the years he’d fought Catwoman, Batman had sometimes wondered what might happen if—if they got past the claws and the Batarangs, if they ended the pretense and
admitted their feelings, if they somehow became a couple.
They were the kind of fantasies that kept one warm on a freezing rooftop
on a long stakeout in the middle of December: they involved champagne, roaring
fires, and silk lingerie. His
imagination never conceived anything like this bizarre piece of paper:
The invitation sat openly
in the mail tray just inside the door of Selina’s apartment, so Bruce assumed
he was meant to see it. Consequently,
when Selina emerged from her bedroom in a breathtaking new party dress, his very
first words were
“Don’t even think about declining that.”
Selina’s eyes narrowed
and she hissed, “Thanks, I bought it special. It is a festive color, isn’t
“Sorry. The dress is very nice. Don’t even think about declining that invitation from Harley.”
That set the tone for their whispered banter throughout the evening.
The holiday season always meant more duty appearances for Bruce Wayne.
In a typical year, the endless party-going put a strain on his patience.
There were so many events; he had to pace himself.
If he alienated his bimbo escorts at his usual rate, there wouldn’t be
enough to get him to the New Year. Also,
many of these events were fundraisers where he was representing the Wayne
Foundation to people shelling out thousands of dollars for their good works. He
had far less license to act the idiot fop than at ordinary social functions.
It made the whole ritual a great bore, and without the usual pressure
valve of escaping into Batman at the end of the evening.
The crime at this season was mostly the petty theft of desperate people
and best left to the real police.
But this year, he didn’t
have to suffer a string of bimbos. He had Selina.
And he discovered it was a whole new world attending these events with a
real partner at his side, a cohort
who found the whole thing as tedious as he did.
Despite spending most of their professional lives on opposite sides,
Selina shared his outlook on the world as these society women did not:
An hour into the first
dinner-dance, Bruce and Selina had established a silent language of glares and
glances that evolved into running commentary on their surroundings, dinner
companions, and the inanities of social chitchat.
It helped keep them both awake through endless parties that blurred into
each other like so much curdled lobster mayonnaise.
As the weeks progressed, the couple expanded the secret dialogue to
include discussion and usually heated debates on some topic of no importance.
On the night of the Wayne Foundation Snow Ball, that topic was the invitation
to Harley Quinn’s Christmas party.
In the receiving line,
Selina made it clear that she loathed the Rogue mixers and went to as few as she
Bruce countered that,
since she’d had to defend her reputation once already this year from rumors
that she’d reformed… er, “the R-word,” that is… it wouldn’t be such a bad idea
to make more of an effort with the Rogues, and this was a perfect opportunity.
At supper, she tried to explain that it was not a perfect opportunity at all. Going out to a karaoke bar, maybe. But a party at Harley’s home? It’s not like anybody felt safe eating whatever food the whacko-miss served, so you had to bring something and keep an eye on it, making sure you only ate from that dish. All in all, it was too much trouble.
Bruce didn’t care. He said he’d whip up a plate of Alfred’s puff pastry.
horror, Selina realized he wasn’t just urging her to go, he
fully expected to go along as her date!
By the time they reached
the dance floor and could have a prolonged conversation instead of exchanging
only two and three word snippets, Bruce—or rather Batman—was as determined as
she’d ever seen him. She had two
choices: she could go to the party with him, or she could go wearing a wire.
But The Rogues Gallery Christmas party was something he had to see, up
close and personal.
Bruce would later say he
never made mistakes like this before Selina came into his life. Tim would say
that Bruce was so used to fighting with her, he had to take the opposite position of
whatever Selina advocated, even if, as in this case, (“Don’t look at me like that,
Bruce. It’s true and you know it.”) even if, as in this case, she happened to be
right. Dick would say that Batman was used to walking into traps:
the too-obvious clue led to the Ha-Hacienda, the Greenhouse, or the
abandoned warehouse. While sometimes the villain would indeed be there, they
were expecting company, and whether they were there or not, something nasty was always waiting.
That knowledge never stopped him: in he’d walk, bold as brass,
head held high, confident he could face whatever was waiting on the far side of
Dick, it should be
repeated, would say this later.
Right now his head was fully occupied with walking into another kind of
Head held high… he struck a pose.
“Merry Christmas, Dickey.” (Gulp.)
...and in he walked...
“Merry Christmas, Barbara.”
...as confident as he could be that he could face what was waiting on the far side of that door.
As Bruce and Selina
approached the door to the HA-HAcienda, the melodious sounds of 101 Strings
play Danny Elfman was competing with The Chipmunks singing Rudolph the
Red-nosed Reindeer. When the
doorbell rang Dogs Barking Jingle Bells, Bruce stared at it in horror and
Selina whispered, “Remember, this was your idea, Bright Eyes.”
As they shed their coats,
a very tipsy Roxy Rocket bounced up to Bruce, handed him an asparagus spear and
said it was mistletoe. Then she kissed
his cheek and mumbled an incomprehensible warning about loaded yellow cubes and
an exploding fruitcake. Penguin
came to collect her, explained that the punch was 600-proof (a hyperbole,
surely) and the yellow cubes
floating in it were Jello shots. Roxy
called him an adorable birdie-wirdie (going beyond hyperbole into the land of
incomprehensibility) and kissed his nose.
Penguin looked pleased. Bruce looked confused. And Selina looked ill.
She scanned the room warily. Croc was stationed near the food,
Scarecrow at the Bar, and Poison Ivy was ticking off her hostess for having
murdered a tree and decked out its dead body with lights and garlands.
Behind Ivy stood Harvey Dent, looking as if he’d heard quite enough of
the tree debate for one lifetime. He
waved eagerly to Selina, and she and Bruce joined him at the punch bowl.
“It’s blue,” Selina
“And packs quite a
wallop,” Harvey told her.
“We figure about 200-proof, and while we cannot bring ourselves to
disapprove on technical grounds, we are drinking
tap water. You
In answer, Bruce held up
the asparagus spear.
“We lucked out this
year,” Harvey remarked, “Puddin’ is still in Arkham.”
The sarcasm with which his former friend delivered the pet name reminded
Bruce of just how much Harvey could liven up a bad party.
Harvey pointed towards a TV monitor in the corner under a hand-painted
sign that read JOKER-CAM.
“He’s here in spirit only,” Harvey assured them.
On the screen was the Joker’s ever-grinning face, delivering a tirade:
hadn’t had any eggnog, and if he didn’t get some, he wouldn’t read them
all The Nightmare Before Christmas later. Harley
immediately filled a cup and placed it next to the monitor.
Edward Nigma strolled casually over to the monitor and slyly turned down
Harley joined the group
at the punch bowl and Selina congratulated her on a good turnout this year.
Harley said everyone who was free had been invited—except Hugo
Strange. Strange was off the
A-list, Harley announced grimly. “Never
does anything. Comes to every single event, oozing slime, leering and
drooling, hits on all the women, but does he ever commit a crime?
No. He’s a groupie,
that’s what he is. And he’s off
Harley’s tirade was
interrupted by a pinch from Edward Nigma. He
gave an innocent “who me” look as Harley squirmed off and restored the
volume on the Joker-Cam.
“Good party,” Nigma
smiled to the others.
“Bad timing,” Harvey
chided him. “We were just finding out why Hugo Strange was
anybody’s ever been blackballed before,” Eddie answered.
“Well, except for
Catman,” Harvey smiled at Selina.
“Yes, except for
him,” Eddie concurred and also smiled at Selina.
“I make no apologies
for that,” Selina defended herself. “I don’t like the guy; he doesn’t like
me. We’re very frank about it. Word
got around that you don’t want both of us at the same party, and everybody
picked me instead of him. Tough
By now, Mr. Freeze had
snuck over to the Joker-Cam volume and turned it back down. Again, Harley
noticed and restored it.
“Listen, pet, imitation
is the highest form of flattery,” Eddie argued.
“If I went after everybody who ripped off my shtick:
Cluemaster, Puzzler, Zodiac Master, I wouldn’t have any time left
Two-Face sneered, “If it took you more than two minutes to finish off the
whole bunch of them, you should turn in your keys.”
agreed, and even Bruce nodded. Riddler
knock-offs. Of all the costumed
criminals he’d faced, none seemed so suited to selling used cars in East
Harley cleared her throat
and announced that Mad Hatter had again rigged the Secret Santa drawing.
There was general laughter at this, and Bruce gathered it was an annual
tradition. While Harley made her
announcement, Scarecrow moved stealthily towards the Joker-Cam, winked at the
company from behind her back, and again cut the volume.
The sudden quiet drew attention to some odd sounds emanating from the
Karma, the principle that what goes around comes around,
that good things
come to those who help others but cosmic payback visits those who are selfish
and hurtful. Karma is a tricky business.
Dick would have thought he’d racked up enough of a positive balance in
an average week as Nightwing to earn one perfect evening.
This was to be it. He’d
placed his order with the cosmos: tonight, it would happen.
Tonight, he would show Barbara the most sublimely wonderful night of her
life… and then he would pop the question.
The cosmos owed him; Karma owed him.
And tonight, he was calling in the marker.
They’d gotten as far as Merry Christmas, Dickey/Merry Christmas, Barbara.
He was just about to think “So far, so good” when the OraCom panel emitted a
harsh, rude BRRRRRINNNNGGGGG, and a horrid light glowed red next to the channel
Barbara gave him a “places to go, people to see” shrug and touched the panel before he could say “Pretend we just left.”
They weren’t out
the door and already a setback. Where
was Karma when you needed it?
Ivy joined the group and spoke, nodding her head towards the coatroom door and the odd sounds it was producing: “Not a pleasant thought, that.”
”Now what?” Harvey asked without really wanting to know.
He was spending too much of this night listening to Ivy’s complaints.
“Penguin and Roxy—ulgh,” Ivy answered, pointing at her uvula with a ‘gag me’ gesture.
“Gonna hate herself in
the morning,” Selina agreed.
“She is drunk,”
Only Two-Face, who
usually let Harvey take the wheel during social functions, was less than
sympathetic about Roxy’s plight. “Every
office party, there’s one. At City Hall, it was sweet Brenda O’Shea. Roxy’s
just that type to get tanked and Xerox her tush. And since we don’t have a copy
The rest of the room was
apparently discussing the same subject, for they heard Scarecrow in the circle behind them
“She didn’t know those yellow things in the punch were Jello shots.”
And across the room, Mad
Hatter, ever the gossip, was fleshing out the details: “Pengy was being nice, trying to take her keys, and one thing led to
another…” This evoked a group-Ewww from his audience.
Selina reflected that every time Ed Nigma tried to be nice, he got beaten
up. Pengy got lucky. There was no justice. Speaking
of which, Bruce had disappeared …
It would be unfair to say Dick disliked Diana. She had, it’s true, a tendency to harangue. She liked a soapbox. She liked to instruct her teammates on ways to improve themselves and had a disagreeable tendency to wrap up her message in an air of royal condescension. Superman could get away with the occasional speech-making because he had that Midwest butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth way about him. Bruce could pull off telling you the way things should be because… because there was no way to stop him. But Diana, Diana oozed this self-important sense of British colonialism… civilizing the savages…
It occurred to Dick that it was beginning to sound like he did dislike Diana quite a lot.
Possibly that was
because the videofeed that began A Holiday Missive from Diana, Princess of
Themyscira had been droning on for ten solid minutes, and there was no end
At his core, through going to live with Bruce at Wayne Manor, through Robin,
through Nightwing, through becoming a policeman, Dick Grayson remained an
easygoing, circus kid. That may be
why he found the pretensions of Diana’s Holiday Missive hard to take,
but it also kept him from taking a house like Wayne Manor for granted.
He had asked Bruce to “borrow the house” and asked Alfred to stage
the most gloriously elegant, romantic evening imaginable, just as he’d done
months ago for Bruce and Selina. The
requests (and the obvious reason behind them) were the most wonderful Christmas
gift either man could ask for, and Alfred especially went the extra mile devising
The music was soft and unobtrusive. For
once, Dick followed the tips Bruce gave him, which were delivered with the
no-nonsense instructional tone used for combat training:
Chitchat only through the pate course. No matter what happens, keep
to light subjects, easy manner, like a Sunday in the park.
Only with the arrival of the fish, may you turn the conversation to more
serious matters such as mutual friends—but take care that the friends
discussed are all happy couples. You’re
setting a tone…
Dick took a deep breath and began: “The
last time Alfred made this, it was for Bruce and Selina, in the garden, when he gave her the
cat–” when the tone was shattered by a sickly hacking noise.
It was Barbara, trying to swallow, gesturing for him to put down his
fork and… assuming an expression he hadn’t seen since the day he spilled Diet
Pepsi on her keyboard.
“Is this gelatin under the fish supposed to be so sweet?” she gasped
“Sweet fish? I don’t think
so, I… oh my… god.” He had taken a
bite, and dove for his water glass. It
Selina put down the puff pastry and looked at Bruce with an unconcealed malice
he hadn’t seen since he kept her from the Van Deegan Emeralds.
“Darling,” she began in tones that also echoed a time when sentences were
punctuated with claws and blood, “when you cook, do you set out the
ingredients beforehand in those little custard cups, like on cooking shows?”
He nodded again, cautiously.
“And, by some chance, were you both in the kitchen cooking at the same time
They were. After the
Thanksgiving fiasco, Bruce had again been banned from the kitchen.
But Alfred made an exception that afternoon.
Spirit of the season—forgiveness and goodwill—but supervised.
“And was there salt, was there supposed to be salt, in whatever
Alfred was making?”
In April, Bruce Wayne’s neighbors, the Finns, acquired the services of Monsieur Anatole, a temperamental but talented chef de cuisine from Nice. In May, it reached Alfred’s ears that the new arrival’s reaction, on hearing the Englishman next door was not only Mr. Wayne’s butler/valet, but his cook (he would not use the term chef), there was a tirade about those tea-swilling peddlers of Yorkshire pudding that no self-respecting Pennyworth could let pass.
By July, both men
knew the other visited Harriman’s Gourmet Pantry on Mondays and Thursdays, and
each made a point of never entering the store while the other was inside.
Each would chat up the clerk and learn what the other had purchased, and
each devoted some considerable time deducing the other’s menus.
In September, Anatole remarked to the clerk that it was a pity selling
good truffles to a, how do you say, ‘a limey,’ as they overcook the delicate
mushrooms until all flavor has flown like those petite birdies on the Rue de
Bologne. The following week, Alfred
replied that it was criminal to sell salmon steaks to ‘a frog,’ when they
smothered them in so much cream sauce and garlic, you didn’t know if you were
eating salmon or broccoli. In
October, Anatole served an intimate dinner party Leg of Lamb a la Pennyworth
a glaze of French cognac in place of the Scottish malt.
In November, Alfred responded with Lobster a la Anatole with ground
savory leaves in place of the garlic.
In December, there was a knock at the kitchen door at the Finn Estate.
A meek and terrified kitchen maid showed Mr. Pennyworth (surely not that
Pennyworth? But English, and from next door, who else could he be?) into the
sanctum sanctorum of Anatole’s kitchen.
Alfred introduced himself with such an air of polite humility, Anatole
wondered if he’d possibly mixed up the names somehow.
Could there be two English servants in the neighborhood? This affable
butler and the upstart cook with whom he’d been feuding?
No, for the man said distinctly “from next door” and “special dinner
(so he was the cook!) ruined.”
Sacrebleu, the man wanted a favor! His deadly enemy was here seeking a bit of brisket and crème de caramel to salvage a meal ruined by his fish ‘n chips incompetence.
Oh, a very special dinner… for two… l’amour!
Alfred spoke eloquently of the lady’s beauty and the gentleman’s long
and poorly-hidden infatuation—since they were children, it seemed.
Well, what was a sentimental heir of Escoffier to do? The dinner Anatole was preparing for the Finns was for
There was more than enough to give Pennyworth two portions of main course
and dessert so young Monsieur Grayson (“Grayson? Un nom Français, non?”
“A French name? It may be,”
Alfred lied.) …so young Monsieur
Grayson did not have to ‘pop the question’ over pizza.
And in exchange, Anatole would have Alfred Pennyworth’s ‘undying
While Alfred was throwing himself at the mercy of Anatole, Dick and Barbara waited in the drawing room, where a splendid fire was laid for after dinner. Dick figured they had time now, so he set a match to the kindling… Unfortunately, this little-used drawing room had a clogged flue.
Bruce finally reappeared.
He was munching—to Selina and Harvey’s horror—a plate of fried
chicken strips. Selina repeated that
you couldn’t just pick something from the buffet at a Harley Quinn party, but
Bruce assured her that he’d been watching Killer Croc devour a whole bin of these for
half an hour with no ill effects.
and Harvey each took
a piece of chicken, embarrassed they’d never thought of such a test themselves.
In the interests of gastronomic variety, Selina told Harvey that she and Bruce
brought the puff pastry, which were therefore safe to eat—but she wouldn’t
advise it. Harvey said he’d
brought the rum balls.
He failed to add that
he/Harvey had gotten into a bit of a spat with he/Two-Face in the making of said
rum balls, the former insisting they were too moist and adding more flour, the
latter that they were too dry and adding more rum, until each was the size of a
golf ball, weighed half-a-pound and contained a full shot of rum.
Ivy had moved on to telling Mad Hatter her complaints about the massacre of vegetation the holidays entailed: not just the trees, but the holly, the mistletoe, the cranberries and sage… while Harley, having restored the Joker-Cam volume yet again, donned a red hat and began distributing the Secret Santa gifts. Harvey groaned when it was discovered that Selina had picked Ivy’s name:
“See, Pussycat gets it,” a pleased Poison Ivy announced to the room. “This is a LIVE poinsettia. It hasn’t been murdered to satisfy some freakish whim of holiday décor. Power to the Plantlife, Catty!”
Selina gave a cautious smile and turned back to Harvey who, unable to stand
another round of Ivy’s fanatical ravings, went outside for a smoke.
Selina looked down at the gift in her hand. Mad Hatter had rigged the Secret Santa, as usual—and she wasn’t one of his favorite people just at the moment. The red and white Ha-Ha paper said it all: Joker had drawn her name.
settles it, she thought, I’m not opening this without …hey, wait a
minute…enter my Dark Knight in light-absorbent armor.
Probably has a SOP on opening Joker parcels.
She whispered to Bruce, “What do you think? X-ray, pressure chamber or just soak it under water for a bit?”
But he was gone.
…across the room… examining the Joker-Cam.
She joined him as he bent down to look underneath it, then behind,
examining the various cables with interest.
“I’m trying to figure out if it’s two way,” he mumbled by way of
explanation. “‘Cause if it is, Riddler’s a dead man. Have you
seen how he’s been pinching Harley all night?”
Selina stared hard.
“Tell me you didn’t drink the punch.”
Bruce looked insulted.
“Of course not…”
Of course not.
Bruce seldom drank. He had a
dozen ways to appear to be drinking in public, but almost never consumed any
alcohol. As a result, he was a bit
of a flyweight. Selina remembered a
bottle of champagne that went straight to his head.
“…just a couple a’those rum balls.”
“Are you out of your
mind,” she hissed. “Getting
snookered in this company of all places?”
“Oh, lighten up, Kitten. That’s what office parties are for.” This was a whisper, and Selina was
fairly sure no one else could hear—but, as he continued, she still couldn’t
believe he’d say it at any volume. “‘Sides, these are my people as much as
yours. Look, ended the Volume Wars.”
He held up the volume
knob of the Joker-Cam with a devilish grin, then added, “Incidentally, Tom
Blake—Catman—he was copying me, not you.
Changed the B to a C, that’s all.
Check out the costume some time. Really
In the spirit of Peace
and Good Will towards Man, Selina ignored the thought that, of all the Rogues in
this room who’d tried to kill Batman at various times, none ever came as close
as she was at this moment. All she
had to do was powder her nose and leave him here to blurt out god knows what.
“We’re going home
now,” she said firmly.
“Did I mention that
I’m part of the family now?” he replied.
Outside, Harvey Dent
watched a marginally more sober Roxy Rocket analyze the rat’s nest of cars in
the driveway, trying to work out exactly how many had to be moved before she
could get to her own vehicle. He
flicked an ash into a nearby hedge—and thought of Ivy’s Plants are
People too rant when the ‘hedge’ cried for him to watch what he was
using for an ashtray. A bald,
bespeckled head emerged. It was Hugo Strange—living up to his name:
crashing a party to which he’d not been invited by hiding in the bushes.
interloper began. “It’s outrageous.
I, Hugo Strange, excluded from this gathering, but Batman—BATMAN of all people—is
in there even as we speak.”
Roxy, hearing the
commotion, stumbled over to join the conversation.
“I shan’t let this
insult pass, I tell you, I shall not.”
“Did he say Batman?”
Roxy squinted up at Harvey.
“Bruce Batman Wayne!”
Strange pronounced. Both Harvey and
Two-Face winced, Harvey for
Selina’s sake and Two-face because Strange’s Batman thing was an embarrassment
to the Rogue community. He was not
‘of two minds’ and a coin toss was not necessary.
Harvey ruthlessly punched Strange in the kidney, slammed him against the
wall, and growled:
if your invitation was ‘lost in the mail,’ BUT COME ON NOW! Do you really
think if Wayne was Batman, he’d come to the party AT ALL, let alone…”
he spun his victim around so his face pressed against the window, through
which Bruce could be seen feeding the Joker-Cam volume knob to Killer Croc…
“Let alone, get sloshed?”
He peeled Strange off the
window and again propped him against the wall:
“Now. YOU WILL NOT go in there and embarrass Selina with your nonsense.
He gave the defeated Hugo Strange his unopened Secret Santa gift from Mr. Freeze, and a rum ball, then sent him packing. He filled Roxy in on the sad details of Hugo’s fixation on exposing Batman’s identity—and his eventual crack-up when he failed, insisting Batman was Bruce Wayne of all people. It was sad, really.
Roxy sobbed with the sentimentality of one who consumed eight yellow cubes before realizing they were Jello shots. She wandered off remarking how very sad it was.
Two-Face was not so easily put off.
He railed against Harvey for
beating up Strange without the courtesy of a coin-toss.
You wanted him beaten
up too, Harvey thought.
Yes, but we wanted to DO IT OURSELVES.
Serves you right. You didn’t check with me before giving Ivy that corsage before, and you know what that stirred up.
Despite Dick’s fevered imagination flashing images of “FIRE AT WAYNE
MANOR! FILM AT 11,” there was only enough smoke to create a thin, eye-tearing …haze… and to push Dick over the edge…
“Ah, nothing says Christmas like that smell of mesquite,” Barbara mused.
“Think Bruce will mind that we kippered his drawing room?”
“You said something.”
“NO, I didn’t.”
“Sheesh, bite my head off why don’t you. I’m the one who skipped lunch because you promised me—”
Dick slammed the arm of the sofa and stood, facing the fire, back to Barbara.
“Dicky, what gives?” she exclaimed. “It’s not
like you to fly off the handle like this.”
“I just wanted everything to be perfect tonight because, well, hell, you
“Go back one.”
“Do you have to be so dense? I said, ‘hell, you know’ and then you
“Stuff like this never happened to me before you…”
The voice was Bruce’s.
“…So this is MY fault now?” and Selina’s.
“Oh, great,” Dick muttered as the new arrivals
“I didn’t tell you to eat those things.”
The voices got closer.
“I meant safe as in non-lethal.”
They entered the drawing room just as Bruce, still in a slightly diminished
state, fell back on the kind of things he used to say in a fight with
“So you deny all responsibility for the consequences of your actions.”
…and as Alfred entered from the dining room, having obtained a replacement dinner
from Anatole at great personal sacrifice.
Dick and Barbara fled to the dining room.
Dick closed the door behind him but didn’t sit.
Bruce and Selina’s post-party spat completely drowned out the warble of
the soothing alto sax. So much
for ‘setting a mood.’
A holiday missive—inedible
dinner—fire—and now this. Every
man has his breaking point. This
“SO WILL YOU MARRY ME OR NOT, GODDAMNIT?”
People who live in the night are acquainted with all kinds of
There’s quiet enough to hear the distant traffic.
Quiet enough to hear your breathing.
The quiet that descended on Wayne Manor after Dick’s “SO WILL YOU MARRY
ME OR NOT, GODDAMNIT?” could best be likened to a cold cosmic hand grabbing
Bruce and Selina by the scruff of their necks and jerking them into shocked
Their argument came to a screeching halt. They
tripped over each other trying to get next to the closed dining room door.
It was a performance more evocative of the comedic stylings of Rebo and
Zooty than the stealth masters Batman and Catwoman.
Their new sign language spontaneously expanded to include the phrases:
˜˜Let me in.˜˜
˜˜Me first.˜˜ ˜˜But I’m better at this than you.˜˜ ˜˜Sober, maybe, but not tonight.˜˜ ˜˜Bitch.˜˜ ˜˜Bastard.˜˜ ˜˜That was my foot.˜˜ ˜˜Move your elbow.˜˜ and ˜˜Wait, there’s a better way. Follow
Minutes later in the Batcave, Bruce fired up the surveillance system that
could monitor any room in the house. He
punched a few keys and the screen came to life, revealing Dick embracing
Barbara while she cooed over a gold locket.
Selina gave Bruce an “I don’t believe you lecture me about
morality” stare, until he held up a finger and said “Say it, and I won’t
turn up the volume.”
She didn’t, and he did.
glared at the viewscreen.
“This from the Puce-Couch couple,”
“I picked out that locket,” Selina
added with indignation.
“And I lent him my house!”
Bruce matched her indignation and raised an aggrieved assertion.
Only Selina could have endured the dark cloud of foreboding that formed around Bruce as Dick completed the thought:
“Let it go,” Selina whispered with a
laugh, “it’s Christmas.”
The brooding intensity normally
associated with Psychobat eased momentarily, and then resumed.
Selina tried again…
“It’s Christmas, and your son just
got engaged to the girl of his dreams. You really want to burst a blood
vessel over this, or do you want your present?”
“Two days yet.”
And you know what a stickler I am for rules like that.”
The naughty girl grin produced the
lip-twitch despite Bruce’s best efforts to squelch it.
His peripheral vision noticed that the monitor from the dining room now
displayed a lovely linen damask. Dick had covered the camera with a napkin.
The soft murmurs still picked up by the microphone were... private.
Bruce switched off the feed abruptly and seemed to switch his mood at the
“Okay, Christmas in
ten minutes. Wait
“Why?” Selina asked, confused.
“I’ve got to go get your
“Well, I’ve got to get yours, so why
don’t we just take this upstairs to the tree.”
“Why? Where’d you hide mine?”
She looked at him like he was insane.
Hide a present?…From Batman?…In his own house?
“UNDER the tree, where else would you
put—you know what, never mind, I don’t want to know.
The day you start making sense, I’m turning in my keys.”
“It’s Christmas,” he shot her own
words back at her, “and my son just got engaged to the girl of his dreams.
You want to ruin this, or do you—hello—wait for me.”
They adjourned to the tree, where a
mood more in keeping with the season prevailed.
As Selina unwrapped her gift, Bruce thought back to the panic moment at the entrance to Bergdorf’s. The department store seemed to be scattered with landmines and he had to avoid every one of them.
It was those damn cat pins. Dick had told him about Selina’s reaction to
finding the first in his safe, and he’d seen her reaction to the second, although
he hadn’t realized at the time what was behind it… Yes, there were two pins,
so he’d presented them as one for Catwoman and one for Selina.
He’d worried it was stupid. He
was trying to get himself out of a bind.
He never meant to come off so sensitive and insightful. But, okay, he had these pins he’d bought years ago, just as he told her, bought
with her in mind, as he also told her. He’d
bought them as Catwoman bait, but, who knows? Maybe in some dark recesses of his
mind, he’d dared to hope that one day…whatever. However it happened, he’d
blundered onto being brilliant and understanding, and he wasn’t about to mess
it up now with something stupid like what Geena came up with.
As far as Bruce could figure, Geena was Lucius Fox’s revenge for every missed meeting and early exit the long-suffering Wayne Enterprises President had had to cover for. Geena was a personal shopper with a sense of ‘whimsy’ (her word) that was ‘so lacking in corporate gift giving.’ Lucius hired her to do the Wayne Executives gift baskets, and what she might have sent his corporate contacts Bruce shuddered to imagine. When it came to Selina, the little twit had latched onto the Catwoman angle as though she was the first to realize someone with a moniker like Catwoman might like cats!
“There’s fur, of course,” was how
her list began.
“And cat jewelry. I guess she likes precious gems ‘n stuff since she used to…”
“Cat statues. Egyptians really liked cats. y’know. You-bass-tiss, I think it’s called.
I guess she’d know something about that stuff.”
boxes, leopard print pillows…”
Bruce stopped listening.
He was expected to know her better than this.
Hell, he DID know her better than this.
Was this what he sounded like all those months ago? “You
don’t have a lot of cat stuff around your apartment,” he had said.
She got mad. Now he realized why.
“And I thought, EUREKA!” Geena
continued to bubble, “TIGERSTRIPES!”
“Well, Geena, thank you for your
time. You’ve given me some
splendid ideas,” Bruce blurted, making for the
door of the consultation room as though evading a hail of gunfire. But he
didn’t escape without a final,
“Oh good, because
I can ship any of these items anywhere within the continental U.S.…”
The door closed behind him and, in the
relative quiet of the sales floor, the wisp of a thought solidified. It was
remembering the cat stuff conversation that struck the spark: Something
from the beginning. They’d both
come so far in the past year. He should find something from the time when
they never dreamed where they were now was possible. Back to Xanadu?
No. Hellmonth was coming up
right after Christmas. Not the time to
leave town. That
wasn’t the start anyway. Where
did it really begin? Something from the museum maybe? Wonder if
they’d sell that calico she joked about… No, that was back to cat stuff.
The last word was said out loud, and evoked some un-Christmasy stares from the surrounding shoppers.
Bruce ignored them.
He was suddenly beaming. He had a wonderful idea.
Selina looked down at the tickets with
a bewitchingly puzzled gaze. She
bit her lip and the top of her nose wrinkled.
She was beautiful, always. Graceful, fun-loving, bright—but seldom
cute. She was only cute when she
didn’t get it.
“But don’t you have a box at the
opera?” she asked.
“Yes, a very prominent box at the
edge of the dress circle. Those are different.
She did, and then looked at the seating chart printed on the back.
“They’re against the wall?”
“Of the second
“That’s one way of looking at it.
“I don’t get it.”
“I don’t believe you’re a
cat burglar and can’t read a seat map! What is that?”
“A fire escape.”
esc—” She stopped… looked up with a ‘lightbulb’ jolt… and saw the most astonishing parody of her
own naughty-girl grin peering down on her… “It’s the exit to the
roof,” she completed the thought.
“The roof of the opera house.”
Smile turned to laugh which turned to a different pleased-but-confused
‘who are you and how did I wind up with you in my life’ smile.
It was hard to believe this was him—oh, hell.
“Thank you,” she stammered, kissing
his cheek, “but mine’s going to seems really stupid now.”
“Can’t be worse than the ideas I
rejected before coming up with this.”
Bruce assured her, thinking of tiger stripes.
Bruce assured her, thinking of tiger stripes.
“Don’t be so sure.”
She handed over a small package, which he opened, peered into, then
“It’s an empty box.”
there’s a point, it’s—”
“There’s nothing inside it.”
“Yeah, that’s what empty
means. This really did make sense before—”
“I don’t get it.”
“The BOX is the gift.”
“Will this make more sense if I get
“You’re not going to make this easy,
are you? Look, I wanted to do something special. Just for you, not
bat-you. I mean, you know what it meant to me that those pins weren’t just
for Catwoman. Besides which, theme gifts generally suck. They say ‘I
don’t think enough of you as a person to have given this more than ten seconds
“You gave Ivy a plant.”
“Ivy doesn’t have a lot of outside
interests. And after the year Clayface gave her potpourri, we all
learned to play it safe.”
As in dried petals and
leaves and heads of dead flowers.”
“Yeah, the screams went on for days.”
“I wondered whatever happened to
point is, I didn’t want
to do something practical like an electron microscope, and I suck at the
sentimental stuff. Given a
warehouse full of innocent nothings, I’ll find ‘Rosebud,’ the one item that
just happens to trudge up god knows what painful memories from the annals of
‘Christmases I have cried through.’”
Bruce looked down at the empty box and
back at Selina. It occurred to her that this was starting to sound like a pretty
“See, I figured you’d be more of a
basket case at Christmas. Hell, a lot of perfectly normal people are a mess at
Bruce looked back at the box and back at Selina. It occurred to her that this was continuing to sound like a pretty insulting gift.
“Look, I asked Dick, I asked Alfred,
I asked Tim…”
She stopped herself before adding “…they
each had a nice list of shit to avoid. You apparently have bad associations
connected to almost anything human beings can eat, wear, touch, read or
smell between December 20th and 26th.”
working. She also rejected “See, darling, you’re what we call damaged goods.”
That really lacked that whole love and goodwill holiday spirit.
“…And I kept thinking of that damn
story where the gifts cancel each other out: selling the hair to buy the
watch chain and selling the watch to buy the combs… You know that one?
For once, Selina thought she wouldn’t
be averse to a little rescuing from the gallant hero.
The hero, it’s true, was not insulted, nor disappointed.
He was big enough to see past her less-than-flattering prattling to the
sweet intention beneath. It was… actually…
very sweet. It was a very sweet—and very amusing—gift.
And he began to enjoy it immediately.
The smile, not a twitch-smile but a genuine and tender one, broke
through at last.
“What’s that for?”
Selina asked suspiciously.
weren’t kidding, you do suck at the sentimental stuff.”
She pouted slightly.
He took her chin in his hand and kissed her tenderly.
Merry Christmas, Kitten.”
stroked her face as he went on, “You know, Selina, nothing, no gift, can compare to being able to say ‘Merry
Another kiss before he added, “Which is fortunate,
really, since nothing is what I got.”
the Demonspawn returns