Title: Man and Woman
Author: DC Luder
Summary: A more in depth look into the events of Catwoman #59 and then on to what should have happened if DC Luder ruled to world!
Rating: T for violence
Infringements: Batman and all recognizable characters belong to DC Comics not DC Luder.
Author's Note: The first section of this fic is the events in Catwoman #59 seen through Batman's eyes. A denotation marks were the comic storyline ends and the fic begins. No harm done.
The friendship between a man and a woman which does not lead to marriage or desire for marriage may be a life long experience of the greatest value to themselves and to all their circle of acquaintance and of activity; but for this type of friendship both a rare man and a rare woman are needed.
Anna Garlin Spencer
I was perched on top of Wayne Tower, nearly completed with my basic patrols, when the police scanner came to life. A silent alarm had been tripped at the Murnau Museum. As I shot a jump line to an adjacent building, my gut told me something that I didn't want to believe. On the shred of hope I still had for a certain feline foe, I hoped she was home in bed.
Within minutes, I landed softly on the grimy roof of the near ancient building. On a hunch, I looked down the third skylight, only to see just what I had expected. Two guards lay unconscious and piled on the floor. No blood, so therefore they were most likely brought down with a blow to the base of the skull.
More importantly, Catwoman was making a dash for the rear exit of the museum, her stolen catch tucked away in a small sack. The skylight opened easily and I was able to quickly leap down towards the floor. After landing in front of her, I growled, "Don't make this any harder than it has to be, Selina."
She didn't look too surprised to see me, and stood tall before me with her arms behind her back. Her smile suggested she had a plan for this evening that would be more than eventful, "Never any small talk from you."
I replied the first thing that came to mind, "Return what you've taken."
Her grin lessened slightly as she pulled out a small grenade; "Do you come to the museum often? Did you know that many of the artifacts in this wing are priceless?" She plucked the pin from the explosive and continued, "Not to mention irreplaceable."
Effortlessly, she tossed the grenade in the direction of the slumbering guards before saying, "You can put the pin back in the grenade or you can come after me."
I moved to grab the pin from her grasp only to watch as she tossed it over my head. On instinct, I reached for it, fumbled once and caught it. Catwoman skipped away as I called after her, "I'll deal with you later."
With a seductive smile, she responded, "I'm counting on it."
After ending the grenade's threat and checking on the guards, I made my way to the roof through the skylight I had just entered. Once outside, I caught a glimpse of Catwoman as she prepared a line for her escape. I called out, "Stop!" but as my voice echoed around the solemn buildings, she had already jumped, descending upon a line that was embedded in to the brick wall of the opposing building.
Her laughter burned my ears, "You know me. I'm not that easy. If you want me, you're gonna have to work for it."
Anger bubbled within me as I shot a grappling line in her direction. It struck three feet from where her line was anchored. Just as I reached the wall, she was swinging from one flagpole to the other, a grin brightening her face. I almost made contact with her ankle when a massive flag engulfed me, leaving me to fight for my freedom. After untangling myself, I watched as Catwoman leapt onto an external elevator car of a newly renovated hotel. I did the same, landing on a stationary car that was next to hers. She called out as her car rose higher above mine, "Too bad, Batman. I expected better."
The elevator car beneath my feet suddenly shook with life and quickly ascended towards the top. I watched helplessly as she climbed onto the roof, taking full advantage of her lead on me.
When I landed on the roof a few moments later, I had expected her to be long gone. But to my surprise, she stood in the center, smiling and holding onto the golden statuette that she had taken from the Murnau. With a purr in her voice, she said softly, "Took you long enough."
I stood expressionless, mere yards from her, mentally planning assaults, escapes and counter-assaults, all the while trying to read her every move and gesture. This had always been a difficult task with her, as a result of her unique ability to play with my mind.
"You know," she said tauntingly, "If you want this so bad, you're going to have to fight for it."
Catwoman bent over and slowly set the cat on the rooftop and then instantly leapt in the air with her right leg extended into a killer roundhouse. It was easily dodged, which led me to believe that she wasn't intending injuries tonight for either one of us.
"You're not trying," she complained, as she attempted to punch my face. My hand snapped up and engulfed the antagonizing fist.
Quietly, I asked, "Is this what you want?"
She threw her hands up, "Fine. If you don't want to play… Take it."
I cleared my throat and spoke in a voice I had rarely used while in the guise of Batman. It wasn't Bruce Wayne, either, but a blending of the two, "I think we should talk. You didn't want the cat in the first place. You set the alarm off intentionally… And then you waited for me."
She leaned forward and rested her palms on the ledge of the roof, "That's why you're the detective. Do you remember what used to be here, before this hotel? You should."
A scene flashed in the back of my mind. A scene that was nearly fifteen old, one from my first year as the guardian of the city. I recognized it instantly, a vision of my self wounded and hiding beneath the ragged staircase of the tattered hotel that once stood beneath my feet. The day that my skills were tested to a level unknown to me.
"Why bring that up?" I responded quickly.
Catwoman turned her head slightly, "I was there that day. Everyone was saying that the police had the notorious Batman trapped inside the abandoned Chelsea Hotel. The cops had already dropped bombs on the place and the SWAT team had the heavy artillery out," she sighed, "Everyone was sure you'd be brought out in a body bag."
She paused momentarily, allowing both of us to recall the events of that day. I watched as a small smile graced her lips briefly, "None of us knew then how resourceful you are. Bats were everywhere. It was if you'd called a biblical plague down upon the city."
My face softened as I remembered the powerful feeling that the winged creatures had installed in me that day. I had called them from the belly of the Batcave all the way to downtown Gotham City with a specialized signaling device. Thousands of them had come in a massive flock. Their presence had blocked out the sun and caused massive panic.
And had provided me the cover I needed to escape.
Amongst all of my errors from my youth, allowing the police to corner me in that hotel had not been one of them.
"And while Gotham's so-called 'finest' scrambled for cover, you made your escape. I'd never seen anything like you before. You were positively supernatural. I was transfixed. In one amazing moment, a whole new world of possibility had opened up for me." She looked down at the street below where I had stolen the police motorcycle that day so long ago…
"It wasn't the cape and cowl that inspired me; although the idea of a masked alter ego obviously intrigued me. No, it was something more fundamental. You see, in the midst of all that chaos, I saw your face. You'd taken everything the GCPD had and you not only survived, you triumphed."
One of the few times I had ever smiled in the mask had been that day, as I recalled. That moment of victory, the power of defeating all odds had convinced me that I would be able to fight crime forever.
And I have.
She continued, "I could only imagine the adrenaline rush you felt then and there. And I was determined to find out what it was like for myself. When I finally put on the costume, it was more amazing than I'd imagined. I felt electric. Ecstatic…"
She paused and took a step towards me, "Invincible." Her face grew full of sorrow as she turned away from me, "Now, I just feel empty."
I spoke softly, "I know what the Scarecrow did to you. He confessed everything after he was arrested at the Mayor's mansion. If his fear toxin is still in your system, you need help."
Catwoman suddenly turned and moved closer to me, a mixture of anger and pain in her voice, "This isn't about Crane. This is about me trying to deal with some issues I thought I could ignore," she paused and rested a hand upon my chest as the other slipped up the touch my cheek. The scent of lavender was near overwhelming as she continued, "Like this thing between you and me."
Her slender arms encircled my neck and pulled my body down to hers. Her soft lips opened and covered mine for several moments. I wanted to kiss her back, but my rational self refused. My hands grabbed her forearms and pushed her away as my voice grumbled, "Selina."
A smile had returned to her face as she relished in her emotional control over me. She had rattled my nerves for the millionth time with the littlest effort. A simple kiss had turned my internal gyroscope off course.
With her arm still in my grasp, she said, "You can't deny that there's always been something between us. Don't you think we should do something about it?"
I had been at a loss for words. She was right, more than she would ever know. I let her arms fall from my hands, "We've had this discussion before," I began.
She flashed with anger, "No. We haven't. We flirt and fight and chase each other across rooftops. But we never talk about the real reason we keep doing this dance over and over again."
Before I could respond, she turned her back to me, distancing herself, "Maybe it's time we did without the costumes," she boldly suggested. I watched silently as her emotions toiled within her. Her arm rose and gestured to the city skyline, "I don't expect you to give up your vigilante lifestyle anymore than you can expect me to give up my criminal one. But we owe it to ourselves to find out who we are away from this city."
Her words slowly settled between us. Did we deserve a chance? I feared, suddenly, what I would be without the mask, without the idea of Batman what was I to her? Nothing. How could she possibly understand…
Her voice interrupted my thoughts, "I'm leaving for Sao Paulo tomorrow night. Come with me."
A simple, yet sensible, plea that I wished I could fulfill.
She continued, glancing back at me once before leaping off of the roof, "I'm not asking for forever. Just a little while. Gotham will be here when we get back."
I stood on the edge of the hotel, my gut telling me to follow her, not to arrest her but to go with her. To discover who we really were. In one night, more had transpired between us that in a year. My mind was in chaos as a result of her words and actions. She was a criminal, I reminded myself, and I am a crime fighter. Plain and simple. Like apples and oranges. Hot and cold.
Night and day.
Man and woman…
What had I done? Within an instant, I had made my decision. Risk had plagued my whole life and never had I backed down just from a simple threat of emotions over fact. I retrieved the statuette and watched silently as Catwoman disappeared amongst to towering buildings. I would return the stolen catch and then go after her.
As I began my way back to the museum, a whirring of a helicopter stopped me in my tracks. From the pitch, I determined it was going too fast and too low for anyone's good. I glanced in the general direction of the cacophony when I saw it. A black, special-ops model with an open bay for maximum access for offensive tactics. In one side of the chopper, I saw the poised red and blue-garbed figure of Deathstroke.
I raced from rooftop to rooftop, in hot pursuit of him, hoping to reach the craft before it found Catwoman. I finally was within thirty yards of the chopper when gunfire exploded into the night. Moments later, I noticed a bleeding Catwoman stumbling out of the Bradley Avenue alley. I shot a line to a roof closer to the hovering helicopter, needing to stop Deathstroke before anyone else was hurt. Just as I caught a grappling hook onto the leg of the craft, I took one final glance to check on Catwoman.
Even wounded, her agility was in full throttle as she cleared cars and taxis with powerful leaps. The last I saw of her was a final crossing of the busy street as she took cover beside an oil truck.
After a beat, I jumped, my full weight tugged at the balance of the helicopter. As I ascended towards the bay door, I heard Deathstroke growl, "I hate this town!"
As he raised his rifle once more, I bellowed, "Give it up, Slade!"
He pulled the triggered and I hoped that Catwoman was not in his sights. Unfortunately I had been right. The oil truck exploded into a massive fireball. The heat and air drafts caused my body to swing out of control in the air. I lost my grip on the line and landed shoulder first into the top of the Haley Insurance building. Something in my side snapped and my left arm went numb upon impact. As I cursed to myself, I rose to my feet and scanned the wrecked street below.
When I saw the scattered parts of the truck, reality sank in.
Catwoman had been right next to it when I last saw her.
The truck exploded.
Catwoman wasn't there anymore…
"Selina…" a soft, battered voice escaped my lips. A sudden sense of fear sank into my gut. A sense of fear I hadn't felt since I was a child, watching my father's corpse grow cold next tot the twitching form of my mother. When Jason became a victim of the Joker, as had Barbara…
V No longer DC land but DC Luder Land V
Once again, I had lost someone I had loved.
I had loved her.
My eyes snapped open and I found myself in the driver's seat of the 'Mobile, gripping the wheel with such an intensity that my knuckles throbbed with pain. How had I gotten there? I attempted to put the trauma behind me so that I would be able to make the drive home without incident.
Buildings flew by me. They slowly blended into small houses and quaint yards. Then trees. Then darkness. Upon arrival at the Cave, my mind had gone from erratic thoughts to an eerie calmness. I parked the car and cut the engine. Piercing shrieks from the depths of the caves rattled and slowly faded to silence.
I couldn't hear them.
Only her voice.
Like this thing between you and me…
Maybe it's time we did without the costumes…
I'm not asking for forever. Just a little while…
My form collapsed over the steering wheel as silent sobs wracked my body. The pain in my side intensified to an unbearable level, but I couldn't stop. I deserved the pain. I was wrong, and now nothing would ever bring her back.
I should have gone with her instead of pushing her away.
I should have kissed her back.
After an eternity, Alfred appeared from the darkness. He stood next to the car, pleading to know what had happened. After a few long breaths, I sat up and managed my way out. Leading the way, I slowly walked towards the medical bay with Alfred sputtering questions behind me.
"Master Bruce, are you all right, sir?"
I ignored his words and took a seat on the empty gurney. He had surrendered the idea of getting me to answer him and also chose silence. I watched as he prepared a tray of bandages and equipment, "Off with the shirt, sir."
After I removed the tunic, I let it drop to the floor. He let out a breath at the sight of my body. My entire left side was mottled with bruising from my shoulder down towards my hip. After muttering to himself, Alfred began to probe my rib cage until he found the broken one. I flinched slightly, but that was it.
Distancing myself from reality tended to be the only way I had ever learned to cope with things. My parents' deaths, Dick wanting to be on his own, Jason dying. Now Selina. The only way I had ever been able to live through tragedy was to push others away.
And because I hadn't pushed Selina away soon enough, she was…
"Arms up, sir. I'll need to bandage it for support."
I nodded and complied with his order. My left arm refused to go any higher than elbow height, however. Alfred noted my difficulty and after I was adequately wrapped, he prodded the joint. "Not dislocated, but sprained."
As I stared into the dark recesses of the cave, he applied liniment to the sore muscles. It must have been ten minutes after he had completed his treatments that he cleared his throat. My eyes languidly met his. I couldn't tell him.
I had to.
"I need to rest, Alfred."
"I agree." He put a hand on my good shoulder and squeezed it softly, "Is there anything, else, sir?"
"Very well, then. Shall I see you to your quarters?"
"Not necessary…" I managed as I slid off of the gurney and onto my feet.
"As you wish, sir. But if indeed you wish to tantalize my ears with your tales of trouble, I shall be awake for a little while."
I'm not asking for forever. Just a little while…
I turned away from him and winced at his words. "Thank you, Alfred." Before he could question me any further, I walked to the dressing chamber and retired into evening clothes. As I took a seat at the computer, I felt his eyes burning into the back of my head. "Yes, Alfred?"
He paused, sighed and the spoke softly, "Good night, sir."
My fingers flew to the keyboards as soon as he had made the top of the stairs. Every local news station was burning with the event. One actually had footage from an ATM security camera. I analyzed the film several times at multiple focuses but it had been angled incorrectly and could not display Selina after she had taken cover.
At twenty after five, my body demanded rest, but my mind was still in a fuzzy state of shock and was beginning to regain some of its erratic thoughts. Had she suffered? What was the last thing she saw? Why had I been so foolish?
I rose and supported my side with my hand as I tenderly covered the rib. Concentrating on my feet lessened the pain somewhat as I ascended the stairs and then crossed the ancient rugs of the main hall. Then, the main stairs that led to the third floor. I paused at my bedroom door.
How could I possibly have thought of sleep?
I entered and shut the door behind me. In the darkness, I made my way to the small sofa in the back of the room. After sitting, I picked up the phone and dialed Selina's apartment.
"Hey, this is Selina. I'm out and about right now, so please leave a message. Bye."
As my face grew hot with tears I whispered, "I'm sorry," before abruptly hanging up.
My fingers quickly dialed another number.
"Bruce, is that you? It's almost five-thirty."
"I… I'm sorry, I didn't realize…"
She sighed, "No, it's all right. I was actually just getting to bed. I assume you know about Deathstoke blowing up Bradley Avenue."
"Yes… I was there."
She paused before saying, "What a mess. Few injuries. Luckily the truck driver wasn't in the cab. That would have been the only fatality."
I almost corrected her before I bit my lip.
"Well, Bruce, what can I do for you? And why didn't you use the link?"
"Sorry. I just… I have to go."
I hung the phone up and put my face in my hands. I half expected the phone to come to life with ringing, but wasn't surprised when it lay silent on the cushion next to me. It was the knock on the door was what startled me.
Before I could even call out, Alfred opened the door and turned on the lights. In one hand he held a small tray of teacups and a steaming pot. His face was all business.
"Alfred, I want to be alone," I began.
He walked over and set the tray on a small end table and proceeded to pour two cups. I observed that he had finally changed out of his day garb and now sported a black robe over dark blue pajama top and bottom. He handed me a cup, practically forcing it into my fingers and then took his own as he seated himself beside me.
After a few minutes of staring at me, he said, "Go on. I'm not leaving this room until you lend your worries to me, sir."
I smiled a bit. That had been a phrase he had used on me many times before. Actually, I hadn't heard it since I had been fourteen. After sitting back against the couch, I sipped the warm tea.
Lavender. He wanted me to sleep.
He sighed in his impatient own way.
"She's gone, Alfred."
"Who is gone, sir?"
And with that, I let loose the questions and thoughts and ponderings that had been plaguing me for that last three hours. How she had led me to the Chelsea Hotel, taunting me the entire night. Taunting me for nearly fifteen years. How she had kissed me. How I had pushed her away. A flood of emotion opened up within me and I went on and on, bringing up every detail I could have imagined of the way she asked me to leave the city with her. For just a little while.
How she had left it up to me as to what we would do.
How she had been shot.
And the explosion…
When I went silent, Alfred spoke up, "All of your life, you've faced loss after loss. So much has indeed been taken from you, so tragically. And as long as I have known you, which seems to be interminable at times, there is something within that drives you forward. Each fall is surely followed by a dusting off and hopping back on the horse, so to speak."
He paused and shifted slightly next to me, "Whether it is for the better or the worse, you manage to overcome the greatest of occurrences in order to prevail and to right the wrong."
"Alfred, I can't right this wrong. It was my fault to begin with."
His face grew a bit sterner, "The past is irreversible. You know that more than anyone. Fate brought you to Selina years ago and fate took her away from you. It was no more your fault than it was hers that you never consummated your feelings years ago or even this evening."
His words sank in quickly, but did little to settle my pain. I offered a weak smile and he asked, "What is it, sir?"
"How do you always know what to say?"
"You have your secrets, sir, and I have mine."
He rose and took my still full cup of tea from me and set it on the platter. He then proceeded to rise and make his way to the door. Before he left I said softly, "Thank you."
"The pleasure was all mine, sir."
Sleep came an hour after Alfred had left. At nine, he rapped on my door, intruded upon my emotional drain-induced slumber and whipped open the curtains. Lying in bed, I had stared at the ceiling, trying to balance my internal systems in order to function for the day. Tonight would be commanded with a search of the site after police left for the evening for any sign of her. In the event, of course, they didn't get to her first.
I rose slowly, my side still sore and my shoulder even worse. I tested range of motion and flexibility with a few stretches and bends. Alfred handed me a robe and followed me into the bathroom where a shower was warm and waiting.
"Shall I call you in ill and/or indisposed, sir?"
"No, I'll go."
"Very well, sir."
I let the hot water soak deep into my muscles as the steam cleaned out my mind. After ten minutes, I stepped out and carefully toweled myself off, checking the progress of the bruising. I then shaved and applied cover-up to a facial bruise and one my neck. No need for Bruce Wayne to explain a wild night.
Afterwards, I dressed quickly in a black two-piece with a midnight blue shirt and silver tie. Still buttoning my shirt, I began the trek downstairs for coffee and the newspaper. I paused at the base of the stairs when I realized what the front-page story would be. The all-too vivid pictures of the chaotic street and destroyed property.
"Don't we look refreshed?" Alfred commented as he poured coffee into a small mug. Silently, I picked the paper up and stared down at it, my face filled with the anguish that it had expressed last night. In bold print, the Gotham Gazette declared "Chaos Ensues on Bradley Avenue: Madmen ignites fuel tank in terrorist attack."
I speedily read the article, looking for her name, or any mention of casualties. None. No human remains or anything of the sort. Only the injured people that Barbara had mentioned when I had called her. Faintly, a smile grew on my face, which caused Alfred to become even more worrisome.
"Is there something amusing in the funnies, sir?"
"Better. No fatalities reported. No sign of her---. Maybe, just maybe she escaped before the explosion."
I sat down and committed the article to memory. As my coffee grew cold, I discovered that Deathstroke had evaded police and was still considered to be at large in the city, which was if he hadn't left the state. A few witnesses, mainly bartenders and apartment dwellers, were quoted. A Dave Willard stated, "Yeah, I saw Bats hangin' off of the chopper and we was, me and my bud Charlie, we was rootin' him on and then ka-boom! Almost thought Bats had bitten the big one, but then we saw's him land on the roof right over there… He was hurtin', went face first inna the building."
I wasn't hurting. Not anymore.
I stood and took the paper with me, neglected the coffee and made my way to the rear of the kitchen. There, I took a side entrance into the garage with Alfred hot on my heels. After he cleared his throat, I turned to see him standing at the door, holding my coat and briefcase, "You seemed to be preoccupied, so I took the liberty, sir, of preparing your belongings."
I strode towards him, pulled on my long coat and took the briefcase, "I should be home by five."
"Very well, sir."
With a moment's hesitation, I stepped back down into the garage and opened the garage door. The light poured in as I unlocked and settled into one of the BMW's. I revved the engine and set my briefcase in the seat beside me as I rolled the windows down and donned a pair of sunglasses.
Life was good for Bruce Wayne.
Since I was slightly behind the ball, I hit morning traffic at the exchange where the Bristol Bridge crossed the bay over to Victoria Place. On a good day, it took about twenty minutes to hit Midtown, where the Wayne Towers were located, and another fifteen or so to make my way through the city traffic lights to the underground parking beneath the buildings. It took about forty-five just to get on the bridge as fellow commuters honked and tried to cut each other off. I simply turned on the radio to jazz and tapped on my steering wheel.
At quarter of eleven, I made my way to the downtown exit. The city was unseasonably warm and beads of sweat formed on the back of my neck. I considered rolling the windows up for the air conditioning, but decided against it when the towers came into view. My buildings were situated amongst several other skyscrapers along the main streets of Midtown.
By day, tourists walked about looking for museums that were twenty blocks in the other direction while stock-brokers and lawyers paced and smoked while talking with their clients on cell phones. Mainly the streets were crowded and offer little choice but to keep up with the fast pace of the city people. But Wayne Towers was situated on half of an acre of multi-million dollar property in the heart of the city. Shady areas and benches provided areas for employees to rest or eat. Also, a new marble fountain installed not even a year ago attracted tourists and city folk alike.
As I approached the entrance for parking, the security guard looked up and smiled from his post, "Good morning, Mr. Wayne. Rough traffic?"
I offered a smile, "Wouldn't you know it. And to think it's only a Wednesday."
"Took my girls to school this morning, had to wait twenty minutes to get through the South exit."
I shook my head and laughed.
He pressed a button from inside the post room and the safety bar lifted, "See you later, Mr. Wayne."
"Have a good day, Paul."
Paul Herald was not only the assistant chief of security for Wayne Enterprises; he was also an ex-Marine and a single father of two. Three years ago, his wife had been carjacked, mugged and killed on her way to pick him up from work. Batman had promptly investigated, found the scum and put them all in body casts. He had also retrieved the stolen possessions that police had not recovered and returned them to Paul. Specifically, a gold wedding band and a diamond engagement ring.
I pulled into my designated spot and cut the engine, my mind once again foiled with the thoughts of Batman and Bruce Wayne. How it was possible for them to become jumbled so easily recently was beyond me. I had always been able to keep the halves of my life in check. Was it Selina? Was it old age? The wear and tear on the mind and soul?
After locking up, I walked briskly to the elevator bay, stepped inside of a car and pressed the button labeled 38P. This was the private floor, which held my offices, Lucius's offices as well as several assistants and corporate members. When the gilded doors opened up to the main lobby of the private corporate floor, I was met by my secretary, Margerat, who began to ramble at me, Lucius, who handed my three folders of documents that I need to review before our lunch date with the president of Abner Industries as well as my secretary's assistant, possibly Miranda or something, who handed me a small pile of pink slips which I soon found out were a new style of delivering phone messages.
I smiled and said good morning to them all as I took in their complaints and words along with the paperwork. Both Margaret and Miranda-or-something followed me into my office, Lucius walked off past mine towards his room. I found a cup of coffee on my desk, steaming, and more phone messages. A black leather binder was centered on the oak desk and I picked it up to skim it briefly.
As Margaret ran down my list of things for the day that I had to attempt to accomplish, I found several interesting items in the binder. My regular morning newspapers were in one side, but to the other were correspondence letters addressed to me as well as assorted junk mail. I sat on the edge of my desk, "This replacing my mail basket?"
"More stylish, isn't it?" Miranda-or-something asked with a bright smile. She had been working for nearly three weeks and she was already on my nerves. She had the cheery charm that Dick had as a child.
Margaret interrupted and handed me the itinerary that she had just read, "Yes, it's replacing your mail basket. Everyone is getting them now. Even has your name on it," she closed the folder and pointed to my gold embossed name, "Well, get reading. Lunch is at noon sharp."
I winked at her and moved to sit in my chair. They left and shut the door behind them. Since I had read the holdings of Abner and company, I skimmed them briefly and moved on to check my mail.
Several charity organizations asking for funding.
Celebrity Jeopardy! offering a position in an upcoming show.
A certificate for once more capturing the title of the most eligible bachelor in Gotham City. In addition to that an interview date was scheduled for two weeks from Friday.
At the bottom, I dug out a morning edition of the Daily Planet. Clark and Lois had stories on the front page. Clark had covered the recent appearances of the mayor about town while Lois, surprisingly, had the most recent Superman victory.
After reading both articles and then turning on the small television to a broadband station that posted continuous live stream from the Gotham Stock Exchange, I began to tackle my phone messages. Not even noon and WE stock was up eighty-five cents a share. Maybe today would be a good day.
Aside from the numerous calls from my accountants, lawyers, advertisement board and a few from assorted members of the corporate and the shareholders' board, there were only two personal calls.
One from Barbara, asking if I could call her when I got a chance.
The other from Dr. Leslie Thompkins, asking me to call her as soon as I got a chance.
I decided to leave them until after lunch. I sure didn't need any other troubles in my mind while I tried to buy out another company over garlic shrimp pasta primavera. My eyes studied the television screen for an endless twenty minutes before a soft rap came at my door. I said "Come in" softly and turned the volume down on the television. Lucius was busily putting on a dark gray tie and as he approached my desk.
"Nervous much?" I asked with a smile.
"Funny. Very funny, Bruce. No, it's not Abner I'm worried about."
"Then what?" I continued as I rose and straightened my already perpendicular tie.
"Well, you know I'm leaving tomorrow for Spain."
I acted surprised, "Tomorrow? Wow, time flies when you don't come to work regularly."
He smiled slightly and flipped down is collar, "Yeah, I just hope the weather is nice. I want to just find a spot on the beach and drink myself into a coma for the two weeks."
"All on my account, too."
He touched my shoulder, "Like you would have it any other way. Lord, I could never have the times you do when you are on your so-called vacation/harem gatherings."
I laughed, "Doubt you would want to, either."
We walked together to the elevator and I offered to drive us to the restaurant. He obliged and followed me to the car. Once seated and belted in, we headed out. My jazz station was having its mid-day news broadcast, which was focused on the incident at Bradley Avenue. Lucius turned the volume down slightly, "Damn lucky no was killed."
I nodded and turned off of Exeter, "Yeah, didn't even hear about it until my drive in this morning."
"Yeah, some looney toon blew up a gas truck. Makes me wonder if this city has any hope left."
"There's always hope, Lucius, you just sometimes have to squint real hard to see it."
He smiled, "You ever consider being a philosopher, Bruce?"
I brought a hand to tap my chin, "Hmm, interesting concept. Bruce the Thinker. Hardly. Not smart enough, probably. Well, at least in what philosophers are smart in. Now if it came to what wine goes with what hair color of women, well I would be the smartest man alive."
We laughed a bit before I pulled into the valet parking. We were in good spirits today. Lucius was because he and his wife were leaving for Spain for two weeks. I was because my special lady was no longer a victim of Deathstroke.
Lunch was decent. Abner, about half the age of Ra's Al Guhl, was bitter as always in regards to Wayne Enterprises wanting to buy him out. We had only been trying to do so for the last ten years. It was a multi-million dollar company that produced top of the line electronic devices for both civilian and military use. Our goal had been to absorb the holdings and then combine them with Wayne Tech in order to double our yearly income with research and production of technology.
And with a signed agreement, an official Wayne Enterprise check for fifty thousand dollar bonus as a first installment and a free lunch, Christian Abner finally caved in.
When we made our way to the carport, I sighed, "Lucius, I think I'll walk about for a while. I'll catch a cab back to the office."
He jerked, "You sure?"
"Yeah, you can take car back if you want."
"Sure. No problem. I'll be leaving at five to pack."
"I should be back by then. If not, have fun and have a sangria for me," I grinned and shook his hand.
"I'll have two for you, Bruce." With that, he stepped off the curb and into the vehicle. As he drove off, he waved out the window. I waved a bit and then stuck my arm out further and hailed a cab. It pulled up, battered and yellow and slid to a stop next to me. After getting in, I said, "Little Stockton, please."
The driver, a forty-ish man smelling of pastrami, burdened with a heavy black beard and the stench of tobacco did a double take of me, "Stockton, what kinda business you got going there?"
I ignored his question and he turned around as he pulled back into traffic. As we navigated the rushed streets and moved deeper and deeper into the older part of the city, I watched the buildings pass by. Once we entered the borough, my driver asked, "Which way you heading?"
"North part, Thompkins clinic."
He glanced back at me again, "Don't look sick. Besides, your type doesn't frequent the good doctor's establishment too often, aside from charities. You donating?"
"Visiting. Dr. Thompkins is a friend of mine."
He nodded and then returned his attention to the street. When he pulled up to the four-story clinic, he tallied up the ride, "It'll be eight-seventy-five total."
I handed him a ten, "Thanks for the ride."
He mumbled an unintelligible comment about "rich folks" and drove off. Instead of using the front entrance, I opted for concealment and used the rear door. This was the entrance I used if I couldn't make it all the way back to the Manor when injured. I almost went into my special room, a long-forgotten treatment bay, but instead made my way through the confining halls towards her office. Perhaps I should have brought her flowers.
Her door was open and I peeked in. She sat at her desk, reviewing medical charts with a turkey sandwich and a bottle of iced tea next to her computer. I remained silent and studied her as her deft fingers scribbled in her perfect doctor penmanship. Just as I was about to announce my presence, she said, "It's the daytime, Bruce. No need to play sneaky-sneaky."
There was a very short list of people, excluding those with super-hearing that could detect my presence as she had. Alfred and Leslie were in a tie for first. I stepped in and took a seat in one of the empty chairs, "Working hard?"
"Unlike some people I know," she commented and looked up at me.
I offered a smile of which she shook her head at, "Don't play that game with me. It may work on those secretaries of yours, but I was there for your terrible two's, I know what diabolical schemes rest beyond those baby-blue eyes." She sipped her tea and set her pen down, "So, why did you come all the way out here, especially in the day light. We do have telephones here."
"I thought a visit would be nice. I can leave if you want."
She laughed, "Bruce. Make life difficult why don't you?"
"Yes you do. How's the shoulder? Alfred said you were pretty banged up."
"I can take a look at it if you want."
I shook my head, "Not necessary, Alfred pulled on it enough last night."
She nodded, knowing all too well about my feelings on the subject of my injuries. "All right then, let's get down to business. I received a few of the victims last night. A few bar hoppers with mild burns, a woman coming off the night shift at the café down the street was knocked over and sprained her wrist, nothing too serious. However, I did have one victim who required hospitalization. But I didn't want to send her to Mercy, lord knows what a field day that would have been, moving across town."
She rose with a chart in hand and progressed to the door, looking back at me invitingly. I rose and followed with long strides as we moved down the hall of which I had just come. I was intrigued as she paused at the door of my personal exam room, "Figured it best that we keep her as low profile as possible."
She opened the door to the dimly lit room. I made out the gurney my battered body had frequented many times in the last decade. Beside that was a counter and cabinets holding medicine and supplies. There were two chairs that sat empty beside the bed, which were in front of the IV stand and oxygen outlets of the wall.
Leslie began reading from the chart, "Some scratches to the eyes, but no permenant damage, just swollen and blood shot. Three broken ribs and some second degree burns to her extremities. Sprained ankle, minor fracture to her wrist. Several cuts from flying debris as well as a mild concussion. I have the eyes taped shut with the gauze to prevent the light as an irritant."
I stepped forward, my jaw dropped in absolute shock as Leslie continued with her report. However, her words became blurred as my focus intensified on the woman that lay in the gurney beneath cotton sheets and a thin blanket. Her long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her fine-featured face, what wasn't covered in gauze, was bruised and tender.
My eyes shifted down to her shoulder, where she had been shot. Even beneath the gown, I could see bandaging and support wraps. Her chest barely rose beneath the covers as she took soft breaths. I sat beside her, my mind still in chaos at what my eyes were witnessing. I had accepted her for dead and then reasoned with the possibility that she had survived. But that very moment, as I sat in a rather uncomfortable plastic chair, I knew Selina Kyle was alive and somewhat well.
Leslie shook her head, "No, she's just sleeping, so watch what you say and how you say it."
My head shook, "No, that doesn't matter anymore. How long has she been sleeping?"
"For a few hours. She is in quite a bit of pain so she's on the morphine drip. She was a little uneasy, somewhat disoriented at first. Someone had so nicely dropped her off on the back step and when I went out to get my car, I nearly tripped over her. When she woke, she was pretty agitated. I explained to her that I was your official doctor, she laughed and asked how much I charged you."
"Not enough," I managed. My hand slowly crept towards the bed and then rested itself next to her hand. The other, which bore a support bandage from her palm up near her elbow, was beneath the sheets. Timidly, I took her hand into mine and gently squeezed it. No response.
Leslie paused behind me as she checked the monitors that were documenting Selina's vitals. She seemed satisfied, "I'll leave you two alone."
I sat motionless for the better part of an hour, lightly holding her hand and caressing it with my thumb. Although my hand was at ease as it held hers, the rest of my body was tensed. I tried to sit still while my thoughts coursed freely, ranging from whether or not I would tell her the truth or if I should leave.
Or stay and tell her everything.
She groaned suddenly which caused me to jump and release her. She moved slightly in the bed to attempt to reposition her legs, winced slightly and then fell still. I suddenly rose to my feet and cleared my throat. She angled her head towards me, "Dr. Thompkins?"
"No," I said softly.
"Ah, a nurse, even better, I'd hate to bother her anymore than I have. I think my leg's fallen off the pillow down there."
With an almost childish smile, I lifted the sheet and found that she was correct. I gently lifted her leg by the calf muscle and rested it atop the pillow for elevation. I then gawked perhaps too long before returning the blankets over her legs. She asked, "So, do you have a name or do I call you 'Nurse'?"
"I have a name, and I'm not a nurse."
"Oh, are you a doctor?" she smiled seductively.
Her smile lessened, "So can I ask as to why you are in my room?"
I decided that I had played enough mind games with her and used my regular voice and said, "I figured the least I could do was come check on you."
Her body grew rigid when she recognized the voice. We remained silent as I returned to my chair beside her and waited. She opened her mouth several times to speak but then pinned her lips together. Finally, I spoke up.
"Are you in pain, I can get Leslie."
She smiled nervously, "No, I'm flying high as a cloud as it is. And you're on a first name basis with the doctor?"
I nodded and then remembered her eyes were patched, "Yes. She is my personal doctor."
"Did you bring me here?"
"No, I…" my words failed me as I recalled the events after the explosion, abandoning hope and her, "I was on the helicopter when it happened. Threw me into a building."
"How many black and blues?"
I let my head fall slightly, "Nothing as bad as you."
"Yeah, I've got quite the collection, don't I?"
I almost reached out for her hand again, but then my rational senses decided not to. Instead, I let the uncomfortable silence fall again between us. She must have been feeling more comfortable with me in the room for she laughed a bit, "So you bring me any flowers?"
"I can get you some."
"Just picking on you," she sighed, "So I guess Sao Paulo is out of the question in the near future."
"I'm not sure bruises and bullet holes are attractive in bathing suits."
"Did you just make a joke?"
"No. It's a fact."
She laughed, "That was a joke. Your voice changed."
I almost responded in the negative but realized the childish argument would only continue. I was about to ask her if she remembered anything about the explosion when she asked, "Are you mad at me? About last night."
I sighed, perhaps to audibly before replying, "Not mad."
"You are something though; I can almost imagine the look on your face."
"Well, I'm not mad. Just… Confused."
She remained quiet, "The world's greatest detective is confused?"
Yes, yes he was.
The door opened suddenly and Leslie appeared, clipboard and pen in hand as always, "Well, are we awake?"
"Barely," Selina replied, letting her head fall back against the pillow.
"Is our mutual acquaintance behaving himself?" she asked as she once again noted vitals.
"Yes, I am."
"Well, I need to check her bandages so turn around in that chair."
I did so, out of respect for Selina, although I couldn't possibly total the times she had pressed herself against me…
"Are his cheeks turning red?" Selina asked.
Leslie laughed, "Give him a minute to warm up, maybe we'll get a full blush out of him."
After a never-ending period of adhesive tape being applied and cut, Leslie said, "All right, swelling is down and the sutures look nice. You can turn around now. I'll come back in an hour or so to check your meds and then we'll see about something to eat, if you're up to it."
"Mmm, do I get ice cream?"
"If I have any. Why don't you go out and get her something?" Leslie asked as she arched a brow at me. Selina blindly looked about the room trying to place me in the room. As much as I wanted to stand my ground, I caught the look in Leslie's eye. She wanted to have a talk with her patient.
Reluctantly, I rose and left the room silently, hearing a faint "mint would be nice" as I closed the door. After wandering the nearby streets, I made my way to a corner store three blocks away and purchased mint ice cream and small, partially wilted bouquet of flowers. When I returned to the clinic, Selina was sitting up, still wearing the eye bandages, but now sporting a dark blue tee shirt. I set myself in the chair and offered the flowers to her.
"This is an interesting brand of ice cream…" she smiled. I had dropped the grocery off in the faculty kitchen, allowing time for it too cool in the freezer after its exposure to the hot weather.
I watched in silence as she settled herself into the thick pillows and glanced in my direction, "Leslie said you took quite the beating last night."
"Nothing too bad. Broken rib and my shoulder moves in a new direction."
"I meant mentally."
My breath caught in my throat at her words. Perhaps Alfred had informed Leslie of my temporary insanity last night. He rarely told anyone of my problems, although when severe enough, Leslie usually got a phone call from him. "What do you mean?" I asked, playing it dumb for the moment.
"That you were scared that I had been killed."
"I don't enjoy seeing anyone die, Selina."
"Especially me?" she smiled.
I responded with silence, hoping to encourage a new topic. No such luck.
"I remember when Bane let the inmates out, and when he threw you off of the building on Robinson Street. They had news coverage on every channel. I remember hearing tons of sirens fly by the apartment and so I checked the news and…" she bit her lip slightly, "I thought you were dead."
"But you tried to work with Bane," I contested softly.
"I know, but that was really only to see who he was, this man that broke the bat. Turns out he was nothing but a steroid driven ego with hairy arms." She shifted herself and felt the petals of the flowers, "When that flunky of yours took the cowl, at first I thought you were back with a vengeance, but then he went too far, gunning down everyone in his path. The second I met up with the creep, I knew it wasn't you... That's when I really thought you had died."
She sniffed a few times and I'm sure if the bandages hadn't been there tears would have traced down her cheeks.
After a moment, I managed, "We're even."
"I scared you and you scared me."
Her frown softened, "I suppose that right."
Against all of my better judgment, I reached forward and grasped her hand. Her face took on a look of shock when she realized I wasn't in my guise. She moved towards the edge of the bed and traced her fingers up my arm, over my dress shirt and up towards my neck. There, they paused, fingering the silk tie that I had loosened slightly. Her teeth had returned to gnawing on her lip in hope as her nails barely touched my chin.
I sat motionless, as they remained there, unsure as to venture further or to recoil. The awkwardness of the moment was lost in how much we both … Loved each other.
She decided to explore further and dragged her fingertips over my clean-shaven jaw line. I saw a smile forming on her lips as she rested her fingers on mine. Perhaps she had expected me to do something, but I didn't. In response, her fingers pressed forward, moving towards my hair. Her nails grazed my scalp and suddenly she laughed.
"What?" I asked.
"I always thought, ha, that you wore a cowl because you were bald. You know, because Nightwing and Robin have hair so they only wore face masks."
"A few grays but a full head of hair."
Her hand withdrew and returned to her lap, "A few grays. Guess we're both getting up there in years. You've been around for what, fifteen years?"
I sighed, "Don't remind me." I had meant for it to be emotionless but it ended up sounding like complaining. She burst into a small laugh before touching her shoulder and wincing. I rose instinctively and set a hand on her good shoulder. She jerked quickly and faced me.
I withdrew, "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."
"This whole visionless state is setting my system out of whack."
I didn't comment, for lack of knowing what to say. The longer I was with her, the more awkward everything seemed. It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it? I cursed myself for thinking that this would have worked, that it would be easy. After all, nothing in my life had been, why would it have changed for this?
"You still there?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Oh, thought you did one of those silent exits that you do when things get uncomfortable."
"I'm not uncomfortable."
"Yes, you are. You breathing hitches a bit."
I grunted in disagreement and she smiled at me. Her hand snaked out once more and found mine that had been resting on the bed. She squeezed it briefly and then held it gently, "I need to thank you."
"For what?" I said without thinking. Here I had gotten her nearly killed and had done nothing in searching for her. It had been pure luck that someone had dropped her off at the clinic and luck was a scary thing. Why was she thanking me?
"What do you mean 'for what'? You nearly got yourself killed trying to save me last night. Even with the odds up against you, you always seem to save me."
"I didn't save you," I managed.
"Yes you did." She paused and then moved in the bed, slowly moving towards me. "When I was hurt in the explosion, I crawled into an alley. There were bums there but I was in no condition to fight them off. I can only count my stars that they didn't do anything to me. Actually, one put me in his shopping cart. I blacked out shortly after but all I could think of was… you. I had these dreams of you finding me and taking me away from all of the pain and hurt. You may not have saved me from Deathstroke, but you saved me from giving up."
My jaw fell and I couldn't have spoken even if I had wanted to.
She went on after a quick nibble on her lower lip, "I don't know about you, but I know what I feel when I'm around you. And I can pretty much guess it's the same for you. There's this electricity, there always has been. No matter how we end up meeting one another it always starts the same and ends the same. We tease and fight and run away from what we need to face."
She squeezed my hand, "Please, I need to get this out. I know it would never work in the sense of a real relationship, but how will we know if we keep running away? Just thinking of what could be is enough for us to take the risk, don't you think?"
I drew in air slowly before responding, "Selina, nothing has ever been easy between us."
"That's because you won't let it be."
A small portion of my mind agreed with her but I continued, "Even so, it may be for the best."
"The best? Never finding out if we could ever love each other is for the best?" she replied defensively.
I rose and let her hand go and spoke without thinking, "All my life, I've pushed people away. For a reason. In the case I do let them near, it's only a matter of time before they are taken away from me," I paused, unsure as to how far I should I go. As I closed my eyes and bowed my head, I said, "My parents were killed when I was a boy, my first son left me to break off the bond between us, my other son was beaten to death by my worst enemy, I've endangered the lives of allies time and time again, even those who had considered my to be their friend.
"And the only way I can save the ones I hold dear is to keep them as far away as possible."
Selina was silent for well over five minutes, sitting in the bed with her face turned away from me. Emotion covered her features as she chewed on her lip, sniffed repeatedly and hugged herself. Just seeing the pain I had inflicted on her right then caused my grief to grow.
Finally she responded, "I don't care what's happened in the past. You can't change that. All you can do I look towards the future and try to make do."
I smirked briefly, recalling Alfred's words of wisdom form the night before. He would love having her to tag team me with.
I returned to the seat beside her and stared at her as she spoke, "And besides, life has its tragedies, you don't need to tell me about that. But don't sit here and preach to me that if we even tried to make something of this we would end up like 'Romeo and Juliet', I don't buy that tragic fate crap."
Even with a moment of consideration, I had no reply for her. I doubt anyone did.
I was silent for longer than she had expected and concern had risen in her voice the next time she spoke, "Batman?"
Her hand lay open on the bed and her long fingers flexed smoothly. I yearned for contact but kept myself from reaching out. Too much, too soon. I needed time to think, irrational decisions had never been my strong point. Then again, last night I had intended to seek her out, to tell her everything. Well, maybe not everything.
Selina cleared her throat quietly, "What time is it?"
"Hmm, my flight for Sao Paulo would have been taking off at seven sharp. If things hadn't gone to hell last night, would the seat next to me have been empty?"
Once again, my mind stepped down to my emotion, "No, it wouldn't have."
She gasped then gleamed with a smile, "Are you just saying that?"
I finally reached for her hand and she gave a gentle squeeze once contact was made. "No, I was taking the statuette back to the museum and had planned on finding you. To tell you… But then Deathstroke---."
"I was there."
I glanced over her injured form and winced involuntarily, "Sorry."
"My, my, he does know how to apologize."
I growled to myself before warning, "Selina."
She bit her lip again, sealing my suspicion of her nervousness. I hoped it matched my own. We had indeed been playing the same game for far too long without moving to the next level. But what was it? What was there, just out of our reach? A relationship of any permanence was hopeless. Batman and Catwoman could not been seen socially.
She sighed before shifting in the bed and sitting straighter against the pillows that supported her back. With a grin, she released my hand and patted the now vacant spot beside her on the mattress.
It wasn't right, sitting next to her like everything was normal.
Then why did it feel so right as I sat beside her, mere inches from her now crossed legs?
She caressed my arm softly before retreating. With the bandages, it was difficult to judge her thoughts. Her green eyes had always been the most expressive feature on her face, lit up like the stars and always swirling with emotion. I had taken her drawing back as a sign of being uncomfortable. After all, she had always known me as Batman, and being out of suit, mask and in a comfortable and regular environment would only disrupt her thoughts of me even further.
That's why when she suddenly moved towards me, her good arm hooking around my neck, I was taken aback.
She pressed her face into my neck as her one hand traced the contours of my shoulders. She found the sorest spot and I winced briefly before being able to disclose the pain. Subconsciously, my arms snaked around her waist, drawing her into a strong embrace. Her sobs were quiet and tearless but they shattered my heart with each sound. Pain I had caused her. If I had only…
She then pulled back slightly, and pressed her lips to my cheek, slowly trailing her way to my lips.
It had gone quiet again, but there was no sensation of awkwardness. Just blissful silence as we kissed. We, not her, but we. Even the afternoon city sounds were unable to permeate the walls to disturb us. My back ached dully from sitting in the chair so tensely. But with each touch of her hand or movement of her lips, I eased away the strain of the muscles and allowed myself to relax.
I was capable of being tranquil. I didn't need to complicate the slightest of manners just to make more trouble for myself. I could be normal. Didn't have to juggle ten thousand things all of the time. Well, not in the long run of things but at least for a little while.
I'm not asking for forever. Just a little while.