Poison Ivy assumed Selina Kyle, Arkham visitor, who had signed in at the front desk and was issued a visitor’s badge, would simply return to the front desk, ask to see Patient Nigma, sign the book again and be escorted back to the visitor’s room. She had no way of knowing that as she was being taken back to her cell, Selina was on her way to the parking lot. If she had, she would have assumed the perfidious feline let her down—and would have been all the more astonished when Catwoman returned after nightfall, in full costume and with a loaded loot sack.
It wasn’t the first time she’d broken into the fortress that, with so many controls in place to keep the inmates from getting out, had an astonishing array of blind spots allowing the unauthorized to get in. In the past, her visits were unwelcome, like hauntings. She visited Jervis to punish a hatting, Scarecrow to avenge a dosing with fear gas, and to Joker she had appeared holding Batman’s cape and utility belt. She told him that he was right, that she did obsess too much on the Dark Knight but no more than Joker did himself, so she had killed him. They were both free!
Tonight’s visitation was therefore unique in that the visitee waking in his cot and seeing a cat-earred silhouette stretching ominously across the floor did nothing but smile.
“Lina?” he whispered. “I never expected to see you here. Come in, come on in. What are you doing here, beautiful?”
“Evening, Eddie. I wish I could say that I simply realized I owed you a visit and decided to drop in, but—”
“Has been a while since the war ended,” he said, sitting up and fussing with his futon to make an extra sitting space. “What a triumph, faking out Bane with that little game to get him monologuing. Snip! there goes his plans for Arkham—Snip! there goes his plans for the Iceberg. We sure did get ‘em, didn’t we, ‘Lina?”
“Yes,” Selina said, showing a bit more teeth in her smile than is usual in a non-tigress. “We did.”
“Silly ass didn’t belong in Gotham. Outsiders with no panache.”
“Like you said, ‘Suit up to play, or get the fuck out,’” she said, bypassing the futon and appropriating the seat from his desk.
“Damn right,” Eddie nodded.
“Well as I said, I wish I could say I was just dropping in, but the truth is I’m here as a favor… for Pammy.”
“Pammy?” he said flatly.
“Pammy,” she repeated. “Seems you two are getting along quite well these days.”
“I…” he began, then swallowed. “I swear, ‘Lina, it wasn’t pheromones and it wasn’t even the scotch, it was just one of those incredibly stupid things you see yourself doing but you can’t quite find the brake pedal. You never had that happen?”
“I guess,” she laughed. “Not with a man, but there was a pair of Byzantine bracelets—gold, lapis lazuli, glass and pearl, 5th-7th Century A.D. the owner kept in this… never mind. Point is, I have your sentence handed down from Queen Chlorophyll herself. You ready to hear your fate?”
Eddie assumed the look of a martyr prepared to ascend the pyre.
“Hit me,” he said.
Selina assumed the grim resolve of a judge ready to pronounce a death sentence and decreed:
“You must prepare to wrestle with your affections and fight against your passion—she’s dumping you.”
Eddie’s frozen stare remained frozen though his mouth suddenly popped open in a half-formed smile… his stare remained fixed as his head tilted, remained fixed as his tongue moistened his lips, and then… his head snapped upright, eyes ablaze with joy and the now fully-formed smile spread across his lips.
“She’s dumping me?!” he asked-cheered. “And ‘wrestle with affection’ ‘fight my passions’ that’s… Shakespeare?”
“At her request,” Selina confirmed. “Creepiest part of this whole thing. She wanted me to let you down easy, with ‘something brainy and poetic, like he likes.’ You must have some magic lips on you, Eddie, she’s never shown that kind of consideration for anybody who wasn’t a plant.”
“Well, she’s going through some changes,” Eddie said modestly. “So that’s it? I’m off the hook?”
“Unless you want to send a message back,” Selina said, “which I wouldn’t recommend.”
“Hear hear, let sleeping goddesses lie.”
Selina smiled. Eddie smiled. A pleasant exchange at first, until the silence continued just a few moments past what was comfortable.
“What’s in the bag?” Eddie said, merely to fill the social pause before any real tension developed.
Selina’s smile widened, again showing just a little more glint off her teeth than is quite usual for a non-tigress before the hunt.
“A present,” she said, opening the flap of her loot bag and reaching in to withdraw its treasure. “What you did in the war, Eddie, marshalling all the Rogues, stepping up to lead, surely you must feel some sort reward is due.”
“’Lina, what did you bring me?” he said, his eyes fixed on the point where her hand disappeared into the loot sack, but his brow knit as if trying to work it out from a clue.
“I know it’s bothered you, my ‘going white hat,’ as you see it,” she said as if supplying the second line of a riddle. “You’ll be happy to know I have a new project that’s anything but.”
“You’ve brought me something he wouldn’t approve of, eh?” Eddie grinned.
“Not exactly,” she said, taking out a pawn—an ordinary white pawn. “I said a project, and I didn’t say anything about uptight Cape standards of what’s naughty and nice. I was talking about you. I think even you will look at this as the act of a bad girl.”
“I’m intrigued,” Eddie said, taking the pawn. “Hey, I know this piece, it’s from—”
He trailed off as Selina pulled out a rook with a bulbous Mr. Freeze head and pink glowing eyes, then another wearing the formal top hat, monocle and cigarette holder that identified it as Oswald Cobblepot.
“The Rogue Chessmen you showed Batman that night at your Repo & Houg lair,” she explained, taking out the Clayface knight. “You see, the Z have been doing a lot of work for me, stripping all those places you took from Falcone and converting them to… well, whatever I tell them to.” The Mad Hatter knight was next, and he joined his colleagues replacing the ordinary pieces on Riddler’s desktop chess board. “When they got to that R&H lair and dug these out—well, look at them—they were simply too wonderful to throw away,” she said, moving on to the Joker and Harley bishops and giggling as she gave a Harley-tassel a light flick. Finally she set out the Poison Ivy queen and Two-Face king and looked down at the board approvingly.
“It was very nice of you to return them,” Eddie said sincerely. He brought the pawn and helped her replace the black pieces. Then he offered a game.
“Next time,” she said. “You already have one going.”
“Pfft, we just got started. Four moves into a queen’s gambit declined. I can easily remember.”
“Next time,” she repeated.
They chatted about the weather, the Brussels diamond heist, the Cannes jewelry heist that followed, the latest dessert at d’Annunzio’s, and the reaction to the Red Wedding finally airing on Game of Thrones. Finally, Selina was ready to go. Eddie hugged her, thanked her again for the chess set and for delivering Ivy’s message. They both reiterated that he was a lucky man who had dodged a bullet. Selina touched the white pawn sitting before the Ivy queen, carelessly with just the tip of her claw. She turned to go, took a few steps towards the door and then turned back, head tilted at a too-casual angle, lip curled into an offhanded smile, giving the impression—as Nigma once had—that her next words were a complete afterthought:
“Oh, by the way,” she purred, echoing his parting words to Batman the night of his visit to the R&H lair, are you at all aware that Doris is back in town, in costume and committing theme crimes? Ta!”
To be continued…