Prologue: While the Cat's Away
Selina stretched out luxuriously in the passenger cabin of Wayne One. She was feeling especially feline. Two weeks of continuous pampering at the Xanadu Resort had relaxed her body, while returning to the place where so much began with Bruce had…
Had evoked something very complicated.
A cyclone of memories and feelings, hopes and frustrations, dreams and regret, had hovered just outside her consciousness. More than once as she closed her eyes, letting her muscles slacken in response to some delicious new massage, that tempest of coiled emotion spun some spiky thought or memory into her reverie. Catlike, she had bolted full awake, teeth bared and claws extended to rip the beast to shreds. Externally it was only a minor twitch, which brought about some comment from the masseuse about tension and city life. Selina dutifully closed her eyes again, put the angst from her mind and resumed purring… until the next time.
Captain Leffinger opened the intercom and announced they would be landing at the Gotham Executive Airport at 10:30 local time, it was a brisk but pleasant 51 degrees in Gotham proper, 49 in Bristol, overcast, with a 7 percent chance of rain this afternoon, winds from the northeast at 7 miles per hour…
Selina purred a deep-throated, feral purr and checked her watch. Yes, the time at Xanadu had awakened something. Body and soul, she felt more feline than she had in years.
And felinity always wanted an outlet.
And felinity – her particular kind of felinity – had always found expression in one particular place: Batman.
She had missed Bruce, of course. Like she missed Whiskers and Nutmeg, home and Alfred, Gotham and gossip. But she didn't want, crave, and hunger for Bruce, home, or Nutmeg. She craved felinity. She wanted –needed to let the cat out, to be Catwoman again fully and unrestrainedly, that essence of freedom, mischief, independence, and purple flowing through her, enveloping her. That essence of pure, uninhibited cat.
In her peripheral vision, Selina noticed her fingers unconsciously pawing lightly at the air, her fresh manicure adding an uncharacteristic touch of purple to the suggestion of claws.
Yes… Catwoman again, fully and unrestrainedly,
This would be… such meow.
Cats possess a curious mix of patience and impatience. Selina's cat wanted to be indulged, but Gotham and Batman were still more than an hour away. Like any cat stalking prey, whether for food or fun, she was prepared to wait, poised and alert, until the moment came to strike. But like any cat wanting to be indulged, she wanted indulgence now. So she prowled the cabin like the predator she was, in search of some taste of catnip.
Wayne One was stocked as it had always been, the decisions made long ago to foster the image of the playboy fop. Bruce never drank alcohol when he flew alone (and only rarely if there were visitors onboard), but the refrigerator was filled with Dom Perignon so those employed to stock it would note the extravagance, as would those employed to clean up afterwards when they found one, two, or three empty bottles in the trashcan. So Selina opened a bottle, poured herself a glass, and noted the large "W" encircled by an oval etched into the base of the flute. She ran her finger over this, as she often did the bat-emblem on Batman's chest, and purred. Then she fixed herself a snack. There was chilled crab and caviar, which she spooned onto a china plate embossed with that same, inevitable W.
Again she purred as she took her treat back to the main cabin and curled into her place on the overstuffed white leather sofa. There was no denying that, sexy as Batman was, Bruce Wayne was a bonus beyond her wildest dreams. As sexy as Batman was… She savored a bite of crabmeat sprinkled with caviar… As sexy as Batman was, there was no denying that Bruce brought something to the party that the tightass crimefighter never could. She sipped the Dom… '85, she noted. Unlike most who just bought the name, Bruce knew the good vintages. She reflected, not for the first time, how few that thought they knew him, either as Bruce or Batman, really understood the first thing about his world.
She flicked on the entertainment system and scrolled through the selection of films… The Italian Job caught her eye. A heist movie. Just the thing, even if it was fairly preposterous. She fast-forwarded to her favorite scene, the heroine drilling a safe (badly). A pale, pitiful heroine unfortunately, plying her safecracking skills (such as they were) for cops and corporate patrons. No real profit in that, and certainly no excitement.
It had been far too long.
Selina's excitedly playful felinity wavered as she stepped out of the plane – struck, just like during the massages at Xanadu, with a sudden blow of memory and indescribable feeling. She had just assumed that Bruce would be meeting her. Instead, the Bentley sat waiting at the edge of the airstrip. The Bentley meant Alfred. She walked to the car, a light sparkling step belying her inner turmoil as she processed that final wave of memory from the first visit to Xanadu:
She'd gone away with Batman. For the first days and nights he'd kept his face hidden beneath an Arab headdress and elaborate sunglasses. In the privacy of the bungalow he'd removed the headdress, and she saw he had dark hair – deliciously dark hair – which she delighted running her fingers through. But the band around his eyes and brow continued to mask his face. They made love those first times in anonymous intimacy. Then suddenly, from nowhere, words that she never expected, "a crimefighter loving a thief…" followed by "my name is Bruce…" followed by… followed by…
It wasn't Wayne One, of course, but they'd flown back together to this same airstrip, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. He had a name. Batman had a name. And a face. And suddenly he wasn't unspeakably dangerous and sexy anymore, he was handsome and charming, and he said "Why not come out to the house."
…Alfred had already gotten out of the car and was holding the passenger door open for her. "Welcome back, Miss," he murmured with a respectful nod – and the last traces of felinity dissolved. Selina had a sudden urge to hug the dear old man. Then, finding this unacceptable, felinity spiked twice as powerfully as before and she placed a delicate fingertip, almost like a claw, just under his chin.
"Meow," she answered, Catwoman's voice rich with pleased amusement.
On an impulse, she imparted an air kiss an inch off of Alfred's astonished cheek, and then dipped regally into the car.
Alfred closed the door with a curiously thoughtful expression. "Indeed," he remarked dryly.
Just like Bruce, Selina never raised the partition separating the driver from the passenger. Once he got back in the car, she affixed the back of Alfred's head with a stare of feline curiosity. But he merely started the car and began to drive.
"I shocked you, didn't I?" she asked with a naughty grin.
"In what way, Miss?" Alfred asked with bland English composure.
Selina laughed. "Should have known better," she chided herself, "Can't unsettle a butler, even with a meow. He would have gone to pieces, you know. At least, once upon a time he would."
"I dare say 'once upon a time' my reaction might have been different also, Miss. If I found myself facing a 'Catwoman encounter,' so to speak, in the days before becoming acquainted with your civilian self." In the rearview mirror, Selina thought she detected a fleeting elfish smirk before Alfred went on, as if his previous comment somehow suggested the next. "Master Bruce sends his apologies, Miss, that he was unable to meet you himself. I believe you will find a personal note to that effect in the compartment beside you."
Selina slid open the compartment normally filled with decanters, glasses, a telephone and fax machine. Instead of these, she found a black envelope resting against a porcelain, art deco figurine of a woman walking a leopard on a leash. She stared at it for a long time, remembering when she'd seen it before…
It seemed like a hundred years ago, another lifetime, before Xanadu, before "my name is Bruce." She'd mounted Cat-Tales to finally answer the Gotham Post's endless campaign of lies about her. Her motives had nothing to do with Batman. The stage show was merely a public forum where she could speak the truth and expect to be heard: Catwoman had never been arrested. Catwoman was not some ignorant prostitute. Catwoman was not some dingy goggled creature wandering poor neighborhoods trying to make sense out of her life. Catwoman did not kill people. Catwoman did not use a gun. And on, and on, and on. She'd had enough so she'd mounted the show to set the record straight. And Batman, Batman was part of the story, an indispensable part of the story; everyone in Gotham knew that. She couldn't very well say she was the real Catwoman, purport to tell the truth about the real Catwoman, and then deny or gloss over that most vital part of Catwoman's world.
So she included him, she told a few stories about what really went on between Cat and Bat…and that changed everything forever. He'd seen the show, of course; it was a virtual certainty that he would. She didn't think it would matter. He'd managed to ignore everything else that ever happened between them, why would her standing on a stage and telling a few cat tales make a difference? But that first encounter afterwards it was different, completely different. Words had more than one meaning. Silence did too. There had always been subtext whenever they met, but now it could shift unexpectedly: charged and sexual one moment, vanished the next.
Then, one morning, that note slipped into her coat pocket. "Good morning Kitten, You always get to pick the time and place, that's patently unfair…" He invited her to meet on the roof of the opera house, a date of sorts, Batman and Catwoman, but with no crime between them… Maybe it was a little scary; maybe that's why she'd done it. 'No crime between them' was, perhaps, a scary thought back then. So when he was called away she'd slipped off herself to that jewelry store across the way. And there it was, waiting: a note, a picnic basket, and this leopard. He'd known, somehow he'd known what she would do even before she did herself. And he called her on it, on hiding behind a break-in rather than giving them a fair shot as a couple.
…Selina heard a respectful cough and realized the car had stopped. It sat now in the front circle before the entrance to Wayne Manor.
"It isn't my place to say, Miss," Alfred remarked dryly, "but I believe you will be better able to glean the note's meaning if you were to open the envelope."
Selina delivered a disgusted eyeroll, but she did, finally, open the envelope.
Worked last time, the note read. 10 o'clock sharp. You know where. –B
Bruce wasn't at home when Selina returned to the manor. Alfred said he was in town, an unexpected meeting at Wayne Enterprises. It sounded like a fop excuse, but Selina let it pass. The note was very "Batman," and if Batman was up to something then he was probably keeping Bruce out of the picture until he could carry out his plan. That meant she had the manor to herself for the day. Not the meow she was planning for her homecoming, but she would make do.
Whiskers and Nutmeg were first on the agenda. Like most cats left for too long, they greeted her with haughty indifference. She had gone off for two full weeks, deprived them of her company, left them with only Standing Softpaws and Bat-Bruce to care for them and only a mansionful of curiosities to keep them amused and occupied. They would make their displeasure known.
Selina expected this. She opened her suitcase with a dramatic sigh, clearly heartbroken that her little friends were so cross. She sadly unpacked a blouse, her peripheral vision noting feline heads rising curiously from their sulky postures. She slowly took several underthings from the suitcase and set them methodically on the bed, ignoring those pointed ears perked in her direction and the furry necks stretching to see into the case. She sighed again as she draped a sundress over her arm and carried it to the closet. She took much longer than necessary hanging it up, and when she returned to the bedroom both cats were on the bed investigating the suitcase. Nutmeg had hopped inside and was eagerly sniffing the contents, while Whiskers pawed the handle.
"Ha," Selina said triumphantly.
Nutmeg caved at once, rubbing against her hands and the side of the case in one smooth movement. Whiskers held out a minute longer, content to welcome back the suitcase and its contents, while still ignoring its owner. Until…
"Presents!" Selina declared, pulling out a small paper sack. She reached in and pulled out a natural sponge the size of her fist. "Mine," she told Nutmeg firmly. "Not yours, not a toy, mustn't touch." Nutmeg promptly leapt up, grabbed the sponge from her fingers, and ran off with it. "Good girl," she said, pleased as always by her cat's penchant for theft.
"And you," she told Whiskers, holding out a small box filed with sand and a few pebbles. "This is a tabletop Zen garden. For meditation. Representing a single moment in time. Not to be pawed at. Not to be played with. Understand?" Whiskers looked into her eyes, a portrait of innocence and guileless sincerity. Selina winked, and placed the little garden on a middle shelf where Whiskers could get to it easily. "Enjoy," she said dryly.
That much accomplished, Selina left the rest of her unpacking and changed into the catsuit. After all, in the days before Wayne Manor was home, it was exactly the kind of place Catwoman would fancy. She rummaged in her suitcase until she found a larger bag, then left through the bedroom window. She reentered the manor through a larger window above the sunroom. From there, she crept stealthily into the north drawing room, removed the grate and climbed into an air conditioning vent. Through this, she made her way to the kitchen. Alfred was there, and she watched patiently through the grate while he worked. Finally he left, and she quickly dropped down and scurried into his pantry. She opened her bag and extracted three jars of exotic jam. These she arranged in a little pyramid, tying the top one with a bow.
She purred, satisfied with the effect, and left as she'd come.
Batman waited patiently on the Opera House roof, calmly running through his plan as he expected it to unfold. Even the best strategies never played out exactly as expected. That's why it was so important to have the outline clearly mapped out, so you could adapt moment-to-moment, keeping the overall scenario on track. Even here the night of that first "date" with Selina she'd thrown him a curve straight away and—
At which moment, reality threw him just such a curve as the alarm sounded at a jewelry store across the way.
"Damn," he cursed through his teeth. Of all the places, on all the nights…
He picked up the folded packet he'd brought, not wanting her to arrive while he was gone and find it on her own. It was too large to fit into any compartment on his utility belt, so he swung down to the street level with it tucked awkwardly between the belt and the small of his back. This was going to be a ridiculous crimefighting exercise, subduing some lowlife while trying to keep from bending or wrinkling the package.
Except, reaching the jewelers, there didn't seem to be any lowlife to pummel. He pulled the packet out, set it on one of the empty showcases, and searched more thoroughly. The detailed search confirmed the first glance: there was no one inside, nothing amiss except for the absolute hatchet job on the splice that tripped the alarm.
"Amateurs," he cursed again, retrieving his packet. Had this been one of Selina's jobs back in the day, it would have been much cleaner, much more subtle. In those days, he could tell just by inspecting the splice. There was a certain style, a certain grace to her wire-work that was pure artistry. He never would have admitted it back then, but a certain part of him admired it, the beauty in her work. It got to the point that he could instantly spot those telltale signs of a "Catwoman break-in" - the angle of the wire cuts, the pristine twist in the splice, the subtle clawmarks on the windowpane. He often wondered if she'd done it on purpose, if it was meant to be her calling card. Riddler left clues, Joker left grinning bodies, and Catwoman left these elegantly pristine wire splices.
Not like this one. This was butchery - simple hack and slash. It was the difference between the delicate incision of an expert surgeon and an axe-wielding psycho in a slasher film. If it had been her - like it was that first night on the Opera House roof, when she'd come down here just like he'd expected, wanting to lash out and make a point after she… wait a minute…
There's no way she… No, it couldn't be…
Then, just at the edge of the glass where the nasty splice job was, he saw a very familiar clawmark.
He raced back to the roof and – Yes, there she was, looking insufferably pleased with herself.
"You are so easy sometimes," she smiled with adoring disdain.
"So the trip helped," he noted with a grunt. "Feeling your old self again?"
He remained stern and disapproving for a full second before a lip-twitch betrayed him.
"You could put it that way," she purred, pawing the edge of his cape playfully.
"Good," he graveled. "I have something for you."
"Don't I know it," she chuckled seductively, placing a clawtip on his belt.
"Selina, what are you doing?" he asked, eyebrow arching behind the mask.
"You still can't return a serve," she teased.
"And you're still sticking your fingers in places they don't belong," he noted, removing her hand from his belt.
She laughed wickedly, evading his grasp and returning to the belt as if to prove his words, and expecting to score a set of batcuffs as her fingers curled around a cold, metal object. She yanked it triumphantly, then saw the "cuffs" she intended to play with were a different kind of… toy… prop… something. Her playful expression curled into one of confusion.
"I have no earthly idea what this is," she said, turning it over repeatedly.
There are few sights as endearing as feline bewilderment. Batman managed to hide his amused enjoyment of the scene as she pressed a silver button on the tip, twisted the device, pointed it at the rotunda, shook it, held it up to her ear, and finally sniffed it.
"So are you going to put it back?" he asked, pokerfaced but unable to achieve the gruff bat-voice that normally delivered that particular ultimatum, "Or do I have to take it from you?"
She paused, an unprecedented naughty grin warming the air between them.
"Oh please," she purred at last, voice rich with seductive mockery. "Take it if you think you can…"
"It's not a question of 'can,' Catwoman. We both know—" he stopped mid-sentence, his hand shooting out and grabbing hers.
"Woof," she said simply as his eyes locked onto hers while he curled back her captive fingers and retrieved the object.
"That's not your gift," he growled ominously, not releasing her hand or breaking eye contact.
"Astonish me," she challenged with a playful snarl.
There was a crackle of paper and a folded packet whisked into the space between them, just beneath his nose. Selina's eyes flickered with excited curiosity between his and it. Maintaining eye contact, she freed her wrist with a slow, delicate twist and snatched the packet.
Unconsciously, Batman held his breath as she opened it.
"It's… a Gotham Post?" she murmured, sliding the folded newspaper out of the packet. She glanced at him curiously and back at it. It was a suspicious curiosity, the kind his enemies often shot at him. Then she unfolded the paper carefully, her pupils widening, and she swayed from sudden shock. Batman did nothing but mentally prepared to catch her, just in case…
"It's me," she gasped softly. "It's me. I'm… purple. I'm purple in the Gotham Post…" she looked up at him, stunned. "I'm purple in the Gotham Post?" she repeated.
"Don't get too excited," he cautioned, "It's just the one picture."
"I'm purple in the Gotham Post," she said again firmly, trying to wrap her mind around the reality of the situation. "Catwoman the truth at last," she read off the cover. "Is this a joke?" she hurriedly checked the back for a Nigma Novelties tag or other indications of a fake newspaper.
"It's not a joke. It's the actual Gotham Post. The article inside admits, after a fashion, that the creature they've been reporting on in the East End isn't –and never was– the real you."
She bit her lip thoughtfully.
"Finally catching up with everyone that saw Cat-Tales mumble years ago, bully for them," she whispered to herself. Then she looked pointedly at Batman. "Okay Stud, this isn't a deal-breaker, but after all that dimension-hopping are we absolutely certain I came back to the right one?"
Batman's lip twitched.
"We're absolutely certain," he said dryly. "The universe is the same, Kitten. It's the Post that's changing. Extensive personnel changes, overhauling of editorial policies… in light of new ownership. Look at the rest of the package."
She slid out a thick folder and several printed contracts. Her brow knit as she skimmed these, her eyes darting around the page, then slowing as she read in detail.
"You didn't… Bruce, you didn't buy the Gotham Post, did you?" she asked, titillated but somehow horrified by the thought.
"No," he said quickly. "It would be disastrous in too many ways to list, disastrous for both Bruce Wayne and Batman, if I started buying newspapers because they print something I don't like, especially something about my girlfriend. A move like that would bring scrutiny we don't need. Buying the Daily Planet was bad enough, but once Luthor was elected it really couldn't be helped."
"But this is a sale," she noted.
"Yes. Wayne Enterprises facilitated a sale of the Post to a third party, a respected media conglomerate whose other properties deal in real news, they own no other tabloids. New ownership, new blood… who knows? Maybe things get better. Happy Anniversary, Selina."
"Take off that belt, I'm gonna do you right here," she exclaimed.
He snapped the silver button on the strange object, and it played back Selina's statement "Take off that belt, I'm gonna do you right here."
"This, by the way, is a digital recorder/dictaphone. Apparently, they're all the rage in the Daily Planet newsroom. Courtesy gifts for the new writing staff, courtesy of Wayne Tech."
"Gimme," she said, a charged note of lust in her tone as she grabbed it and began to play. He reached to take it back but this time she was ready and held it aloft as she backed out of his reach.
"Nonono, not this time, Handsome," she purred. "Not going to be half so easy this time around."
"Take off that belt, I'm gonna do you right here."
Batman's lip twitched as, eight rooftops and forty minutes later, he recovered the dictaphone. He had, it's true, lost the rest of his utility belt in the process – while Catwoman had lost her whip, the claw now embedded in his bodyarmor, and a small metal cylinder from her lockpick pouch. This last was about the same size as the dictaphone, which is why he grabbed it. It turned out to be a lipstick.
Her leg slithered up his as she kissed down the edge of his mask towards the chin.
"Stop playing with the bat toy, start playing with the cat toy," she suggested, curling tighter inside his cape.
"That's enough cat play for one night," he graveled. "I still have to patrol."
"Not likely, I've still got the belt," she noted, squirming a little, for the utility belt was under her back. It couldn't have been comfortable, but she was apparently willing to forego comfort to keep her plunder secure.
"Selina," he said sternly.
She licked her lips seductively.
"Selina," he repeated.
Her eyes gleamed dangerously.
"I'm not done with you," she growled.
"I'm not done with you either," he whispered, prying her clawtip from his bodyarmor. He took her hand, palm up, and silently placed the claw in it. "So have a nice prowl, then find yourself a cozy rooftop and look over your present. I'll come find you around three."
He waited. Then:
"Belt?" he prompted when she didn't hand it over on cue.
"Well," she smiled, easing it out from under her. "Maybe just this once, since you arranged such a splendid homecoming."
He grunted and she meowed. He put on his belt and she coiled up her whip. He retrieved his cape – and she opened the packet and stared again at her image in the Gotham Post.
"Purple," she purred.
Behind her there was a soft whssshk and she knew he'd fired a line. She raised her hand and twiddled the fingertips in a casual wave. She figured he'd already left, so she was surprised when she felt a warm presence still looming behind her.
"Remember, it's just the one picture," he warned. "Don't get your hopes up too much. It's still the Gotham Post."
She turned and looked up at him with feeling, her finger tracing the oval around the bat emblem as she had the "W" on the champagne flute that morning.
"I don't know what to say," she whispered warmly. "It's the most… amazing gift. Bruce… Thank you."
He grunted, and as she glanced again at the newspaper, he performed one of those instant bat-vanishes which irked everyone but her. She merely purred, resettling herself on the rooftop and opening the paper to the story inside. Her eyes darted over the words, her lips moving occasionally in surprise:
"Sorry about what we did, none of us had the right…" she saw with satisfaction.
Then her eyes narrowed.
Then her jaw set.
Then she started to growl.
...to be continued...