Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 68: NMK Inc.

NMK Inc.
by Chris Dee

NMK Inc: Chapter 6: Unlikely Backstories Unlikely Backstories

Bruce knew Superman would be returning at any time, so he sent Selina and Jason back to the manor and said he would join them as soon as possible.  He didn’t want to risk Superman returning to the polo grounds, finding them gone and following to the manor.  Not before he knew what exactly Jason had to say.

Bruce would have ushered Jason straight down to the cave, but Selina opted for comfort in the morning room.  She asked Alfred to bring tea, and they chatted until Jason closed his eyes and growled in a truly poisonous voice, “No, I will not.”

“Hello, Etrigan,” Selina said as calmly as if a new guest had walked into the room.  “I didn’t mean to ignore you.  Did you enjoy the match?”

“Selina, please.  Do not encourage him,” Jason breathed like a Buddhist trying to meditate in a hurricane. 

“He’s obviously entered the conversation whether I acknowledge him or not,” she noted.  “Why don’t you just pass on his message?”

“Very well.  You’re looking very buxom today, your ample breasts heaving with hate.”

“Thank you,” Selina said flatly.

“Your disgust with Luthor may be bland compared to that you’ve shown for others, but it is well seasoned by Luthor’s own envy and scorn, which you played a part in driving to such intoxicating heights.  You are Sekhmet in her war cry.”

“I get the picture.”

“Bathed in the blood of mortals, Lady of Pestilence and Destruction.”

“You’re making this up.”

“I’m paraphrasing,” Jason said with dignity.  “And you should thank me for that.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“More tea?”

Getting home from the polo match, Pamela had never felt so exhausted and, though she wasn’t aware of it, she had never been so confused.  What began with the simplest of associations, connecting how she felt talking to Selina with how Bruce must have felt when she listened to him, had exploded into a kaleidoscope of associations.  She was seeing her feelings and experiences reflected everywhere—in Selina, in Claire, in Mercy.  In Mercy who had that, that AAARGHHHHH fixation on that, that, that horrible man.  She couldn’t make sense of any of it and she really didn’t want to.  She wanted sleep.  She wanted to crawl into her bed, pull the covers over her head and dream herself into a valley of wildflowers. 

Jason was trying to be patient, but the more unflappable Selina was in the face of Etrigan’s attention, the more excited he became.  He told her as much, and she said:

“Well I’m sorry about that.  Maybe I could have managed some horrified screams for you a while back, gone running from the room and hidden under the bed or something.  But I already had Lex Luthor declare himself this month; I’m good for a while.  I can’t be shocked.”

“You would say that in front of a rhyming demon who’s just come from an event whose unit of measure is called a chukker?  You are a wicked and thoughtless creature, and I don’t know why I waste my time with you.”

She just laughed, Etrigan laughed, and Jason consoled himself with a biscotti and the thought that a little extra sugar in his system would not be amiss if he had to conjure. 

“You can’t be shocked,” he repeated wryly.  “That remains to be seen, but you have put your finger on a key wyrd in this phenomenon.”

“Oh that sounds like good news,” she said, still smiling despite the sarcasm—until the light manner vanished in a flash and she looked at him accusingly.  “You’re going to upset Bruce with magic, aren’t you?”

“That is not my goal,” he said mildly.  “But it is necessary that you both be aware what is happening, what you’ve set in motion.” She started to speak, but he cut her off.  “If it were anyone else, I would have come long before now.”

“What makes me so special?” Bruce asked, entering the room and taking a seat beside Selina. 

“Your views on magick for one thing,” Jason said frankly.  “I only come to you when I'm certain and when I have all the information.  I've found doing so earlier is neither pleasant nor productive.”

“Already I’m loving this,” Bruce muttered.  “What makes today different?”

Jason set down his cup and assumed a precise begin-at-the-beginning tone:

“It began, for me, a few weeks ago.  I was drawn to the Hudson campus.  The sign that I thought might have called me turned out to be nothing, but I did have a rather odd moment, too insignificant to call a vision, related to the two of you.  Ordinarily I would have dismissed it.  In fact I did dismiss it, until I sensed that Lex Luthor was coming to Gotham.  Given the history, the episode with the Strings, I thought it best to embark on a Seeing.”

“If a cosmic crisis that threatened to wipe out all of existence is going to be called an ‘episode,’” Bruce growled.

“Exactly.  Your relationship with Selina was the flint and Lex Luthor the spark that threatened existential calamity.  I thought it prudent to keep an eye on things.”

Bruce grunted.  He didn’t like it, but he had to agree.

“And?” Selina prompted when nobody spoke.

“And I saw no danger.  Etrigan said nothing.  It seemed completely benign so I left it at that.”

“But?” Bruce demanded.

Jason looked around the room for a moment before answering.  It wasn’t a long pause, but it was enough to produce a density shift of growing PsychoBat impatience. 

“Jason, phrases like ‘no danger’ and ‘benign’ mean you found something,” he pronounced crisply.  “Those terms don’t mean ‘nothing’, they mean you found something that you decided wasn’t important enough to tell us.  Now you’re here.  So something must’ve happened at the polo grounds to make you change your mind.” 

“Well, yes,” he conceded.  He didn’t elaborate, and the two men glared at each other for nearly a minute before Selina interceded.

“I’d like to know what it is,” she said gently.  “Please.”

“Poison Ivy,” Jason said with the delicate and deliberate elocution of an incantation where the slightest warble or stumble would produce disaster.  Bruce and Selina glanced at each other, but before they could speak, Jason continued.  “Also Superman.  In time, Claire Sabana and Etrigan.”

“What?” Bruce and Selina said in unison.

Jason looked apologetic, took a final sip of tea to moisten his palate, and again set his cup aside.  He adjusted his posture, sitting with his hands on his knees, and when he spoke again, it was with the precision of tone and language of one repeating an oral legend in the exact way it was told to him:

“The story began as a great many do, with a young man and a young woman falling in love.  She was royal; he was not.  So they met in secret, or so they thought.  One day, soon after the High Chief learned his daughter had a lover, his youngest son—the youngest of seven brothers—befriended this man.  He wasn’t noble, but he was still a warrior and they were nearly the same age.  The young prince invited his new friend to go hunting, and so delivered him to a clearing where the other six were lying in wait.  The brothers murdered this young man and left his body to the scavengers of the forest.

“When he failed to return, the princess appealed to her youngest brother with tears and with threats.  Finally she made him tell her where her lover had met his end.  She went to the clearing and collected all that was left of him: most of the bones, and his clothes soaked in gore.  She brought these in secret to the high priestess of her cult to be made into a totem, to preserve his spirit as if he were royalty destined for immortality and apotheosis.  She kept the totem with her and wore it next to her heart… but not, alas, for long.  Whether from grief, from some malady contracted that night in the forest, or by her own hand, she died within the month.  Though her body would have been mummified, those organs removed beforehand would have also been made into a totem.

“It was unthinkable sacrilege to destroy a totem, but the High Chief was not about to let those he separated in life rest together in death.  He ordered a monument built that would take many years to complete, reasoning that at least one of his sons would have perished by then.  The princess's totem was interred at one end and her lover's at the other.  Those of her brothers were to be added in between, one by one as they died, to form an eternal barrier.

“As is always the case when mortal men decree something ‘eternal,’ it wound up being a good deal more transitory than they expected.  The civilization fell, the jungle claimed city and monument alike, and in the end, the totems of the princess and her lover were unearthed together and displayed in the Hudson Museum.  After so many centuries had passed, both spirits were asleep…  Until Catwoman broke in one night, and on her way to steal a jade mask, she stepped over the seal from another tomb entirely.”

“I did?” Selina asked with a grin, while Bruce grumbled “Of course she did.”

“Museums with archeological finds are fascinating places,” Jason said in answer to both.  “The seal was meant to wake the spirits who guarded another artifact in another country in another century, alerting them to the presence of a thief.  That artifact wasn’t even in the museum.  In fact, I don’t think any part of the temple survived except the guardian seal.  And so it woke the spirits who were present: the princess and her lover, who were quite astonished to find they were together with no barrier of brothers between them.

“They were grateful… and then, it would seem, amused.  Batman had arrived to challenge Catwoman and, well, what was perfectly clear to everyone except the two of you at the time was perfectly clear to them as well.  In the giddiness of their own reunion, they found your mutual attraction and denials hilarious.  And, well, they devised a ‘gift’ should you ever get past it and come together.

“What could have changed recently to make the gift manifest I will not speculate, but something did.  Something the two of you did, some conclusion you reached, some step you’ve taken triggered this ancient… ‘blessing’ and as a result, something you need has been conjured and set before you.”

“A rival,” Bruce said, closing his eyes in weary contempt for all things magical.

“One for each of us,” Selina said, her lips curling with the amusement that eluded Bruce.  “Ivy and Luthor.”

“And when you didn’t act on either, circumstances appear to be lining up to provide alternatives,” Jason guessed.  “Loathe as I am to interfere in an entirely personal matter, I would suggest that whatever it is you two are planning that requires a rival, you hurry up and do it.”

That dream of losing herself in the heady embrace of wildflowers lasted precisely four seconds after Pamela’s head hit the pillow.  Her mind raced back to the polo field the moment she closed her eyes.  She thought of horses, of all things.  That was the last thing she wanted in her head before drifting off to sleep.  So she got up, brewed her favorite tea, and since she had a valium left, she took it. 

After the tea, she brought her pillow to the greenhouse and bedded down there.  She inhaled the deep, comforting scent of azaleas and rhododendron, sure to quash any stray thoughts of horses.  Once again she closed her eyes, thinking how odd it was that Claire could be so passionate about them without being at all passionate about obliterating non-horses.  It didn’t seem right.  It didn’t seem natural.  It… How could you love a thing and not be angry about the terrible things done to it—not want to avenge the terrible things done to it—not want to make the monstrous bastards PAY!  Did she just not have any anger to start with? 

It went well.  It was the last thing Jason expected to be thinking as he left the morning room.  Going to Bruce about magick, Etrigan hot-and-bothered about Selina…  That after Etrigan found himself at an event with Superman, after the upheaval with the horses, after the shock of seeing Claire reflected so clearly in that appalling Larraby woman… It was a day bursting with portents, yet each had been dissipated without one of those seeds of ruin coming into bloom.

In his mind, Etrigan sneered at the jumbled mess of a metaphor and suggested Jason drop in on “The Poison Witch” (aka Ivy) and brush up on plant poetry.  Jason ignored that idiotic suggestion, but the thought of Ivy did prompt him to remember the other ladies at the polo match.  There was no reason to mend fences with Mercy Graves.  He had got to the bottom of the Luthor matter and discharged his final duty in telling Bruce and Selina what was going on.  All he would do now was get in the way. 

Claire Sabana was another matter.  She was a lovely woman with a warm, earthy aura and a deep connection to the natural world.  He’d dismissed her quite rudely—after encouraging her society, after giving her every impression that he enjoyed their conversation, he simply dismissed her.  He really should make amends.  He stretched out his awareness to learn where she lived, when he noted Alfred Pennyworth standing there, ostensibly to help him with his coat, but there was an expectancy about him, like he was waiting to be asked a question.

“Pennyworth, you don’t happen to know if that veterinarian Dr. Sa—”

“419 Iroquois Lane, sir.  A cottage on the far side of the high street in North Bristol, I believe.  You will pass an excellent florist called Perdita’s Florals where I am quite sure Miss Mason will be able to provide a bouquet appropriate for your term of acquaintance.”

“You’re not a telepath, are you?” Jason asked suspiciously.

“No, sir.  While having no wish to overhear, your conversation with Miss Selina when you first arrived…”

“I see,” Jason said, while Etrigan snorted.

“You plot like a Luthor.”  To Lex, it was among the highest compliments anyone might be paid, so he was not surprised when Selina came around and accepted the very invitation she’d refused that morning at Coronet.  Catlike, she didn’t do it the moment he spoke the magic words.  It took a few hours.  Perhaps it took that long for the implication to sink in.  Perhaps she needed to extricate herself from whatever après-polo events Wayne had planned.  Or perhaps it was the very Luthorian guile he had praised: she didn’t want him to know the exact words that had swayed her.  But he did know.  Looking back, he could tell the exact instant, he could see the spark in her eye.  It was when he told her – quite spontaneously and with unfeigned admiration – that she plotted like a Luthor. 

Ok. Mus. Meow.

The text message wasn’t exactly a sonnet, but neither of them were dewy-eyed simpletons.  Ok communicated the pertinent fact, she was accepting his offer.  Mus clarified which offer, his invitation to the Epicurious Tasting Tour at the Gotham Museum of Art.  It started at 7:30, so there was no reason to specify the time.  And Meow was her sign off.  Or perhaps an endearment.  Perhaps even an allusion to the theming which she adopted, not as a mark of insanity like so many of these Gotham crazies but as a bold expression of her personal style.  Or whatever.  The important thing was he had a date. 

He informed Mercy, who postponed her visit to the St. Regis Fitness Center in order to review the escape routes and fallback locations for the museum.  She hated the abbreviated nature of the floor plans.  So much of the information was restricted in the name of their security, she knew she was missing out on the most effective routes to extract Lex and his guest in an emergency.  What made the situation more galling was the fact that the guest knew more than she did.  If there was an assassination attempt, of the four of them—Lex Luthor, Mercy Graves, Selina Kyle and a would-be assassin—Selina probably knew the secret parts of the building better than anybody. 

Ironically, at the very moment Mercy had the thought, a pupil of the world’s foremost assassin was entering the Gotham Museum of Art armed with complete and detailed information of the ventilation ducts and security corridors, electrical schematics and camera coverage, all courtesy of Selina Kyle.

There was no reason for Tim and Cassie to visit the museum as “Drake and C.C.”  Nothing in their skeletal bios hinted at an interest in art, but for some reason, they started calling each other by their cover names on the subway and they kept going all the way up 82nd Street, up the stairs and into the GMA lobby.  Tim later decided it was because Drake and C.C. were a more open couple, free with the public displays of affection that made it easier to talk without a commlink. 

He could grab her waist and playfully pull her in sideways, bury his mouth near her ear like he was nibbling, and point out the entrance to the renovated European Paintings Galleries that was right up ahead—and then he could pull her in even tighter like he wanted some more, and add that the Caravaggio they were looking for from the website was just to the left.  She giggled like it tickled, hiding her pronouncement that the painting was too close to the stairs and they’d have to go on to the next artwork on the list.

Cassie’s challenge was the opposite of Mercy’s.  She had full knowledge of the space, but only guesswork about Luthor’s probable movements.  Selina’s information was sketchy there.  She hadn’t seen the galleries since the reopening and had no idea where specific paintings were hung.  The best she could do was send Cassie to the website where one of the featured paintings from each part of the tasting tour was pictured.  That’s when Cassie roped in Tim to help her find where those pictures were hung.  Since Caravaggio’s Musicians was too close to the stairs, they’d have to find…

“Dud wit Lute Player with soft mouth hanging open like Keanu Reeves in Dangerous Liaisons.”

“I think you mean dull witted,” Tim corrected.  “And I think it was French, so it should be down this way.”

It wasn’t the ideal way to prep for a hit, but Cassie decided that if she had to choose, it was better to have certain and detailed knowledge of the space and be iffy on the target than the other way around.

“Not dud wit?  Dud wit makes more sense.  Silly feather hat.  Mouth too soft.  Hang open like catch fly.  Dud wit.”

“Dull witted or dimwit,” Tim insisted, turning her to face him and stroking her hair affectionately.  “Burgundy portion of the tour, oh, this is good.  Galleries 613-617.  You said you liked this part of the building.”

“East wall thick,” she nodded, and he cupped her chin and kissed her.

“It’d be a maze to get to either the north or south stairs,” he murmured against her lips.

“So go through unmark door in 614,” Cassie giggled, resting her forehead against his once their mouths disengaged.  “Bodyguard sure to see.  If not, Selina will.”

“And if the impossible happens and neither of them see it?” Tim asked, as they resumed strolling, arm in arm, to the next gallery. 

“Put pigs bladder in vent above stairs,” Cassie said.  “Old prank toy, like balloon.  Make awful scream noise.  They run wrong way, we set off.  They hear scream, turn around and run back.  No leave trace but little bit burst balloon.  Never find.  If do find, not know what is.”

“Damn, that’s good,” Tim murmured.

“Dud wit,” Cassie announced happily, spying Valentin de Boulogne’s The Lute Player.  It was perfectly placed.  To stand in front of it, Luthor would have to pass right under Camera 43 and would be in a direct line from the painted over grate. 

That meant it was time for Drake and C.C. to go their separate ways.  They became gradually less affectionate as they continued through the maze of rooms displaying Europe paintings.  By the time they reached the stairs where Luthor and Selina were unlikely to run when the trouble started, anyone who saw them earlier might think they’d had a spat.  By the time they crossed the lobby, an observer wouldn’t have known they were together at all. 

They entered Ancient Cultures, though Tim turned back almost immediately and ducked into the men’s room.  Cassie went alone to the Roman Temple and performed the disappearing act she’d perfected long ago to remain in the museum after closing.  She changed into costume in the hidden room inside the temple and made her way through vents and between the false walls that made up the displays.  The only difference today was the early hour.  The museum wasn’t closing yet, although the crowd thinned considerably as afternoon gave way to evening.

She returned to European Paintings and watched from her first vantage point high above the Correggio Room while staffers set out signs with arrows indicating this way to the Abbey Beer Tour, the Pale Lager Tour, the Chianti Tour and so on.  Using a gadget Selina supplied, she tapped into the security feed from the lobby and saw Luthor arrive with his bodyguard.  

She was good.  Alert, scanning, aware of the space and the crowd, not allowing personal pique to distract her from the job.  The personal pique was connected to Luthor, and Cassie could guess why.  He was a lousy protectee.  Sending Mercy away twice, first to check his coat and then to the admissions desk to pick up passes.  It made it impossible for her to act as a bodyguard, running his errands that way like a gofer.  Clearly she knew it and clearly it was the norm. 

Cassie bit her lip.  She knew none of this was in the Bat-files on Luthor or Mercy, and she wondered how much she should note in her log.  Bruce-Sensei might want it or he might not want the logs cluttered with outside jobs she did for—Selina was arriving.

More pique from the bodyguard, but Selina was more interesting to watch.  She had a weapon, very small and light (a set of claws, probably) secured inside the waistband of her skirt.  Something on the left side of her bra, too.  A blade—or in her case, maybe a lock-picking tool—concealed under the arch of her left shoe behind the stiletto heel, and another of similar size and weight strapped to her thigh.  Her walk was balanced, powerful, and confident.  What she called a Bryn Mawr walk, less pelvic tilt than when she was in costume, but still powerful, purposeful and…  Ew. 

Under her cowl, Cassie’s expression morphed into the incredulous stare of the dud witted lute player.  Luthor’s posture in response to Selina’s walk was...  Ew.  Worse than at the Stock Exchange.

The admission badge was a little button-sized circle of tin which Mercy had picked up from the front desk.  Luthor fastened one on Selina’s lapel, a sight that was only slightly less bizarre than the one that followed, her taking one from his fingers and fastening it on his breast pocket.  They chatted for a few minutes more in the lobby, then walked together towards the stairs that led to the European Paintings gallery. 

She abandoned the camera feed to look down through the grate of her vent.  She saw them reach the top of the stairs, assemble with others there for the event and finally with a representative from the museum.  There was a brief introduction, talk about the wine route and the beer route they might follow through the galleries that both led to the Balcony Bar, laughter that Cassie didn’t understand, and asides between Selina and Lex that she understood even less. 

Eventually the group split up into two herds which moved off in different directions.  She knew Luthor and Selina would be coming around to the Burgundy part of the tour eventually, so she backed further into her vent and made her way to her second position over gallery 614.

Pamela scratched her hair unhappily, not liking where this train of thought was going, but not wanting to wake up enough to stop it.  Instead, she called sleepily to her babies to come around and make her feel better.  Her arms felt cold, and they wrapped around her with their warm, velvety leaves.  Her brow and neck were feverish, and they soothed her with a caress of cool petals.  Before long, she was wrapped in a snug cocoon of the plant life she loved, and whenever an unwelcome thought intruded, she had them squeeze a little tighter.  The leaves secreted lingan into her pores, blocking the trace amounts of oxygen that would otherwise be absorbed by her skin and substituting their own rich colloid of CO2 and antioxidants.  Her breathing grew labored, but rather than letting it wake her, Ivy’s mind transmogrified her deep unsatisfying inhales into a lecture on plants poisonous to horses: the tansy ragwort with all those pyrrolizidine alkaloids would damage the liver, hemlock was a positive buffet of neurotoxins, the yew would cause respiratory and cardiac collapse…

“This is our moment of transition, of intersection, into the French seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century galleries to Neoclassicism, at the end of which you will encounter Goya serving as a transition between Spanish painting and French…”

Every nerve was raw.  Every instinct screamed.  Mercy’s head ached from the unconscious effort she was making to push her eyeballs forward in an irrational effort to somehow ‘see more.’

Something was wrong.  Every instinct screamed it.  She couldn’t say what, she just knew.  They were being watched.  They were being stalked.  They were being hunted. 

“…eath of Socrates, the single greatest and most important Neoclassical painting outside the Louvre, though of course not a beverage we’re inclined to feature in tonight’s program…” 

Something was wrong.  It wasn’t Lex’s bizarre attitude towards Selina, that had been going on for days. 

The god Bacchus on the other hand is a great favorite of the Neoclassicists…”

It wasn’t Selina’s new receptiveness either.  That was new and it was weird, but it wasn’t that causing the fingernails on a blackboard screech across her brain. 

“…effects of over indulgence.  Consider Valentin de Boulogne’s The Lute Player…”

RED!  The red glow of a laser sight on the center of Lex’s tie. 

“GUN!” Mercy cried, hurling herself into a chest-to-chest blocking position in front of Lex, arms outstretched, as if trying to envelop him (and a few inches of Selina) in a wide-armed bear hug.  She snarled fiercely at the guards to check the vent for a gunman, while keeping her body between Lex and the presumed source of the sight.  She maintained her wide-armed stance as she backed Lex and Selina out the unmarked utility door on the east wall.

The guard was rightly skeptical.  The vent in question was too small for a person, even a small person, with or without a gun.  It was also painted over, making it impossible to open, but what he could see inside was a small mirror inside the vent that could have reflected the laser from an unknown source.  Someone who might or might not have sounded like a teenage boy called out that there was no practical reason to bounce a gun sight off a mirror.  So if anything like that had happened—and it seemed like the butch woman who started barking orders was the only one who had seen any glowing red dot—it must be a diversion.  The museum went into lockdown mode while the guards chased after Mercy.

Selina pulled Lex out of her wake on the first landing, hurrying him down a hallway with the terse explanation that “This is her screw-up.”

“At best,” Lex concluded when they came to a stop, straightening his jacket with exaggerated stateliness as if it was his personal dignity that had been jostled in the commotion.  He looked around at the darkened room, then peered at Selina through the gloom.  “At best it’s a screw-up.  At worst, she’s playing directly into someone’s hands.”

“Tell, tell,” Selina purred while Lex felt around for a light switch.  “Whose?”

Mine,” sounded from the darkness a moment before the lights came up to reveal the restoration room—and Batman standing impassively beside a torn ink and watercolor illustration of The Deposed Monkey King from a 3rd Century Syrian manuscript. 

In the time it took to reach Perdita’s Florals, Jason was reconsidering.  He remembered the dream that brought him into this business, rereading the Mallilie Affair in his journal and young Drake’s joke calling him “The Doctor.”  How he’d looked into it later.  Dr. Who… He’d tried not to be repulsed.  He tried to see it with the tolerance he’d shown to Wilde and Stoker.  He had always been fascinated by immortal characters as imagined by mortal men.  But that Doctor and his string of… companions.  How old was he supposed to be in human terms?  Thousands of years?  Millions?  It took less than six hundred for Jason to learn the futility of it. 

He was detached enough before he walked up to that foolish child in a Paris café in 1924.  And then when their paths crossed a few years later, he forgot.  She made him forget, damn her.  He allowed himself to get tangled up in a doomed attachment, and then she broke his heart and then she died and that was that.  It was one lesson more than a smart man would have needed, but it was enough. 

Then came the seventies, Free Love and freer attitudes.  He let himself pick up a companion or two.  Glenda, Nicole, Victoria… but there was never any question of giving his heart.  And even so, the whole experience became so perfunctory.  He soon discarded the idea and even the notion of friends gave way, for a time, to a simple network of mutually beneficial colleagues. 

Miriam put a stop to that.  And then Selina—it was always the women.  Women and their charms, women who inserted themselves into your existence, making a fixture of themselves until you noticed you were really quite fond of them, that it was more enjoyable being with them than being alone with your demon.  And before you knew where you were, you were making friends again. 

And with those final words, an irate Jason Blood found himself looking at a basket of sunflowers, yellow roses, yellow fujis and mini hydrangeas under a hand-drawn sign reading Today’s Special: Friendship Bouquet.  The apostrophe was a leaf…

Pamela Isley on a quest to make friends.  Pamela Isley.  If Jason was one to use faddish expressions like ‘damaged train wreck,’ Pamela Isley was a woman he’d apply it too.  Yet she’d evolved enough to put her criminal obsessions aside and make an effort with her own species.

There was also Etrigan’s silence to consider.  If it was such a bloody awful idea to rejoin the human race a little, Etrigan would encourage it.  He might oppose it, nudging Jason the other way as a reflex, or he might make a persuasive argument in its favor.  But silence…

With determination, Jason went into Perdita’s Florals and bought a pretty bouquet of lilies and chrysanthemums that seemed to hit the right note of apology.

Tell her or I will,” Batman graveled, and Lex sniffed.

“As I’m sure the lady has guessed by now,” he said hoping to give the impression that, even though he was about to do what Batman wanted, he was doing it on his own terms.  “I’ve had something like this happen before.  My final days in the White House.  Selina, you were quite right when we spoke the last time I was in Gotham.  I had no intention of resigning; I was prepared to fight to the last gasp rather than be brought down by that… Kent business.  Then there was a security breach in the residence, necessitating my relocation to the bunker.  I discovered I was not alone, much as we did just now.”

“And Batman persuaded you to resign,” Selina concluded.  “Meaning he’s got something on you that’s pretty damning.  Meaning, I suppose, that ultimately, you can’t beat him.”  She had walked up to Batman with the exaggerated hip-sway usually confined to in-costume confrontations, and though her words were superficially addressed to Lex, it was clear that Batman was the only living thing in her universe.  “Unless, of course, you get something just as damaging to hold over him.  That what this is about, Stud?  You worked out, in that annoying Great Detective way of yours, that Lexy’s been making overtures.  You worked out what he’s offered me?”

“Um, Selina,” Lex said as if she was strolling a little too close to a precipice.

“You’re not here to warn me that he can’t ever beat you?  No, that wouldn’t be it.  Not if you’ve figured out what he’s offering: the chance to get you as a joint effort, with the promise that once we have you, you’re to be mine.”

“Selina, I don’t think that’s wise,” Lex pointed out, leaning back ever so slightly on his own heels just to maximize his own distance from that precipice without anyone noticing.

“You’re here to warn me that he’ll renege?  Because he needs something over you, not to get the upper hand but just to break even, is that it?”

“I’m not here to warn you about anything,” Batman graveled, and in a lightning move he grabbed her wrist and stripped off her bracelet.  He took a step towards Lex as he held it up and slowly slid out a thin sliver of metal from the clasp.  “The problem with biometrics is you can’t change your password,” he said, tossing the chip to Luthor.  “You’ve let the best thief in the world sample your heartbeat, not a brilliant move.  Whatever private vault you’ve got in Metropolis that requires your heartbeat to get into, I’d empty it out before she does.”

Selina’s sexy villainess bravado had given way to the impotent contempt of a teenager waiting out a scolding, while Luthor adopted a patronizing all-part-of-the-plan smile to conceal his defensive cunning racing through the possibilities.

“Nonsense, one doesn’t dangle yarn in front of a cat without expecting her to play,” he said pleasantly.

“Dangle yarn?” Batman asked with a sneer.

“The LexBeat, flagship product for his new company,” Selina explained, opening her purse and taking out the black band.  “Call it a universal, individualized, biometric key.” 

She slipped it over her wrist where the bracelet had been and buffed an imaginary scuff while Batman looked at Luthor with the open-mouthed astonishment of de Boulogne’s slow-witted lute player. 

“You have a key you want to sell commercially, and the first thing you did with it was hand the prototype to the world's best thief?” he asked as if he was translating a foreign language and could not possibly be getting it right.  “Knowing she’s living with your biggest business rival, who must therefore know by now that the first thing you did was give it to a thief.”

He turned his astonished gaze to Selina, who gave a fingertip wave and meowed.

“You’ve expanded into mind-control,” he pronounced dryly.

“I didn’t do a thing,” she insisted.  “It was a gift.”

“Of course it was.  Just like with Lee and Fabricant and Cobblepot and Korsakoff.  Falcone, Falstaff, Andropovich and al Ghul.  It never stops with you.”

Luthor swallowed.  Looked at a certain way, giving Selina access to the LexBeat might have created an exposure for LC-II that hadn’t occurred to him, if she remained loyal to Wayne.  It also hadn’t occurred to him that she might have additional victims beyond the three he was aware of. 

“You have to be stopped,” Batman said darkly, moving towards her.  “You’re more dangerous than ever.”

“We can work something out,” she said, eyes riveted on his, the seductive tone not quite masking the undercurrent of fear in her voice. 

Lex ran.  Not out of fear or panic, and not because the scene wasn’t fascinating, but because there are entanglements a man trying to rebuild an empire simply doesn’t need. 

One story said there’d been a hostage situation at the museum and another said Hudson Bank, and Selina Kyle was among those Batman rescued.  One variation said she had saved the Dark Knight’s life, disarming a gunman who spotted him.  In another version she saw Batman first and distracted the gunmen before any of them could notice him.  Whatever the details, the aftermath was the same: old feelings were rekindled.  Selina might care for Bruce, but with Batman there was a flame of shared desire that reduced all other attractions to a tepid half-remembered flicker.  She was moving out of the manor…

Alfred’s features warped with emotion as he gave Selina the tightest hug he had offered since Master Dick left for college.  Twice his arms tried to disengage before his mind was quite prepared, manifesting in a light, paternal pat on her back.  Finally they separated, a quarter tear forming in the corner of one eye which he refused to acknowledge.

“Congratulations, sir,” he said, voice cracking with pride as he looked at Bruce but thought only of Doctor Wayne.  He offered his hand, which Bruce refused, opting for a hug instead that was no less affectionate for being briefer than the one with Selina. 

“Miss,” Alfred added, patting her hand rather than lose himself in another round of hugs.  Instead he sniffed sharply and pulled himself together.  “Well then, I suppose I shall have another wedding to prepare for.”

Selina winced.  Bruce cleared his throat.  And Alfred assumed a fixed expression mastered in the early days of Batman’s mission.

“Um,” she said while he mumbled “Actually…”

Any spirit of Thomas and Martha that hovered over the scene was exorcised as Alfred waited, attentive but impassive, to hear what new indignities Batman and Catwoman had dreamed up to prove they weren’t like other people. 

“Given the way the Rogues have reacted to both of our personal lives in the past,” Bruce began.

“Not to mention obscenely overpowered capes who put as much ‘super’ behind their opinions as they do punching out tanks,” Selina added.

“He means well,” said Bruce.

“I never said he didn’t,” countered Selina.

“Well anyway, we have to be very careful how this news is dispersed.  For our safety, for the family and for Gotham’s, we have to stay in control of the information.”

Alfred cleared his throat.

“In that case one feels compelled to inform you, sir, miss, that while one’s reaction to the news just now was heartfelt and sincere, one was not actually as surprised by the revelation as was implied.”

“Repeat,” Bruce said flatly.

“One has been aware of your engagement, sir.  From certain alterations in your own manner and that of Miss Selina, one surmised that a decision was reached shortly after the Falstaff matter, most probably the day the RISE event at the Wayne Tower coincided with your reception at the penthouse to thank the Foundation staff.”

Selina looked deflated for a moment, then her lips curled into a teasing smile.

“Now you know what it feels like,” she told Bruce. 

He ignored her, thought for a moment, then grunted. 

“I’m sure you’re an isolated case,” he pronounced finally.  “You see us together all the time, at home, relaxed, informal.  I’m sure no one else has picked up on anything.”

One story said it happened in costume.  It was no secret that Catwoman still prowled. One night her whip broke and she found herself in a freefall with no hope of slowing the deadly approach of 48th Street.  Then a sudden whoosh and she found herself in strong arms—a powerful swing carrying her to safety on the Moxton roof and an embrace neither could bring themselves to end…

Another version said it was the Batline that broke and Catwoman who came to Batman’s rescue.  Another said it wasn’t a fall, that one had discovered the other pinned down by a foursome of well-armed Westies and jumped into the fray…  Still another said they were trapped in a bank with a ticking bomb, and though Catwoman got the door open just in time for Batman to hurl the bomb inside and swing the 8-inches of titanium shut, he  grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her close to him, curling them both down into a crouching ball and covering them both with his cape.  After the violent rumble of the contained blast vibrating through the structure, he discovered it wasn’t like any of the other times he’d been  close to an exploding bomb cradling someone in his arms to protect them.  Protecting her, protecting Catwoman… 

Again, the conflicting nature of the details was obscured by their irrelevance.  It was the aftermath that mattered.  The undying and unassailable bond between Batman and Catwoman reborn in the rush of adrenaline, fear and relief…

Barbara knew something was going to happen when she fired up her workstation and saw the OraCom had registered a remote sweep at 6:57, the exact time the newspapers announced for sunset.  The source was the Batmobile, meaning Bruce had programmed the sweep in advance, presumably to track everyone’s movements through the night.  She opened the Batmobile channel to find out what was happening, what kind of mission would be starting so early, but she heard only the static squelch of the sonic mesh he used to keep those with super-hearing out of the loop.  She switched to Channel One, the direct line to Batman’s cowl, and found a fresh lockout.  A few minutes later, the window opened and Catwoman climbed in, looking grim, then Batman followed, looking grimmer. 

His eyes scanned the room like he was sizing up a villain’s lair.  Satisfied that there were no traps concealed in her bookcase, her ‘Love the Librarian’ mug or her cat Bytes, he told her to order Nightwing home ASAP.  Only after she passed on the message in her crisp, all-business Oracle tone did the mood change.  Catwoman’s lip curled into the faintest of smiles while Batman’s body relaxed into the unnerving posture of Bruce in a Batsuit.  It was sufficiently creepy that Barbara offered to make a fresh pot of tea just to get away from them.

It timed out perfectly so that she was returning from the kitchen just as Nightwing arrived.  Awkwardness reigned for fifteen seconds in which nobody spoke, when Dick suddenly burst into the widest of grins.

“Well about damn time!” he exclaimed, pushed past Bruce and hugged Selina. 

“Oh,” Barbara said quietly, getting it finally.  Before she could say more, Dick had peeled off his mask and turned back to Bruce with the impish grin of an earlier time.

“So, um, officially, Batman,” he said, pausing on each word to relish the moment.  “I told you so.  914 times.  I said you’ve got a little thing for the cat burglar…”  with this, he made something of a spiraling gesture towards Selina like a ringmaster announcing the next act.  “You said I was too young to understand.  Then you said I was a hormonal teenager obsessed with my own urges.  You said I was wrong.  I was not wrong.  I was not imagining.  I am owed nine wrongfully imposed rounds of Zogger, six rewritten and white-washed log entries, and twelve nights sent to my room.”

Bruce bore it stoically while Selina and Barbara fell over themselves laughing.

In time things calmed down enough for a more sober explanation of the threat posed by interfering Rogues (and matchmaking capes), and the protocol devised to get the word out while minimizing the danger.

“But you’re not really going to move out of the manor,” Barbara said, realizing the problem at once and reaching to take Bytes into her lap as a reflex.  “Whiskers and Nutmeg would be so unsettled.”

“So would Alfred, and that would be bad for both of us,” Bruce graveled. 

“But I can get a suite in one of the hotels for a few days,” Selina said.  “That covers the cats and the furniture staying where they are if anyone bothers to think about it, which they won’t.”

“Because we’re going to give them much more interesting things to think about,” Bruce said firmly.

Lex Luthor was hacked!  According to one account, anyway.  Wayne Tech hackers were always better than their Metropolis counterparts, and then Wayne absorbed the best of old LexCorp, leaving Luthor with the second-best of the second-best.  So if Bruce Wayne decided to take on Lex Luthor, the smart money would bet on Wayne every time—at least they wanted to, if only they could figure out where to place the bet.  The details of exactly what Wayne had done were murky. 

One camp insisted WT hacked the old LexCorp archives, leaving “love notes” of Wayne logos, and even Bruce’s own picture, buried in oddball places to pop up at embarrassing and inconvenient times, i.e. harmless fun, the kind of high-tech prank made famous by Cal Tech and MIT.  Another group thought the hacking less benign: the new company LC-II had been the target, its satellite compromised and, through it, the data in all LC systems was suspect.  A third group had the fanciful idea that Bruce started a rumor about a signet ring, a plot device Luthor failed to recognize from an old James Clavell novel.  Allegedly given by an ancestor in payment for some ancient loan, it was said that he who produced a missing seal that fit the ring could demand any favor of the Wayne CEO.  Luthor, believing this fairytale, was in Gotham trying to find the seal with the idea of forcing Bruce to sign over those old tech divisions…

The timing didn’t exactly work out.  Luthor was already in Gotham before Bruce lost Selina to Batman.  Most gossips didn’t care to let such glaring inconsistencies get in the way of a story they were determined to believe, but the few who did care decided Luthor’s coming to Gotham was happenstance.  Superman showed up because Luthor did, and it was that which gave Bruce the idea…

Metropolis was used to traffic snarls on game nights.  Superman made a few passes over the Stan Kaye just to make sure tempers were under control, but he wasn’t expecting trouble.  The rain had dried up and the roads were safe, so when he heard the signal on Jimmy’s supersonic frequency, there was no reason not to answer it at once.  It was a yellow code, not urgent, but neither was the stadium traffic.  He tracked the signal to the Daily Planet, but slowed as he neared the roof, scanning it from a distance.

Only one person had ever cloned the signal from Jimmy’s watch, but tonight there were two heartbeats waiting.  The telltale cape movement in the darkness under the giant globe meant that it was a replicated signal, and it wasn’t Jimmy who’d brought a colleague, it was—

“Bruce,” he said, landing, and then turned to the darkness with a grin.  “Selina,” he said with a nod.

There was a brief reaction, a silent pulse of recognition from Bruce.  Despite mask and capes, it was normally ‘Bruce’ and ‘Clark’ when they met on this roof, but not in the presence of a third party, even one who knew both identities. 

“I take it there’s news,” he said expectantly. 

Bat and Cat looked at each other warily.

“And since you’re both here in Metropolis, as in ‘Bruce left Gotham to come and tell me,’ I don’t imagine it’s a dire Luthor-in-My-City development,” he said, looking from one to the other with a pleased smile.

“He knows,” Selina announced acidly.

“Clearly,” Bruce said flatly.

“Of course I know.  Hard to believe you two can maintain a secret identity,” he said, clapping Bruce’s arm and shaking his hand with a bit more enthusiasm than a non-kryptonian arm might wish.

“Hard to believe I let you play with my tigers,” Selina countered.

Whether Luthor was in Gotham to retaliate for the hacking of his satellite, on a fool’s quest for the signet ring, or merely looking for a funding partner on Wall Street, he was in Gotham.  That brought Superman, and thus began the turf war.  Less than a month into his new stint as commissioner, Jim Gordon had to contend with a pissing contest between The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel…

It was unusual but not unprecedented for the Bat-Signal to be lit by outsiders.  Most often it was the Riddler’s doing, and most often he disabled the camera but didn’t mind tripping the silent alarm on his way out to make sure his clue was found promptly.  So Gordon wasn’t surprised the rooftop had been breached, though it was the first time the notification came through a flashing icon on his desktop sync’d with a vibration from a device in his breast pocket.  He was surprised reaching the roof to see the signal hadn’t actually been lit.  Two figures stood were the riddle box might have been left.  Clearly Catwoman tripped the alarm, for she was resetting it and paused only long enough to wave, while Batman stepped forward to greet him.

“Evening, Jim,” he said with a fraction of the usual scowl.

It was the only cue Gordon needed and he swung his hand forward for a gruff congratulations, causing the quarter-scowl to deepen into the regulation Escape-at-Arkham Glower.

“He knows too,” Batman declared grimly.

“Well of course I do!” he exclaimed.  “Twenty years a detective.  We can figure out some things on our own, you know!”

Among Bruce Wayne’s crowd, The Mark was known for discretion.  Others hotels might offer privacy and seclusion, but few could point to such a history—or lack of history—in which celebrities came and went without a single episode making its way to TMZ. 

The Mark was known among Selina’s acquaintance as well, for its hair gel.  Situated amidst no fewer than seven museums and five art galleries, it was a hotel of choice for the visiting art thief in Gotham—or it had been until the arrest of Gerard Falco.  For the Mark boasted an exclusive line of Italian toiletries hand-blended for their guests, and when a smudge of the exclusive hair gel was found in the museum vent after the Frick robbery, Falco found himself on an ultra-short list of suspects.  Despite (or perhaps because of) that unfortunate link with art theft, Selina chose The Mark for her new residence on moving out of the manor. 

Before she’d even unpacked, Bruce’s plan was unfolding… 

It was an exuberant Edward Nigma who passed through the gates of Arkham Asylum.  His escape to rescue Doris should have made him ineligible for fast track release, yet somehow the days he’d already earned before escaping had not been reset in the system.  He even found himself credited with completing the first module through, as nearly as he could figure, a clerical error.  It was a puzzle made all the more tantalizing for the postcard he received the morning of his release, with a picture of a Monopoly hotel on the face, and on the back the enigmatic tease:

I'll be nice this time,
Even give you a rhyme
All because you didn't tell her.
Your favorite's a question
But lose the obsession
Nonspecific will bring you the cat’s purr.

Obviously, his early release was a reward Selina arranged for his not telling Doris how she’d manipulated events at the Zeitgeist.  He was being invited to a hotel, and this time it would be a friendly meeting.  And the hotel… Of course, his favorite punctuation was a question mark.  Losing the obsession and being nonspecific... 

The cab dropped him at The Mark and he presented himself at the front desk imagining he had a reservation under the name Vince Turner.  Instead, the clerk said Miss Kyle was expecting Mr. Turner, gave him a room number instead of a key and pointed him to the elevator.  He considered the fresh puzzle as the elevator rose: why was Selina checked in as a guest, and under her own name?

He played along when she opened the door, ushered him in and offered a soft drink.  It was a suite—a full suite with a kitchen, that seemed excessive unless she was living there.  But if she had any reason to move out of the manor and for some reason didn’t want to use the Wayne penthouse, she had plenty of cat lairs, so this set up could only mean… He tilted his head quizzically.

“You and Bruce ready to let the cat out of the bag, eh?” he asked with a smirk.

Selina stared.

“Oh come on, ‘Lina, when is One Temple like a Gamester Cent Gene?  When you’re thinking up anagrams for Elopement and Secret Engagement.  It’s obvious you agreed to tie the knot.”

Her mouth dropped open.

“He didn’t nab me at the Yotel until ten minutes before check out.  Gave Doris and me the night together undisturbed.  What do you think, I’m a moron?”

Selina started to speak, then thought the better of it.

“So you’re settling in here is part of some scheme he dreamed up to get the word out without half the city exploding like last time?  Say, what if I make that your wedding present!  I’ll take care of telling the family and you don’t have to worry about it.”

She stared.

“What’s say we order up some room service and toast this thing with something better than Diet Coke, eh?”

However Bruce baited Luthor, speculation was becoming more and more outlandish about how Luthor might retaliate.  It was said he’d been overheard having breakfast at Coronet hinting that the Wayne HQ might be ‘compromised.’  After he allegedly lunched at Griffin, there was talk of the Wayne Tech satellite being sabotaged.  By the second dinner seating at Trilby, all anyone talked about were the alarming rumors that Luthor had become completely unhinged and was willing to destabilize the bond market just to bring down Wayne… 

No one doubted that with Luthor making that kind of noise, Superman might be installing himself in Gotham skies, harassing Batman about his ability to contain the threat and generally aggravating the Dark Knight.  No one doubted that, occupied with both Luthor and Superman, he was neglecting Selina.  No one doubted… even though they hadn’t seen Luthor eating anywhere, hadn’t heard a word of his conversation, hadn’t spotted Superman in the skies, and had no reason to believe if they had it would be a cause for tension between The Dark Knight and The Man of Steel… no one doubted that at ten o’clock on Friday night, Batman and Superman came to blows on top of the Chrysler Building…

UP was like most “rooftop lounges” in Gotham: they had a pleasant if limited bar menu, a selection of pricy but sumptuous signature cocktails, and the penthouse views you can only get 30 flights up.  Selina was finishing her drink when, instead of bringing the check, her waiter presented a pair of miniature binoculars the size of opera glasses, but with the high-powered night-filters favored by cat burglars.  The accompanying note read:  See the World’s Finest dancing to my tune.

Patrons were already pointing out a commotion on the Chrysler roof, and pointing her binoculars in that direction, Selina burst out laughing.  She ran to the railing nearest the Chrysler, hand over her mouth to suppress more laughter.  She was heard to say something, but none of those nearest her could agree on what.  Then everyone’s hair began to blow and cocktail napkins took flight as the sound of a helicopter drowned out any remaining chit-chat. 

The helicopter landed on the rooflet above the terrace, and a white-gloved messenger got out.  He carried a bouquet of roses which he handed to Selina with another note.  “Please come.”

The messenger offered his arm, ushering her back to take his place in the helicopter while several in the crowd started to applaud.  Others surged forward, phones in hand, to take pictures.  By the time the helicopter took off, the pictures were trending.  Remarkably clear pictures of the passenger seat waiting for Selina, a red leather jewelry box sitting where she would have to move it in order to sit down...  A bottle of champagne chilling beside that in a bucket of ice with small purple flowers frozen into each cube...  Selina moving the box aside to take her seat, the flowers in her lap...  Selina peeking in the box,  Selina reading the note, the pilot blushing…  The messenger accepting a drink at the bar after the helicopter had left.  Tweets accompanying the last said the messenger confirmed what anyone in the know had guessed: the helicopter was headed for the Wayne Tower. 

It landed.  As the blushing pilot would later be paid $5,000 to attest, Bruce was waiting in a tuxedo and helped her from the helicopter himself…

“Well that was dramatic,” Selina said, looking at him adoringly but her voice cracking with barely contained amusement as the helicopter took off again.

“Yes, but I would have come up with something much better to split us up if we hadn’t had this Luthor thing foisted on us,” he said, seeming from a distance to return her gaze with equal affection, though up close his eyes glared at the impertinence of ancient lover-spirits.

“It was a gift,” she said.  “It would have been rude to refuse, and probably unwise considering grunt-magic.”

His lip twitched at the feline logic resolving in Bat-like pragmatism.  Then he winced.

“It’s still galling.  Upstaged by Batman, and having to resort to this to get you back.  It’s so… flashy and flamboyant.  The old me.”

“The fop’s last stand,” Selina laughed.

“Exactly,” Bruce said bitterly.  “It’s not the real me.”

“Oh, I don’t care,” she said sincerely.  “Tonight was for them.  We had our moment.  Private and personal, as it should be.”

“But incomplete,” he said, seizing her hand with a fierceness more indicative of Batman preempting a cat-scratch than a man presenting an engagement ring.  But a ring he held, between the thumb and forefinger of his other hand, tilted just so to show off the beautiful facets of the center stone.  Emerald cut, a little over eight carats, flanked by baguettes on both sides.

“This,” he said, sliding it slowly down her finger, “is ‘the jewels that didn’t belong to you’ from Cartier.  That first night.”

“That first kiss,” Selina said, quivering. 

“You left the jewels behind,” he said.

“It was a really good kiss,” she whispered.  “You let me go.”

“It was a really good kiss,” he echoed.

The moment held for a silent beat, but instead of kissing, she purred and he grunted.

“Now is when you ask which of the baguettes is from one of the pieces you left that night, or if it’s both, and I tell you neither.  It’s the central stone, and you say—”

“There was no diamond this big in that haul,” she said with him, and then added “I would have remembered.”

“That’s right, but there were a lot of small stones, and Clark does much better when he’s got a good sample to start with.”

“You had your BFF Superman crunch up a bunch of little diamonds into a big diamond and you’re saying the big dramatic gesture isn’t the real you?” she laughed.

“Impossible woman,” he graveled.

The final photo of Bruce and Selina kissing on the penthouse terrace was trending by midnight – with the unlikely hashtags #HAHAHA  #BiteItBatsy  #CallooCallayCheckmateISay #FrightfulFailure #ColdCalamity and #TwoHeartsBeatAsOne

Eddie was quite happy at the way things were working out.  Love really was the puzzle that couldn’t be solved.  It still sucked that Selina had given up the most criminal parts of her nature to be with that overgrown bat, but she was still Catwoman.  He did make her happy.  And now that Eddie had Doris to go home to, it wasn’t quite as galling that Batman also found a woman who could keep up. 

Everyone but Roxy, Matt Hagen, Ivy and Croc had answered his message or responded in some way to the news in the way his riddling missive primed them to: Batman lost.  It may have been what Batman intended—it obviously was what the scheming Bat-brain intended—but Eddie liked to think he’d made the best of it.  His contribution, selecting the perfect photo to forward to each person, framed with the perfect riddle to make them take the news in the right way, it was, hands down, the best gift he could possibly give either of them.  Everyone from Joker to King Snake, Oswald to Two-Face, neatly crossed off the list of potential threats.  They could proceed with the business of knitting their souls together like ordinary people and he would be spared the indignity of going to some snooty department store and buying place settings for Batman!

He’d just checked in on Roxy and Hagen and both were perfectly reasonable.  Now he’d drop in on Ivy, stop for a bite of lunch near the greenhouse and see if something in the Flower Market District didn’t spark an idea or two for his next crime spree.  If it didn’t, he’d drop in on Croc.

Except the greenhouse door was locked.  Clearly Ivy wasn’t in the mood to pretend it was an ordinary business, which would be fine except she wasn’t answering the doorbell or her phone.  Hm. 

It had been a while since he picked such a simple lock.  He much preferred newer defense systems you had to hack, but there was a wheel-and-gear simplicity to an old-fashioned lock.  Not quite a mechanical puzzle, but at least a sufficiently—oh gag!

The odor that nearly knocked him over as he opened the door was some kind of smelly fertilizer used for tropical plants.  Why it was spread out in long open-mesh trays set over steam vents he couldn’t guess.  If the idea was to make the air hot, wet and rank, it was working beautifully.  If it was for any other purpose, that stink was a hell of a price to pay. 

“Hello Edward,” a meek voice called from the other room.

“Pammy?” he said, then faked a cough as he passed through the long rows of fertilizer, simply as an excuse to hold his hand over his nose and mouth. 

“Uh oh,” he said, his eyes widening with horror as he got closer.

The voice had come from “Pammy” alright.  Part of her – half of her, to be exact – looked less like Poison Ivy than she ever had.  Her skin was pink, her hair was an un-henna’d brown and the muscles that usually bulged and twisted down the side of her neck were now… soft.  Even the side of her mouth that always scowled in disappointment or disgust just… sat there.  And her eyes—scratch that, her eye, her right eye—window to a soul that was as filled with anger, intolerance, pettiness and rage as anyone Edward Nigma had ever known, now seemed almost… nice… defeated certainly… and a bit lonely.

The other side, split down the center like an unnerving mirror of Two-Face, was GREEN.  Very green.  Dark green.  Head to toe, apart from her hair which was vividly orange as if it had sucked all the henna from the other side.  Her mouth and neck muscles had done some sucking too, all the anger that was missing on the other side gnarled into a visual poem of rage and hate.  The eye blazed with madness, and the voice contorted each syllable with venom.

“Welcome to the seed of a new world order.” 

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