Chapter 9: Catalyst
It was raining, right inside the hotel, and all the raindrops were turning into shards of broken glass that would slice you to ribbon if you didn't take shelter. Jerry hunched whimpering under the table, his eyes closed tight, his arms wrapped around his ears to drown out the sound of those rainshards plunking, plunking, plunking on the top of the table over his head.
"How fruminously frightful," Jervis observed dryly. Scarecrow had walked silently past the terrified waiter and into the ballroom, but Jervis stopped to retrieve the dropped serving tray. It would be foolish to let a teatray go to waste on an occasion such as this. He rummaged in his pocket for a number of small squares marked "Eat Me" "Try Me" "Take One" and arranged them very prettily on the tray. When he was satisfied with the effect, he proceeded into the ballroom. There he saw the most delightful thing – his own image – just like a looking glass but without the gold frame. He bowed slightly, and so did his mirror self. He lifted his right hand, and his pseudo-reflection matched him. He lifted the brim of his hat in hatterly greeting, and his twin did likewise. He smiled and went on his way – then several paces along he turned back and saw his double had done the same. He giggled impishly, this was too much fun. It was a pity, really, that such an amusing evening was about to befall such a gruesome fate.
"Your attention please," Scarecrow announced in a cold, dead voice as he took his place on the bandstand. "Are the rogues of Gotham wax-works to be gawked at? 'If you think we're wax-works,' as the poet says, 'you ought to pay… Wax-works weren't made to be looked at for nothing.'" The frozen mask of a Scarecrow face turned slowly, as if scanning the room with quiet menace before adding, "Nohow."
"A SARACEN'S SIN," Nigma muttered to no one in particular. "Crane is an ass." All true rogues of Gotham were aware that Halloween was the exclusive property of the Scarecrow, and that he became downright rabid at the suggestion of anyone else throwing a rogue costume party on the Grand Night of Fear. But this wasn't Halloween; this was a Wayne fundraiser and the first chance Eddie had to really have some fun with his special knowledge. And now, not fifteen minutes after the great man showed up in most stupendously silly Bat-getup ever conceived by man, along comes A PUNY TWIRP NTH JOTS ANATHEMA – Jonathan the uppity strawman, to wreck all the fun.
Across the room, Harvey "Nightwing" Dent placed his hand ever so gently on Claudia/Ivy's hip and steered her smoothly towards the door.
"When Scarecrow talks about 'paying,'" he started to explain quietly. He got no further when their way was blocked by a rascally Mad Hatter, who shook his finger at them with a puckish grin.
"C'mon, Jervis, give us a break," Harvey asked reasonably.
Hatter pursed his lips, looking disapprovingly at the Nightwing emblem and then at Claudia's foliage.
"You've begun wrong," he said sadly. "The first thing you do in a visit is to say 'How d'ye do?' and shake hands, and… Harvey? Is that you in there?"
Harvey lifted the corner of the mask with a roguish wink.
"Are you quite mad!" Jervis hissed, pointing to the garden dress. "Harvey old man, you've been round that mulberry bush already. No offense good woman, you look very, eh, green. And green, I will remind you Harvey, is NOT your color. Come along, the both of you, this is for your own good. Karoo-Karee, Everyone is mad but me!" And in a fluttery cyclone of agitation he ushered them to a quiet alcove.
Just then flew down a monstrous crowScarecrow recited, the words made all the more sinister by the flat monotone in which they were delivered. There were muffled shrieks in the crowd, the first murmurs of that fear he had always craved. There would be more fear soon, once the gas was released, but first he must finish his recitation. Just then flew down a monstrous crow he repeated – when he was cut off by the harsh crack of a bullwhip, and the harsher sting of it slicing around his thigh.
"Interesting fact," Catwoman declared as she yanked him by the thigh-whip-tangle causing him to tumble first off-balance, then off the bandstand. "C4 Plastic Explosive won't explode without a cat-alyst. It won't. You can set it on fire; it'll just burn up… Hold that thought. Remember fire, Jonathan? We've talked about fire, you and I, now haven't we."
She had shoved him down to his knees, twisting his arm behind him. Now she lifted him this way, as if his arm was a crank, and sent him half running/half hurdling into the buffet. The table didn't collapse at the impact, but everything on it shook as the Scarecrow's head and torso were slammed onto the tabletop between a tray of chocolate covered strawberries and a bowl of pasta salad.
"Anybody got a match?" Catwoman asked the room loudly as she strode across the dancefloor to confront Scarecrow at the buffet.
"Calloo callay," he said feebly, reaching up to his head with both hands. The cloth that fastened his hat to his facemask had torn, releasing a great deal of straw and causing the hat to tilt at an odd angle. "And contrariwise," he added, tipping his head at a confused angle, as if trying to match the hat.
"Lina," Catwoman heard from a figure coming towards her from the right. Her peripheral vision caught the familiar Riddler-green suit and bowler of the man who always called her by that nickname, so she turned unsuspectingly – only to be struck by the fierce swing of a heavy brass cane. The room spun, and she realized she'd been thrown onto her back just before that cane came crashing at her again, this time in a lethal overhead swing. She rolled out of the way – barely – which just exacerbated the dizziness – but then she saw a blur of orange and yellow swing in to kick Riddler squarely in the gut before he could attack again.
"How did I get here," Scarecrow murmured, getting woozily to his feet. "And why is there pasta salad in my ear?"
Catwoman had regained her feet, and seeing Riddler was now fully occupied fighting both Robin and Batgirl, she returned her attention to her original target… Scarecrow. Their eyes met – and locked. Jonathan Crane's new awareness was evident by the fact that, unlike their encounter moments before, he now gulped, turned, and fled.
"OH NO YOU DON'T!" Catwoman snarled, giving chase.
She was too angry to realize she was closing the distance too easily. Scarecrow had barreled out of the ballroom and down the first hallway he saw. Now he stopped suddenly and spun, reaching into his straw to produce one of his fearsome gas grenades. He pulled back to hurl it in Catwoman's face – when he paused, sensing a squelchy softness in his hand rather than the metallic honeycomb of the grenade. He lowered his arm as Catwoman slowed her approach and they looked together at the object in his palm.
"Eat me," he read.
"You gotta be kidding me," Catwoman said blandly.
The letters spelling out "Eat Me" in red candied sugar against a white buttercream frosting made a faint hissing sound, and the teacake suddenly popped in Scarecrow's glove, producing a tiny puff of pink gas. Catwoman and Scarecrow both stepped back to avoid breathing in the presumably dangerous (but silly looking) vapor, then their eyes met again. Catwoman reached up and, despite Scarecrow's wince, she pulled the dangling hat off his shoulder, fished out an electronic chip the size of a postage stamp, and handed back the hat.
"Go home, Jonathan," she said in a funk of defeated frustration. "And if you ever set foot in a Wayne event again, I'll set you on fire."
"I shall not go," he declared angrily, replacing his hat and stuffing what straw remained on his collar back under the sackcloth. "I have been victimized, I have been violated I have been—"
"Hatted," Catwoman interrupted hotly. "You were hatted, Jonathan, and while I'm sure that sucked for you, I got problems of my own right now. You're feeling victimized and violated?! I am pregnant in the Gotham Post – these vermin that said I was a whore – that had me running around the east side in goggles – fighting crime (couldn't you just vomit!) – they're now trying to sell papers concocting some kind of bogus mystery about WHO I WOULD SLEEP WITH, as if I have such low standards that I would even LOOK at the scumbags they associate with me, and as if I'm so stupid that I'd go playing Russian roulette with my ovaries. So don't fucking talk to me about being victimized and violated, Jonathan. All I wanted tonight was to set somebody on fire and you've gone and wrecked that by being an innocent dupe."
Scarecrow posed, hands on hips, looking into the distance thoughtfully.
"I believe I have some news which will make you frightfully glad," he said at last.
"Unless you gassed me years ago and the very existence of the Gotham Post has been a hallucination, there's not a thing you can tell me that—"
"Tetch is coming up behind you with a hat," Jonathan grinned.
Catwoman pivoted, delivering a high, forceful kick into Jervis Tetch's sternum. She followed this with two sharp knee-thrusts into his neck, then grabbed his jaw in a grasping cradle-hold and slammed his head into the wall one- two- three- four times. Finally she tossed his barely conscious body to the floor like a ragdoll.
"Thanks," she said, offering Crane a gruff nod – when the flash of a camera pulled her focus and she turned into the lens of a grinning press photographer.
Jonathan Crane felt recompensed for his experience being hatted, for he now got to witness the most delightful exhibition of dueling fears. First there were Catwoman's delicate features as her mind envisioned the horrors of the headlines to come: CATWOMAN THE CRIMEFIGHTER apprehending the Wayne Gala bandits… this followed moments later by the coarser visage of the photographer as he locked eyes with an angry tigress and realized he was the hapless gazelle.
"Tell me you're from the Post," she snarled.
In response, he ran.
He ran swiftly for a paunchy geek in coke bottle glasses, but that was hardly fast enough to outpace a young, fit catburglar who could outrun Batman. Scarecrow watched bemused as the two disappeared in the direction of the hotel lobby. After a few seconds, there was a primal cry of feline fury, then a fearsome crashing sound… and then nothing at all. Tantalizing moments passed, rich with that suspense - so close to the fear response - which Scarecrow craved. And then Catwoman returned, a camera in one hand and the dazed photographer's throat in the other as she steered him back up the hallway towards the Scarecrow.
"Jonathan!" she said cheerily. "Meet my new pal here. This is Wee Willy; he works for the Gotham Post. As such, he has no conscience, no morals, and no reflection. Wee, this is Jonathan Crane, he's into fear and terror."
She smiled sweetly like she was sure they would become fast friends and eventually take a house by the sea together.
"Jonathan, I was hoping you could help us out. It seems poor Will here has lost all the film he shot tonight. Hang on."
She paused, opened the camera, and dramatically yanked the film from the cylinder with a ferocious growl. She draped this around her neck and then slapped the camera roughly into the photographer's chest.
"Now then, he lost all the film he shot. And you know how those guys live and die by what's on the page. So I was thinking you could help him out. The new costume, horizontal straw, its time has come. Or who knows, maybe Willy has some even better ideas to 'reinvent you.' After all, what do I know? I'm just a thief in a catsuit. He's the professional."
She patted him on the shoulder as she prepared to leave.
"Now Will, you take good care of my buddy Jonathan," she added, winking at Scarecrow. "Make sure he's very happy with his coverage or remember, it's your worst nightmare. After all, you don't want to think you're watching Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson making out in the back of their limo and the batteries in your camera are dead… now do you?"
There were two of everything. Harvey ran through the ballroom, which had somehow been divided down the center, half white walls with black floors, half black walls with white floors. There were two of everything: two Riddlers, two Harleys, two Batmen, two Robins. It couldn't be a coincidence. A costume party like this, there were bound to be duplicates but not two exactly. Why not three Riddlers, or four Harleys? But no, there were two, always two, and two of everything, everywhere he looked. It couldn't be coincidence, it was fate.
Fate had found him.
Fate put the coin in his hand. He had no choice, no choice at all. He tried to run, but the coin followed him, flipping and doubling, flipping and doubling, until finally he was being chased by thousands of coins. All flipping, all destined to land scarred side up, no matter how fast he ran. He stumbled and saw himself staring at a pair of mismatched shoes, mismatched pantlegs, and finally looking up into his own face, perfect and blemished for one starting second, before the left side sizzled and liquefied, dripping off his skull in disgusting, corrosive dollops. One landed on his hand and instantly burned it away. Then it grew, a living acid burning up his arm and splitting off at the shoulder to spread quickly down his body and up, with excruciating slowness, towards his face…
When Catwoman returned to the ballroom, she assumed the excitement would be over. When she'd left, Robin and Batgirl were already on the job, and Batman was on the way. Yet the room was in chaos. A dozen party guests, in various costumes but all wearing Riddler-green bowlers, ran amok attacking vigilantes and non-hatted partiers alike, while others ran screaming – not from the real threat of a hatted Joker wielding a trombone like a club – but from some fear-induced hallucination of wasps, rats, spiders, or flying monkeys.
Catwoman sighed, a month of frustration, disgust, contempt, amusement, and rage finally culminating in a wave of hopeless exhaustion. The ersatz Poison Ivy, now practically naked in a little slip of mesh stripped of all but two orchids, came at Catwoman with a broken chair, and Selina could barely summon the will to flatten her.
"I am so fucking over this," she muttered, unfurling the whip and slashing faux-Ivy twice by way of discouragement. Ivy kept coming without even flinching, until a batarang struck her legs and she stumbled.
"They don't feel pain when they're hatted," Robin called out, running in and delivering a neckchop on the fallen Ivy before she could rise. "That's why they're so strong," he added, retrieving his batarang. "You gotta either throw them off balance or knock'em out, unless you can get the hat off otherwise, which you usually can't."
"Thanks for the tip," Catwoman said miserably, elbowing a figure behind her, then scruffing him once he doubled over and propelling him into Robin's waiting strikezone. The figure turned out to be a Joker, and Robin's uppercut sent not only his hat but the green wig underneath flying into the air.
"Best joke ever," Selina muttered as it landed at her feet.
Robin didn't hear. He'd seen Batgirl hampered by a fear-crazed Clayface as she tried to fend off a hatted Penguin and Harley. He ran off to assist, leaving Catwoman to remove Claudia/Ivy's hat.
"Hey Lina," she heard as she bent over - and she pivoted into a defensive crouch.
"Easy, easy," Eddie said, hands raised in a non-threatening gesture. "No hat," he added, pointing to his head.
She breathed, relieved, and he smiled.
"Nice party," he said simply.
"Woof," came the reply.
"Want to get out of here?" he suggested.
They left the ballroom strewn with fake rogues and headed for the true Gotham After Dark by the nearest access point: the roof. Eddie wanted to take the elevator, declaring it a REAL VETO of the false party and A REVEL TO take them away to better revels on the rooftop. He pushed the button, thinking to compose a number of anagrams for rooftop on the ride up. But he got no farther than FOO when the door opened and they discovered Harvey Dent curled into a fetal ball, sobbing that all the buttons said 2.
Selina squatted down at once as if to comfort him, and rummaged in the little pouch in her costume where Eddie knew she kept her lockpicks. She withdrew a capsule, and as she whispered consoling nothings in Harvey's ear, she popped the capsule in his mouth, squeezed his nose and stroked his throat to make him swallow.
"There we go," she soothed as his eyes closed, "you'll be much better now."
"You carry an antidote for fear gas around with you now?" Eddie noted dryly. "Isn't that just peachy."
Selina just hissed in response. They rode up to the roof in silence, and left Harvey to sleep off his ordeal in the elevator. The strained silence continued when they reached the roof and looked out over the city.
"Nice view," Eddie said at last.
"Yeah, I guess," Selina replied listlessly.
More silence followed.
"That batsuit was the funniest damn thing I've ever seen in my life," he mentioned.
Selina said nothing for a long minute. She just looked sadly over the cityscape.
"He did it for me," she confessed finally. "He wanted to wear a tux. I was going to wear my Dior from the MOMA opening, and then – then that stupid fucking story in the Post came out and I…" She stopped to avoid sobbing, and blinked away a tear.
"Lina, can I make a suggestion?" he asked with that cheery twinkle in his eye that indicated the first line of a riddle.
"Sure," she said, playing along.
Then the riddle-me smile faded and he became deathly serious.
"Fuck the Post," he said gravely.
"Lina. Fuck'em. I cheered when you did that show all those years ago. Two-Face was so mad he couldn't see straight. Oswald figured anything legit had to be a front for something and he damn near had an embolism trying to figure out what. And Ivy, Ivy said something I won't repeat to a lady. But I cheered, Lina. I went right out and bought a ticket, and I went to the theatre, and I saw you up on that stage showing all of Gotham who the real Catwoman is and why those of us who know the real thing just love her. End of Act I, I stood up and cheered without even knowing I was doing it. By the end of Act II, I was hoarse and my palms hurt from clapping so hard. I got it, Lina. I got just how much those bastards hurt you – and how you hate the asinine fools who believe those preposterous lies about the goggle-slut."
"Whore," Selina corrected quietly.
"Yeah, the goggle-whore," Eddie amended the term. "Point is: you made your point. Now let it go. Say 'fuck'em' – because Lina, honey, they are sucking you dry."
"I know," she said quietly. "But Eddie, really. Me. Just the thought of me fighting crime. Hanging out with – ulgh – JSA types. It's enough to make you go on a seven state crime spree. I mean a girl's gotta protect her—"
"Reputation? Selina it's a tabloid. Nobody with an ounce of intelligence believes that shit. Nobody with the slightest grasp of anything could believe that east end disaster is you… And you used to know that. What changed, Selina? I mean, I'm not overjoyed with the Colin Farrell-as-Boy George makeover they gave me (and I'm really not overjoyed by the Green Goddess treatment they gave Pammy seeing as she's calling me at 7 o'clock in the morning to gloat about it), but at the end of the day, it's just another What-The-Fuck Moment from our Friendly Neighborhood What-Fuckers."
Selina laughed in spite of herself and Eddie smiled, then the smile faded.
"The question, in case you've forgotten, is… What changed?"
"You're the man wearing a question mark," Selina pointed out. "Suppose you tell me."
"I have a theory," Eddie said darkly. "I hope I'm wrong."
Selina hissed, exasperated.
"You're going to blame Bruce," she guessed, hands on hips.
"I would love nothing more than to blame Bruce," Nigma admitted. "But my suspicions lie elsewhere. I'm wondering… Lina, I can't help wondering if it might be me."
"What?" came the gasped reply. She would have said more, but a look of pained guilt stopped her.
"You mentioned the MOMA," Eddie said, remorse pulling on his features like leaden weights. "You remember a conversation we had shortly before? At the Iceberg?"
"That I'm 'not so much anymore with the best thief in Gotham City-meow-purr-hiss'," Selina quoted dryly.
"Guess you do," Eddie noted. He had no doubt she would remember. He had pulled her strings with the precision of a master manipulator and the special knowledge of a trusted friend.
"You mean that because I'm not–" she paused and growled, hating the admission to come. "Because I'm not stealing anymore, I'm more sensitive about the mystique. The public perception matters more because it's all I have left of… what I used to be."
"Something like that," Nigma admitted. "But maybe not just the public perception. Lina, what I said that night, it was unforgivable. You only had two real friends in the Rogue world, and the other one is Harvey who isn't one of us anymore either. I- I spoke for Roguedom that night, and I said you weren't what you had been. I played on your insecurities and I knew I was doing it and I… I'm sorry, Lina."
"You can be quite the little shit, you know that, Eddie?"
"I said I'm sorry," he repeated quietly.
"The Post said they were sorry and then they went right on doing it," Selina noted.
"Yes, but we're better than them."
Selina did not return to the ballroom. She waited on the roof, chatting with Eddie. Eventually Harvey woke and stumbled out from the elevator. The three of them reconstructed what they could of the evening's events and speculated about what they couldn't know for certain. The scene was very like the Iceberg, except for the lack of alcohol, pretzels and cigarette smoke. Then Selina broke into the Presidential Suite and it was just like the Iceberg except for the pretzels and smoke. She brought a bottle of scotch, a bucket of ice, and three glasses, and Harvey appointed himself bartender. He poured generously while Eddie laid out the Riddle du jour: What could have possessed Jervis to go full-bore psycho-rogue?
"Turning on Jonathan? On me? On you too, Selina. And gassing poor Harvey? It's beyond a riddle. It is a puzzlement nonpareil."
"It's the Gotham Post," Harvey said flatly.
Selina looked at Eddie.
"Didn't you guys see the story?" Harvey asked.
Eddie looked at Selina.
"I told you," she said defiantly. "That pack of jackals could send anyone on a seven state crime spree."
"So it would seem," Eddie muttered.
Selina looked down to the street and saw the development she had been waiting for. Ten blocks away, the Batmobile came into view, moving towards the hotel in that slow, creeping rhythm insiders recognized as autopilot. She glanced at Eddie and saw he had followed her gaze. His eyes then flicked up at her knowingly.
"C'mon Harv, I'll see you home," he said sportingly.
Harvey refused twice as a simple reflex, but then admitted the fear gas had been an ordeal and he wouldn't say no to a cabshare. Eddie winked at Selina, and she watched the pair of them head off to the elevator. She waited until the doors closed, then waited a minute longer before snaring a flagpole with her whip and starting her descent to streetlevel. The Batmobile had only reached the alley behind the hotel when she completed the final drop from the second floor fire escape. She stretched out provocatively on the still-warm hood and again she waited…
Not five minutes had passed before the scalloped shadow appeared, and she purred deliciously as it stopped mid-stride. She laughed out loud as she envisioned the disgruntled bat-scowl that must accompany the shadow's head-tilt. He'd seen her, so she rolled into an even more provocatively feline pose.
"Nice cape," she remarked when he was close enough to hear. "Does it come in blue by any chance?"
"Get off the car," he ordered gruffly.
"Make me," she grinned.
A lightning fast grasp captured her wrist and yanked her unceremoniously off the hood.
"Get in the car if you want to talk," he graveled. "I don't think anyone is watching, but there's no reason to stay out in the open where we could be spotted."
"I don't know if I want to get in a car with you if you're still this wound up," she announced, casually buffing a claw.
"Selina," he tried, in a voice not entirely devoid of that harassed-boyfriend tone. "Get in the car, please."
Instead of complying, she slowly traced the emblem on his chest with a light, listless claw.
"I thought about leaving you and going on a seven state crime spree," she announced, as if trying to cheer herself up.
"That's nice," he growled. "Car?"
"Eddie talked me out of it," she added.
Wordlessly, Batman snapped a cuff on her wrist and led her determinedly to the passenger door, opened it, and shoved her lightly into the seat. Rather than protest, she seemed mildly amused by the stunt. By the time he had walked back around to his own door, she had, of course, freed herself and she smugly handed back the batcuffs as he settled into his seat.
"And how was your night?" she asked, fingering an ear of the cowl which had apparently gone several rounds with a carving knife.
Batman grunted and started the car. Selina chattered lightly as they drove, but he said little. She was about to tease him for "monosyllabic Bat-mode" when she saw they were passing her old apartment… He'd bypassed the turn towards the bridge to Bristol and home.
"You're heading around the park?" she asked quizzically.
"Of the alpha-threat rogues still at large, Hatter and Scarecrow are now in custody," he said as if reading off a mental list. "Riddler was at the party, but Ivy is still unaccounted for. As are Harley Quinn and the Monarch of Menace, by the way. So Robinson Park, Amusement Mile and several 'royal' themed locations are all on the route tonight."
He was patrolling. He wasn't headed home at all. He was patrolling.
"Whoa there, handsome," Catwoman spouted as soon as she realized what was happening. "I do NOT patrol like some hero-addled, compulsive, crimefighting do-gooder."
"Perhaps not," he graveled, "but you're in the hero-addled, compulsive, crimefighting do-gooder's car and IT is traveling the patrol route."
They drove a few blocks in silence. Then Batman spoke.
"You're feeling better?"
"You mean about my impending motherhood 'Gotham style' by way of a fop with a dictaphone, a socialite with an agenda, and a tabloid with a madonna-whore complex?"
"Yes," he grunted. "About all of it."
She considered the question.
"I suppose… Talked to Eddie on the roof. He pointed out that I let it roll off my fur back when I was… well you know, 'working.'"
He glanced at her sideways, disapproval warping his features into a brooding scowl.
"Eddie?" he glowered.
"Yes Stud, or in your vernacular," she segued into her throaty imitation of the deep bat-gravel, "Nigma."
"So you talked with 'Eddie' and now everything's better?" he asked darkly.
"Well he does have a point. At the end of the day it is just another 'what the fuck moment.'"
Again he glanced at her sideways.
"Yes. I believe I heard that somewhere before," he grumbled.
"Okay yes, you said pretty much the same thing this morning. To tell you the truth, it never occurred to me that it might be me reacting differently. Up until now, I was just under the impression that I was upset because these guys who, let's face it, have not exactly been good to kitty to begin with, have now extended their trash fest into my uterus. I thought it was perfectly obvious that this is a bigger deal because it's a bigger deal. But now, I don't know. You and Eddie both triangulate on the same thing, I'd be an Arkham case if I didn't at least consider the possibility."
She paused, noticing that his whole aura darkened whenever she mentioned how he and Eddie agreed. Like any cat seeing the chance for fun, she stopped what she was doing in order to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I mean you really are, Bruce. You and Eddie are on exactly the same page… Do they all really quake in fear of that scowl? I think it's hot, I really do."
He glowered, and she purred.
Then, just like the cat who stopped what she was doing in order to swat the ball of yarn, she then picked up exactly where she'd left off.
"He thinks maybe the bad press bothers me more now than it did back then because it's all I have left of… well, 'her.'"
"Says the woman in the purple catsuit," he noted dryly.
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, I do. But you don't really want to go back to that. You've said so."
"Of course not."
"You've missed it before, Selina. And there have been stories in the press before that were insulting and offensive. But none of it ever sent you into the tailspin that this did."
"I wasn't that bad," she laughed lightly.
"I wore a batsuit into a room full of Foundation donors," he reminded her. He did not need to say more about the look in her eye (or what had happened to the Beebe Mansion, Mr. Beebe, Mr. Beebe's private security force and Jim Gordon's ulcer the last time he'd seen that look).
"So the question is," he continued with the crisp reasoning of a detective outlining the case, "What's different this time around? And the answer is simple: my gift."
"Yes," she agreed quietly.
Then, finding this utterance too reminiscent of "monosyllabic Bat-mode" for her lips, she went on.
"Yes, when it was just 'those trolls at the Post,' I guess, that was one thing. They never got me, they never will, they're hopelessly fucked, c'est la vie. But now, not only are they tearing down me and everything I ever was, they're tearing up the most thoughtful, beautiful, unbelievably generous— I can't begin to imagine the trouble you went through to pull that off. And of all the things you could have done, that anyone could have done, you really understand me, when let's face it, absolutely no one else has a clue and— well…"
She trailed off. He glanced at her once. Twice. Then spoke.
"Selina, The Post itself was never meant to be the gift."
"It wasn't?" she stammered. "I don't understand, there was a picture, on the cover, I was purple."
"That image… and more importantly, you're reaction to that image… It's what I thought you needed to see. It wasn't about taking over a newspaper or stringing a writing staff up by its knees, much as some of them might deserve it…"
He paused momentarily, turning to face her fully.
"It was about giving you at least some small sense of vindication, to demonstrate that regardless of what the world thinks, I see you for what, for who you really are. It was to demonstrate to you the lengths that I would go to just to see that joyous smile on your face. And it was the hope, in vain as it may have been, that I could give you at least a fraction of the joy that you have given me."
He returned his attention to the road before adding, "That, and it was supposed to be our little in-joke; our private way of sticking our collective tongues out at the entire universe. Goggles and all."
"Pull over," she ordered.
"Why do you think? Great detective my ass."
"I'm on patrol," he objected.
"No. You're in the compulsive do-gooder's car which is traveling the patrol route, which it won't be once you pull over," she said sweetly.
He reached down and deftly engaged the autopilot.
"Close enough," she whispered, pressing a single clawtip neatly under his chin and steering his head to the side to face her.
"You are the most…" she began, but reconsidered the opening. She tried again. "I… I mean, back then I…"
She gave up, and substituted a slow, moist kiss for the words that wouldn't come.
tender and insistent,
and probably longer than it should have.
For a few fleeting seconds, Bruce even forgot that he was "on patrol."
Then he remembered, broke the kiss, and pulled back slightly in order to meet her eyes.
"So, you're okay?" he asked gently.
"Meo-," she began, then reconsidered. "I'm okay."
He flicked off the autopilot and placed his hands back on the steering wheel, looking intently through the windshield as he scanned the perimeter of Robinson Park.
Catwoman stared unbelievingly for a moment, uncertain whether to clobber him or pounce or…
Then she saw the lip-twitch.
And a soft, satisfied purr rumbled in her throat.
… … … … : Duty Log: Batman, Supplemental : … … …
broke open the third vial of Scarecrow anti-toxin (REMINDER NOTE: construct more aerosolized anti-tox gas pellets). An enraged shout to the right warned of an incoming assault. Managed to dodge just enough to avoid the swinging blade, though the knife did catch the right ear-tip of cowl. Dodged second wild swing and disarmed attacker. Attacker revealed to be Randolph Larraby (REF: biographical file, Larraby, Randolph III, attached) in Joker costume wielding Henckels Brand, Type 3 Carving Knife (details attached) from the buffet carving station. Physical signs indicated influence of Scarecrow's fear toxin. Sweep-kick Takedown Routine #5 planted him face first into the floor next to where the anti-tox pellet had gone off. Cobra strike to the base of the brainstem was enough to knock him unconscious.
Noted Robin's location - he was engaged with a pair of Two-Face-clad attendees in bowler hats, but had the situation under control (REF: Duty Log: Robin, Supplemental, §7). Batgirl likewise engaged with six fear-toxin crazed attendees, but quickly administered anti-toxin. Directed Batgirl to bandstand where five "hatted" attendees (1 Joker, 3 Riddlers and 1 Hugo Strange) were attempting to demolish the stage area. (REF: Duty Log: Batgirl, Supplemental, §4). Nightwing arrived on-scene after securing Barbara Gordon in a safe location (REF: Duty Log: Nightwing, Supplemental, §1; and Supplemental Notation Log: Oracle). He assisted me with eight fear-toxin induced panicked attendees…
GOTHAM POST -- — -- — -- -- — -- — -- -- — -- — --
-- — -- — -- -- — -- — -- -- — -- — --Midtown edition
CATWOMAN SAVES WAYNE GALA FROM LESBIAN VAMPIRES
Dateline Gotham: The Gotham After Dark fundraiser at the Robinson Plaza Hotel was wantonly attacked last night by a number of assailants rumored to be a coven of lesbian vampires. It fell to the Catwoman to save the situation, seeing as the vigilantes on the scene, Robin and Batgirl, were too occupied fighting each other to aide the endangered revelers. Inside sources say the Boy Wonder barely prevented the wildly unstable Batgirl from going on a killing rampage…
© 2006, Chris Dee
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Just about every name rogue in Gotham is up the river.
That must be good news for Batman and company, right?
Next time in Cat-Tales
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