Christmas Eve was looking promising, thought Bruce. So far, the Joker remained in Arkham Asylum instead of attempting his annual holiday escape. And, as Robin had been known to say, "Even scum spend Christmas with their families", leaving Batman free for once to spend the evening with his girlfriend.
"You look wonderful," he told Selina when she opened the door. She smiled, eyes sparkling, but said nothing.
Bruce seated himself on the couch, and Selina curled up next to him. Wordlessly, she handed him a silver-wrapped package.
He looked at her curiously. "I thought we were going to wait until tomorrow to exchange gifts."
"This is something else," she smiled. "Go on, open it."
Shrugging, he tore off the paper. From the box he removed a small, sterling silver cup, and an even smaller spoon. "I don't get it," he said, with a puzzled look.
Selina grinned. "Merry Christmas, Bruce. I'm pregnant!" she announced smugly.
Bruce gaped at her open-mouthed. "How did that happen?" he asked stupidly.
"Some detective," she teased.
"That's not what I meant and you know it," he told her with a slight frown of annoyance. "I mean, we've always been so careful. Are you sure?"
She nodded. "Yes. I very discreetly went to Leslie for confirmation. And I think she's going to have a few words to say to you on the subject, incidentally. And as for the other, do I have to remind you about a certain night on a certain rooftop a few weeks ago?"
He smiled, remembering. A balmy night, particularly mild for November. The two of them wrapped in his cape for warmth. It was the only time in his long career he'd ever done anything like that — although he'd had very tempting offers from more than one villainess.
"I don't know what to say...."
Selina held his hands in her lap, smiling at him. "How about 'Selina, darling — this is wonderful news. I'm so happy!'" she suggested.
He blinked. "Well, uh, okay," he agreed. "Don't misunderstand, I'm just...stunned. I didn't exactly see this coming."
"Actually, neither did I. But now that I've had a little time to get used to the idea, it rather appeals to me. Besides, my cats think I'm a good mother," she joked.
"I'm not sure what sort of father I'll make, though," said Bruce slowly.
She smiled reassuringly. "Your first 'son' seems to have turned out pretty well, so obviously you did something right."
Bruce suddenly thought of something else. He grabbed her arms and looked at her intently. "I think there's something else we need to discuss, Selina. You've been telling me no for months, but this changes things. Now will you marry me?"
She pursed her lips, considering. "Well...I always said I wouldn't marry you for your money. And I certainly have no intention of marrying you just because I'm pregnant, either."
Bruce looked stricken, but Selina cut short his strangled protests. Reaching up to caress his cheek tenderly, she went on with a smile, "Luckily for you, I decided a few weeks ago that the next time you asked, I was ready to say yes. Besides, I think if I don't marry you pretty soon, Leslie will shoot both of us!"
He was still stunned when he got home later that night. The thought kept echoing through his head: Me? A husband and father? Sleep was out of the question, and he couldn't concentrate on work, so he just wandered through the mansion for a while. Eventually, he spotted a light in the kitchen, so he headed in there, hoping Alfred was up for a little counseling session.
But it wasn't Alfred. Instead, he found Dick seated at the table, enjoying an enormous mug of hot chocolate and the inevitable marshmallows. He smiled when he saw his guardian. "Yo, Bruce. I didn't expect to see you again tonight. How 'bout joining me for a midnight snack? I know you don't like marshmallows, but we can break into Alfred's fudge a little early."
Bruce just shook his head. "No. No thanks, I'm not hungry."
Dick looked at him in concern. "Hey, you don't look too good. Everything okay?"
"I'm getting married," Bruce announced, sounding as if he didn't quite believe it himself, yet.
Dick managed to actually swallow the mouthful of cocoa without spitting it out, but it was a struggle. "Married? Whoa! Hey, that's great! Congratulations."
"You don't mind? I mean, a lot of things are going to change around here. A lot of things."
"Mind? I think it's terrific. You and Selina make a great couple. It's about time you got a break. Besides," he added with a wicked grin, "I'm just relieved you're not gonna marry Veronica! Or little miss whatsername from Nepal. Talk about in-law problems!"
"Yeah," answered Bruce distractedly. "Look, Dick, there's more to it than that. Selina is...well, we're going to have a baby."
Dick stared at him for a moment. "Wow. That's quite a bombshell."
Bruce showed him a weak grin. "That's what I thought, too. This wasn't exactly planned. I mean, I wanted to get married, but we never even talked about kids. Selina's very enthusiastic about the whole thing, but I'm not so sure. It's not really bad news, but I can't help thinking what sort of life is this for a child to grow up in? Having parents who put on masks every night and go out to fight criminals. Most people wouldn't exactly call that a stable family environment."
The younger man shrugged. "So what? Speaking as something of an expert, I can't think of a better way to grow up. Besides, think what a terrific older brother the kid will have," he grinned.
"That's very true." He hesitated, then reached over and laid a hand on Dick's arm. "I want you to know something, Dick," he said with some difficulty. "No matter what happens, you'll always be my firstborn." Then he turned away in embarrassment.
Dick flushed. He wanted to tell him lightly, "Hey, I know that," but he choked on the words and couldn't get them out.
They were married at Wayne Manor on New Year's Day, with Dick as best man and Maven as matron of honour. Instead of a bouquet of flowers, the bride carried an armful of cat. Wanting to avoid the inevitable media circus, Bruce asked his old friend Judge Maria Vargas to perform the ceremony without telling anyone. As a result, the only guests at the wedding were Alfred, Leslie Thompkins, and Barbara Gordon, who mysteriously told her father and step-mother she was going to "a little New Year's reception, very small, given by some friends."
Later that night, after the judge had left, and Maven had gone home to placate her husband about her "working late", the group sat in the den enjoying the last of Alfred's splendid wedding feast.
As Leslie congratulated Bruce yet again, telling him how proud she was of him, how proud his parents would have been, and what a wonderful girl he'd married, Barbara took Selina aside for a moment.
"So, what do you plan to do now?" she asked. "Go out and fight crime together, or stay home and raise little Batcats?"
Selina laughed. "Well, I'll never be qualified to be a stay-at-home mom, so probably both. Starting with the latter first — in about seven months or so, actually."
"Oh, that's great!" exclaimed Barbara. "I'm so glad everything finally seems to be working out for you two."
Before Selina could reply, she felt Leslie touch her lightly on the shoulder. Barbara excused herself so the two could talk.
"I don't think I've had a chance to tell you how happy I am about all of this," the old doctor smiled. "You know, Bruce is like a son to me. All I've ever wanted was to see him happy. And you seem to make him happier than I've seen him at any time in the last thirty years, almost."
Selina studied the lined face, speculating about the bond between the two of them. She knew that Leslie had been Thomas Wayne's colleague and closest friend since before med. school, and that she had been named Bruce's guardian after the murder of his parents, although Alfred had actually raised him.
But she wondered if that was all there was to it. Leslie Thompkins had never married, ostensibly too wrapped up in her career, and Selina wondered if maybe she saw Bruce not only as the son she never had, but as the son she might have had, under different circumstances. She couldn't help theorizing that, just possibly, Leslie might have been in love with Thomas at one time, quietly standing to the side when he fell for Martha. She frequently talked about her old friend, about how much he had meant to her and how much his son meant to her, but she seldom mentioned Bruce's mother, although by all accounts they had gotten along very well.
"God knows, Bruce is not the easiest man in the world to love," Leslie was saying, and Selina dragged herself back to the present. "And I don't suppose you're exactly easy to live with, yourself. But I really believe the two of you can make this marriage work. You're exactly right for each other, even down to your obsessive personalities. I've never met any woman he's ever dated that I could say the same about."
"Did you ever meet her?"
Leslie nodded. "Once or twice, years ago. She was a nice, sweet, sassy little girl. The kind who would make a good wife for a wealthy businessman, and give some of these silly debutantes no end of grief. But you and I both know Bruce is not your average businessman, and the last thing in the world he ever needs is some little girl who clings to him and has to be taken care of. He needs a grown woman who's capable of standing on her own two feet and telling him he's full of it when he gives you any of his nonsense."
Selina laughed. "I think I can handle that."
"I think you can, too," Leslie smiled, patting her hand. "By the way, I know Catwoman is officially on maternity leave, but I don't suppose there's any chance Batman is planning to retire now that he's married?"
Selina shook her head. "No. He did offer. But there's no way I would let him give that up even if I wanted him to. She made him feel like he had to choose, but I know it's too much a part of who he is. If I forced him to make that choice, it would destroy him. Not to mention us."
"Hey, what are you two looking so serious about? This is a wedding!" Bruce interrupted cheerfully, coming over and slipping his arm around Selina's waist. "And Leslie, will you quit monopolizing my wife? I have a feeling I'm being raked over the coals here."
Leslie gently smacked him on the hand with one of her gloves and told him with mock severity, "Well, you're not far wrong. I was just telling Selina that if you won't give up your double life now that you have a family to take care of, I hope you're at least planning to take the night off!"
Bruce grinned. "I think this one time I can manage to follow doctor's orders."
Surprised when his old friend failed to make her usual sarcastic reply, he followed her gaze to the open window. The yellow and black Bat signal lit up the night sky.
"Oh, dear," said Alfred.
Leslie raised her eyebrows. "Well, Bruce? This is the acid test."
For a moment, the company exchanged nervous glances, no one saying anything. Then Dick nudged Barbara. "Come on. We're on call tonight."
"Thanks," Bruce told him.
Dick shrugged. "No problem. We'll just tell 'em you're depressed because Catwoman got married."
Compulsive as always, Bruce said, "If it's anything too major, call us."
"We won't!" Barbara assured him cheerfully, and followed Dick through the room's secret entrance to the Batcave.
"HA-A-A-R-R-L-E-E-Y! Where's my breakfast!?"
The shout echoed through the empty halls of an old abandoned comedy club in south Gotham. This place had served as the primary hideout for the Joker and his gang during his many escapes, and so far neither the police nor any of the city's masked vigilantes had discovered the location.
In spite of the fact it was only 7 a.m., the Clown Prince of Crime was already in full makeup. In fact, most of the time he made a point of sleeping in his clown white. He was wearing an old undershirt and green boxer shorts decorated with "NO BATS" symbols — the bat emblem encircled with a red slash mark.
The Joker stormed into the kitchen, still loudly demanding his breakfast. His girlfriend reluctantly pulled her attention away from the morning paper and set a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him.
"Here ya go, Puddin'!" she announced in a high-pitched voice that would have been intensely annoying if it hadn't been so cute.
Harleen Quinzel, more commonly known as Harley Quinn, was a former psychiatrist in her late twenties. But right now, not having had time yet to put on her clown face and her trademark red and black harlequin costume, she looked more like a 16-year-old street kid. She wore nothing but a t-shirt that had seen better days, her feet were bare, and her long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
She picked up the January 2nd edition of the Gotham Gazette. "Here's somethin' in the paper that should cheer you up, Mr. J.," she told the Joker. He ignored her and continued to shovel eggs into his mouth.
"Yep," Harley continued, "I'll bet Batman is sure down in the dumps today."
The Joker looked up. "Batman?" he mumbled through a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
"Yeah, poor Batsy," sighed Harley. "His girlfriend dumped him and married the rich guy. See?"
She showed him the paper. The headline read:
THE CAT AND THE BRAT:
MILLIONAIRE PLAYBOY BRUCE WAYNE
MARRIES CATWOMAN SELINA KYLE
"Gimme that!" growled the Joker.
As he read the article, his wild laugh echoed through the darkened halls of the old club. Harley sat in his lap and put her arm around his shoulders, reaching up to caress his cheek lovingly.
"Does that give you any ideas, Puddin'?" she asked hopefully, thoughts of wedding bells swimming through her head.
He grinned suddenly, showing all of his enormous yellow teeth. "Yes...it certainly does!"
Harley gave a little squeal of pleasure that turned into an oof! as he stood up and dumped her on the floor.
"Harley girl, what's say we help the Waynes start their marriage off with a bang?" Bruce Wayne had once cheated him at blackjack, and the Joker had never forgiven him. And as for his new bride, he had had enough run-ins with the Cat to know she didn't improve on acquaintance.
Harley clapped her hands gleefully, only slightly disappointed he didn't mean to propose to her. "Oh, goody! We get to blow up Miss Kitty!" She made a sour face. "I'm glad. She sent me a stuffed fish for Christmas!" Harley hated fish.
Another thought struck her. "Say, boss, why d'you suppose she married this guy when she always seemed so crazy about Batman? Y'don't suppose he could be Batsy himself, do ya?"
He shoved her roughly against the counter as he passed by to refill his coffee cup. Turning to give her a withering glance, he growled, "That idea was funny the first time I heard it, Harley. But it's old, and the punchline has lost its punch. Besides," he added, "I've seen 'em together."
"But, Mr. J.," Harley insisted, "you know how good Batman is with disguises. Maybe he had somebody else — "
She broke off abruptly as the Joker lifted her up by her shirt collar, glaring at her.
"Okay, okay. It was a stupid idea."
"And don't you forget it," he snarled, dropping her on her butt on the floor.
Nobody ever said theirs was one of the healthiest relationships in town.
When the news of Bruce Wayne's sudden marriage hit the international papers, most of his business associates and jet-set acquaintances were taken by surprise.
In a sidewalk café in Paris, an attractive 30-ish woman with red-brown hair and large, pale blue eyes was sipping a glass of red wine as she read the paper.
On page three she found the news. The expression on her face never changed as she read the account of the surprise wedding, but the tiny crystal glass she held shattered in her hand. The woman read on, oblivious to the pain and the blood slowly dripping onto the table, mingling with the spilled wine.
Two days after their wedding, Bruce and Selina were taking a walk on the rocks below the house, holding hands, enjoying the nip in the air and the surf pounding inches away from their feet.
Earlier that afternoon they had given a press conference, deeming it necessary to curb some of the speculation.
"You know, darling, it was nice of you to say publicly that you don't mind having a wife who goes out crime fighting with Batman," joked Selina.
Bruce grinned back at her. "Well, you did say you were just friends, after all. I also liked that part when you announced Catwoman was taking a year or so off because we're anxious to start a family right away."
She laughed. "I was rather pleased with that, myself. Not that it'll fool any of these tabloid-fed busybodies, but who cares? I'm not terribly concerned with my reputation at this point."
Alfred carefully picked his way down to them, carrying a parcel on a silver tray.
"This just arrived by special messenger, Master Bruce," he announced. "Addressed to both of you."
Bruce undid the outer wrappings and regarded the gaily wrapped package curiously. He read the enclosed card with eyebrows raised. "'Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wayne, Best of luck on your marriage. Hope your life together is a real blast! Love, J. and H.'" With a shrug, he handed it to Selina and started to open the package.
Without warning, she grabbed the box out of his hands and hurled it into the bay. Before Bruce could even express his surprise, there was a muffled explosion. A fountain of water spewed upward.
"My word!" gasped Alfred.
Selina waved the note at them. "Bruce! Don't you see? 'J. and H.' — the Joker and Harley! I recognised her handwriting."
Bruce looked at his wife with respect. "I guess this ongoing feud of yours does have a few advantages," he told her, shaking his head to clear it.
"Mmm. We kind of enjoy tormenting each other," Selina admitted. "I would never defend the woman, but I'll guarantee, this was not Harley's idea."
"No. That bomb was a Joker Special."
"I assume then, sir, you'll be spending the evening pursuing everyone's favourite fun-loving couple?" inquired Alfred. "Shall I alert Master Dick?"
Bruce nodded. "Good idea, Alfred. And as for you," he told Selina sternly, "you are going to stay home like a good little girl."
She stared at him, annoyed. She knew he was only trying to protect her and the baby, but she had always been accustomed to being treated as an equal, and she certainly did not intend to change now.
"I told you on our second date that I'd never been able to play the damsel in distress, and I don't need to be taken care of," she informed him coldly. "And surely you've noticed by now that I don't take orders very well."
He realised he'd committed a serious tactical error. She was the one person he seldom tried to boss around, and with good reason. "Sorry," he told her. "I don't mean to give you orders. I just want you to take care of yourself, that's all. I'm new at this husband business, you know."
"Mm hmmm," she said skeptically. But she smiled. "I'll stay home because I have to for the time being. But you might as well accept that you're never going to make a good girl out of me. You'll probably regret marrying me every day of your life."
Bruce shook his head. "I doubt it," he said, kissing her.
Batman crawled wearily into the Batmobile. It had been a tough night, and there were still a few things he needed to take care of. Sighing, he pressed a button on the dashboard com panel to call home.
When Alfred answered, he told him, "Well, I've got Two-Face back where he belongs — in a double-locked cell. Now I just have to — "
The butler interrupted him sternly. "Master Bruce, it's time to call it a night. Miss Selina needs you."
"I'll be right there," growled Batman, and the sleek, blue-black car raced off into the night.
A short time later, having broken his own speed records, the Batmobile screeched to a halt in the cave. Batman jumped out, ripping off his mask as he did so.
"Alfred! How is she?" he demanded.
His old friend answered with a smile, "Tired, but otherwise quite well."
Bruce started for the stairs at a gallop, but Alfred stopped him in his tracks with his next announcement.
"As are both your sons, sir. Your family awaits upstairs, Master Bruce," he added, when Bruce just stood there gaping at him.
He streaked through the house and into his bedroom, eyes wide, not even thinking about the fact he was still clothed in Batman's uniform. He found Selina sitting up in bed, holding a tiny baby. Leslie Thompkins stood across the room holding the other.
Selina gave her husband a tired grin. "Once again, Batman shows up in the nick of time," she joked.
"Well past the nick of time, if you ask me," corrected Leslie, with a disapproving shake of her head. "Sit down, Bruce, and meet your son."
Gingerly, he sat on the edge of the bed next to Selina. Leslie gently placed the baby in his arms. He looked from one twin to the other, noticing they would definitely not be identical. The one Bruce held had his father's black hair, while his brother was blond like their mother.
Selina nodded toward the one she held. "This one's mine," she announced. "I'm going to name him Kyle. That one's yours — you get to name him."
Bruce responded slowly, "If you don't mind, I'd like...to name him Thomas...after my father."
Selina touched his hand, then looked up and winked at Leslie. "I knew he'd say that."
The old woman softened a little. "I hoped he'd say that." Then she got gruff again and told him, "I'll leave you to get acquainted with your new family, Bruce. But I'll have a few words to say to you later."
She left Bruce and Selina alone with their children, smiling at the picture the four of them made.
"Honestly, Bruce, I don't know how Selina puts up with you. I can't believe you stayed out of touch all night long, knowing your wife was past her due date and could give birth any second."
Bruce nodded understandingly. "I know, Les. I hated being out of touch, but this case — "
Leslie sighed in exasperation. "It's always 'this case' with you. If it's not Two-Face, it's the Joker or the Penguin or Poison Ivy or Ra's al Ghul, etc., etc. For years I've watched you jeopardize your health and your life on one case after another, and each one is always more urgent than the last."
"And you scold me every time."
"Because you never listen to me," she shot back. "You go right ahead and do exactly what you want. But I want you to listen to what I'm saying this time. It's not just you anymore, Bruce. You have a wife and two children who depend on you, so don't let them down."
He regarded her solemnly. "Like I did tonight, you mean."
She gave him a tender smile, seeing that she'd at least partially succeeded in getting through to him. "Well, I will admit it was a record-breaking fast labor, especially for twins. There wasn't even time to call an ambulance. But you'd been told there was a family history of short labors and overdue babies, and you should have been home."
"I know," he sighed. "I meant to be here, but I had no idea it would be tonight."
Leslie snorted. He was hopeless. "You meant to be here," she repeated. "I've heard that before, you know. You always meant to be here for Dick when he was growing up, too, but he still ended up spending an awful lot of time alone. If he hadn't become Robin, he'd never have seen you. Even now I don't think the boy has any idea how much you really love him. But I'm telling you now, if you don't do better by the twins than you did with Dick, you'll have to answer to me!"
Bruce laughed and hugged her. "You're right, Leslie. As usual. What would I do without you chewing me out on a regular basis?"
"I shudder to think," she said lightly, shaking her head. Then she added solemnly, "I know it was losing your parents like you did that drives you to this obsession. You don't want any other child to ever got through what you did. So remember that with your own children, Bruce. Don't deprive them of their father while you're out saving the world. That would make a mockery of your parents' death."
With that, she strode out of the library, not giving him a chance to respond. She had played her trump card, and he would either take her words to heart, or carry around a tremendous load of guilt. But he would remember.
In the intervening two years, the twins grew happy and healthy, Kyle bigger and more robust than the quiet Thomas. Allison Kincaid, Maven's sister, was their nanny, and so far she hadn't started asking any uncomfortable questions about the strange goings on in the Wayne household.
Maven herself was still as indispensable as always. Her marriage, which as Selina had predicted was never terribly solid in the first place, had finally blown up. Tim Burke wasn't the type to object to his wife working, but he had always strongly objected to the hours her job necessitated, as well as to her boss. As things went downhill, Maven reacted by spending more and more time at the Manor, which naturally helped contribute to their divorce.
Other relationships were faring better. Dick and Barbara had started dating soon after discovering the truth about each other. They seemed to feel that their long friendship, combined with the strong attraction they had felt as soon as Robin and Batgirl crossed paths, made them an ideal couple. It had taken a little while to get used to thinking of themselves as something other than best friends, but once that barrier was crossed, the relationship had grown steadily more serious and they had recently started making wedding plans.
After college, Dick had gone to work for Wayne Enterprises, though not without a few misgivings, and with the understanding that if he ever decided he simply wasn't cut out to be a businessman, Bruce would let him go with no objections.
Barbara, on the other hand, had figured out exactly what she wanted to do, and continued on to law school. After the initial shock of learning exactly how many laws she and her partners were breaking on a regular basis, she had adjusted and was doing well, looking forward to the day when she could catch the bad guys and prosecute them. She also moved into her own place, tired of living with her parents. Ironically, the apartment she found was on the top floor of the building where she had first encountered Catwoman.
Selina herself was doing extremely well. The five-year probationary period had finally expired, and it was a relief not having that hanging over her head. Her work for the animal rights causes was going better than she had dreamed, though not for the reasons she hoped. It was frustrating to keep coming across people who supported her cause merely because it was the popular thing to do, and not because they shared her heartfelt love of animals. She had also discovered, much to her disgust, that her married name was responsible for more of her success than her own reputation. Selina Wayne was a much hotter property than Selina Kyle had ever been.
She was also pregnant with her third child, although she hadn't told Bruce about that yet. Selina had a strong feeling that this baby would be a girl, and she planned to name her Helena.
Leslie Thompkins had suffered a mild heart attack and moved into Wayne Manor temporarily to recuperate. As soon as she felt stronger, she wasted no time in proving the old adage that doctors make the worst patients.
One night, a few nights before Christmas, Bruce sat in his den, feeling disinclined to tackle the paperwork spread over the desk. He was waving a pencil for Isis to bat with her paw. Osiris, who had decided that Bruce and everything in this particular room was his, sat regarding the little female with proprietary disapproval. The orange cat, Sethos, was busy grooming himself on the other side of the desk.
The phone rang. Bruce answered, and what he heard drained all the colour from his face.
"I'll be there," he said quietly.
Selina came in, carrying Kyle, in time to hear her husband's words. "What's up?" she asked mildly, expecting it to be some business emergency with Lucius.
Without stopping, Bruce told her, "I have to leave."
Blinking with surprise, she followed him to the Batcave. There she found Alfred staring after the retreating Batmobile.
"Miss Selina, have you any idea what's going on?" he asked.
"Not yet, I don't," she answered, handing him the baby. She disappeared behind a screen, emerging momentarily as Catwoman.
Engaging the tracking device in her car, she took off after the Batmobile.
Alfred watched her leave, then turned to the little boy in his arms. "There are times, young Master Kyle," he told him, "when you and your brother have my deepest sympathy." Kyle's only reaction was to grab at Alfred's moustache.
Catwoman found Batman, unmasked, on a high rooftop, talking to a red-haired woman dressed all in black. The building was the one where Carl Beaumont had had his offices years ago, although Selina had no way of knowing that.
"Do you know what day this is, Bruce?" the woman was saying. He inclined his head to show he did. "Five years ago today everything went to hell, just when I thought we might have a chance together at long last. And I've been in hell ever since."
"Andrea," he pleaded, voice strained with emotion.
Unable to stay hidden any longer, Catwoman stepped out of the shadows behind Bruce. Andrea saw her and laughed. "Well, what an honour: to meet the famous Catwoman! Jewel thief turned society matron." When Selina didn't say anything, Andrea teased, "What's the matter, Mrs. Wayne? Cat got your tongue?"
This was too much. "No," answered Selina, starting toward her threateningly, "but keep it up and she'll have yours."
Bruce grabbed her arm before she could get very close to Andrea, though it wasn't clear which one he was trying to protect.
"Why, Bruce, I had no idea how charming your wife was," continued the woman in black sweetly. "I hope she's housebroken."
"Or maybe not," shrugged Andrea.
When the claws came out, Batman decided it was time to intervene. Taking his wife to one side, he asked her to wait for him at home, saying he had to deal with this by himself. She started to refuse, but he gently took hold of her shoulders. "Please," he said quietly, gazing into her eyes. The expression on his face did more to convince her than anything he could have said.
But she couldn't resist one little word with her rival. Stepping close to the woman and removing the cat mask so she could see her face, she told her, "Play your little games, An-dray-uh," exaggerating the pronunciation to show what she thought of it.
"You're no threat to me," she continued. "Bruce is mine. He chose the reality of me over the memory of you, and there's no going back. I'm his wife and the mother of his children. You are nothing but a distant voice from the past. Remember that." She sounded totally confident, knowing she was absolutely right. She only hoped Bruce had sense enough to know it, too.
Selina was aching to rake her claws across the woman's face, but it wouldn't win her any points with her husband, and more importantly, she knew she couldn't risk a fight because she had to protect her baby. So she contented herself with one tiny scratch on the jaw. She retreated, stopping for a moment to take Bruce's hand and feel his reassuring squeeze in return. Then she left them alone.
Andrea snorted. "Your wife is certainly the jealous type, isn't she?"
"Cats are very...territorial," he told her.
She looked at him unbelievingly. With one bitter, crazy-sounding laugh, she answered, "She's territorial? She's the one who's intruding on my territory."
Batman shook his head slowly. He was afraid to say much, concerned that he might send her completely over the edge.
She muttered something he didn't catch. Then, "Do you love her, Bruce?"
"Yes," he answered, without hesitation.
"As much as me?"
This time he hesitated for a split second before answering "yes" again. But it was clear that the hesitation was more out of consideration for her feelings than any uncertainty on his part.
She stared at him, a wild look in her eyes. "More?" she demanded.
He tried to think how to spare her, but honesty compelled him to admit, "In some ways. We've been married almost three years. We have two sons. Living with someone like that...there's a bond. I can't explain it."
The look on her face cut through him like a knife. She shut her eyes tightly, trying not to cry. In spite of her efforts, a few tears slid down her cheeks.
"That's what hurts the most," she told him in a cracked voice. "The children. Your children. Yours and hers. Remember how we wanted kids of our own, Bruce?"
He nodded. "That was a long time ago, when we had that conversation," he reminded her.
"Mm hmmm. But I never stopped thinking about it. Five years ago, I hoped against hope that it could still happen, that I could at least have some part of you to hang onto. But that one night just wasn't enough, I'm afraid. Don't you ever wonder what a child of ours would have been like?"
"No. Andi, this isn't getting us anywhere. Please — stop torturing yourself."
Right, he thought. Like he hadn't done the same thing.
"Like you did?" she asked accusingly. "You certainly got on with your life, didn't you? Hardly wasted any time at all before you found someone else."
He shook his head no. "It wasn't like that. Not at first. And Selina and I had a certain...history...before you ever came back."
Andrea's tenuous control finally snapped. "History!?" she exploded. "History! I've loved you for fifteen years, Bruce. That's history! Not flirting with some tramp in a cat suit. My God, I should have finished that woman off years ago when I had the chance."
Bruce couldn't believe what he was hearing. "What are you saying?" he asked gently. He had a sinking feeling he knew, but the idea was too horrible to believe.
She looked at him as if he was the one who was insane. "The last time I was in town," she explained. "The gossip columnists were full of speculation about the friendship between the business tycoon and the cat burglar. I had to find out what it was all about and stop it. Don't worry; I wasn't intending to kill her. I just wanted her away from you, that's all. That idiot terrorist was the one who wanted her dead, but of course she messed it up."
Batman was stunned. "So you were the CopyCat," he said unbelievingly. "You wanted Selina out of my life, so you dressed up in a copy of her costume and tried to frame her."
He had wondered for a long time about the identity of Red Claw's accomplice, but never had it occurred to him that it might have been his onetime love. The information was definitely not something he ever wanted his wife to know about. And he certainly couldn't tell Andrea that her scheme had had the ironic result of forcing him to face his true feelings for Selina.
She made a face. "Would have worked, too, if I hadn't been so stupid about guessing which piece of jewelry you hid the tracking bug in. There I was planning to lead you on a merry chase — and wouldn't it have been fun if I'd let you catch me, hmmm? — and instead led you right to her. You wouldn't believe how hard I kicked myself over that one."
"Yes, I would." What he couldn't believe was how often he found himself facing some villain who found it necessary to explain not only how the crime was committed, and exactly why it had gone wrong, but also use every rationalization in the world to justify it.
"You know, it's kind of fun being a burglar," she admitted. Then she shuddered. "The only bad thing was having to carry around that horrible cat. I've always hated cats. I hope somebody killed the thing."
"Osiris? No, he lives with us," Bruce told her absently. His mind was still struggling to come to grips with all of this.
Andi looked at him, horrified. "Oh, Bruce, what has that woman done to you?"
She sagged against him suddenly. "What has the world done to us, my love?" she asked, looking into his face wearily.
He said nothing, just held her, wondering how that sweet girl he had known all those years ago could have come to this.
The Batmobile drove slowly up the ramp to its special platform. Batman climbed out and stood leaning against the car, lacking the energy to stand up straight.
A small grey form slipped out of the shadows and touched his shoulder with a gloved hand.
"What happened?" she asked quietly.
He shook his head, indicating defeat. "I tried to convince her to get help, but.... It was just like last time. She didn't want to be saved. She'd rather just live in the past and sink further into the abyss every year. And she refuses to grab the line I throw her."
Selina tightened her mouth angrily. Fine, she thought. If she wants to spend her life playing out the banquet scene from Great Expectations, let her. But she's not taking my husband with her.
But she didn't say it, unwilling to add to his pain.
Without intending to, she found herself asking, "Do you still love her?"
He hesitated. "I don't know," he answered slowly. "Maybe. Maybe there's some part of me that always will. Or...maybe not. I just don't know, Selina. She's not the same person she was. And I know I'm not. That has to make a difference." Suddenly he remembered Andrea asking him the same question about Selina. How he'd answered without hesitation. It told him something.
"Maybe it doesn't really matter," he said, half to himself.
She looked at him in surprise. "I've never heard you say anything like that before."
He placed his hands on her slender waist, and stood looking at her for a long moment before he answered. "What I meant is my feelings for Andrea shouldn't be important now. I know I've always been driven by things that happened in the past, and that probably won't ever change, but...maybe I've finally learned you can't ignore the future, either." That's what Leslie had been trying to tell him, the night the twins were born. "I know how I feel about you, and that's the only thing that really matters, Selina. I belong with you."
"Did you convince her of that?"
Bruce sighed. "I doubt it. But I promised her if she ever comes back to town, or bothers you or anyone else I care about, I'll bring her down without a second thought. I think I managed to convince her of that, anyway."
I hope, he thought.
Selina was far from convinced, but she chose not to make an issue of it tonight. It wouldn't accomplish anything.
Once again, wounds from the past had been reopened, and she knew he would have to heal them in his own way. All she could do was be there for him, and try to keep him from falling into the shadows of the past.
Gently, she took his hand and led him upstairs.
c. May, 1994 by Lydia Hunter