Chapter 1: Your Mission if you choose to accept it
"Careful," the shadow in the doorway thought to himself, "This is an unprecedented opportunity, but taking advantage of it is a dangerous and delicate undertaking. If you don't time this just exactly right, if you waste the element of surprise, the target will have time to react, and the precise nature of that reaction is impossible to predict."
Batman was a master strategist, schooled in the art of move and counter move. Bruce Wayne was a CEO, exploiting opportunities and anticipating contingencies were part of the job. Both skill sets were required for this exceptional set of circumstances:
Selina Kyle lay on her stomach reading a magazine, back to the door, damp hair and torso wrapped in a bath towel. The intruder didn't make a sound. And the sixth sense that usually warned her when the Dark Knight was near hadn't so much as quivered when she felt her body spinning over as the towel was pulled from under her like a conjurer's trick. Before she could gasp, he was on top of her, playfully pinning her naked body against the bed and smothering the would-be scream with a passionate kiss.
"Sneaky Bat," Selina laughed to herself. Then she corrected the thought, "No, not Bat. Bruce." It was four weeks since he'd made that startling revelation, and she hadn't entirely recalibrated her thinking to accommodate the new information. The "guy inside Batman," as she'd come to think of him, had a name. His name was Bruce. And there was a lot more to him than the brooding Bat's dayface. Bruce could be charming, playful, sneaky, adorable, urbane, and even sexy in ways Batman could not.
He could be, but not right now. The hands pawing her legs and neck were ungloved, the face was unmasked, but this raw lustmonster was all Batman. They'd denied themselves for too long. And he was making up for every time he'd stared into those green eyes on some freezing rooftop, wanting her, wanting to take her in his arms and hold her, but couldn't because he was the Batman and she was a thief.
Bruce was perfectly aware he was acting like a kid with a new toy, brushing against her or slipping a hand round her waist on the slightest pretext, patting her ass or kissing her cheek almost as punctuation. He couldn't help it. She fit into his arms so well; she fit into his life so well….
His shoulders stiffened a little at the thought. It reminded him that he hadn't come to grope Selina, but to talk to Catwoman.
"We have a problem, Bruce," Lucius Fox had said. The Wayne Enterprises Chief Operating Officer was not an alarmist. He didn't overreact to simple, everyday setbacks. "LexCorp's declared war," he had said. "We can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening. Now I've commissioned this report from Foster and Forsythe to upgrade security, and I need a decision: Do we act on their recommendations or not?"
Bruce massaged his temples.
Lex Luthor could not serve as President and remain CEO of the multinational corporation that bore his name. So he'd hired – to the disbelief of the financial world – Talia Al Ghul to run it in his stead. The Daily Planet questioned Luthor's sanity in appointing an unknown and unqualified amateur to run his company. The Wall Street Journal called her a Poison Pill chosen to make the firm undesirable for a takeover in his absence. And Nightwing joked that that Displaced Daughters of Demons course at the Learning Annex must've really paid off. Only Bruce saw the subtlety of Luthor's strategy: Talia was in no way qualified to run a legitimate corporation, but she was supremely experienced at hovering around the top of a vast criminal empire, ignoring the moral quandaries posed by the guy in charge scheming to take over the world.
Since the election, LexCorp had opened offices in Gotham City, taking over the old Knickerbocker Tower directly across the street from the Wayne Enterprises Corporate Headquarters. There were rumors that an entire floor of LexCorp-Gotham was devoted to nothing but observing the comings and goings from the Wayne Building.
Lucius hired these consultants to beef up their security against corporate espionage, and of course Bruce considered their recommendations with Batman's professional acumen. There was nothing really wrong with the recommendations. But Foster and Forsythe were looking at the problem with a policeman's mentality only: how to stop the bad guys getting in – in all the ways they imagined bad guys would try to get in. They could only protect against attacks they could anticipate, and they had precious little imagination in that regard. Whereas he… he was acquainted – and getting better acquainted each day! – with someone used to looking at these matters from the other side. To Selina, no security setup was a deterrent or even an obstacle; it was a puzzle. She'd certainly find the weaknesses in this proposal, and he could close the gaps before even building the new system. And he'd get to see her mind work – that alone would be a treat. Better still would be the look on her face when he told her…
"You want to hire me?"
"To break into Wayne Enterprises?"
"To figure out how to break into Wayne Enterprises, yes. Look, I already hired these guys–"
"Foster and Forsythe. They're good."
"Everyone says they're the best. And yet you routinely get past security they've set up. So I want you to figure out how you'd get past this."
He tossed her their proposal. She started to look it over, then stopped and looked up at him.
"And you don't have any qualms about hiring your girlfriend?"
"About hiring my…" Bruce broke off chuckling. She couldn't be saying this…
"You can laugh all you want but romance in the workplace is a seriously bad idea."
Bruce stared for a long, long minute, trying to fathom just what goes on inside a woman's mind that doesn't happen in a man's. This was Selina. – this was Catwoman – Catwoman that routinely pressed her breasts into his chest and her pelvis into his crotch while they fought, who whispered things about heat and animals in the night that brought a blush to his cheeks even now….
She held the deadpan for almost a full minute until the grin, the "I can't believe you fell for that, you're so cute when you're stupid" grin, stole over her features.
If he'd been worried taking off the masks would defuse the strange adversarial charge of their relationship, he needn't have. She could still sucker him in anytime she wanted.
As a devotee of Shakespeare and Milton, Alfred Pennyworth would certainly have dismissed the words "Be careful what you wish for" as a pedestrian cliché best suited to the inside of a fortune cookie. But however uninspired he found the wording, events of the past few days made him a staunch believer in the idea it expressed.
His inspired Jeevesian manipulation of Batman's lovelife had borne greater fruit than he could have hoped for. Bruce could not have been as dead to human feeling as everyone had feared, for he had offered surprisingly little resistance to the vacation suggestion. And he'd apparently let himself go most satisfactorily once he actually found himself on holiday. For he had returned, quite as gruff and non-communicative as before, but with the addition of this startling new companion in his life.
For that much Alfred would give daily thanks. The lady herself was certainly beautiful, and seemed bright, confident, witty, and cultured besides. Certainly he'd expected nothing less of any woman able to capture Master Bruce's attention. And her good humor seemed to balance Bruce's tendency to suck everything in his vicinity into a black hole of brooding despair. For this too, Alfred would be eternally grateful.
"But the fact is," Alfred confided to the heavens, represented at the moment by the stalactites of the Batcave trophy room, "that since the master hired Miss Selina to work on this project, I have two of them to look after instead of one."
On accepting the job, Selina had handed back the Foster and Forsythe report. She refused any information about Wayne Enterprises or LexCorp but what she could find for herself, as if she was truly working from the outside. All she needed, she said, was a computer terminal and quiet. This she promptly amended to: a computer terminal, quiet, and for Bruce to please refrain from blowing in her ear in that very distracting manner.
She'd spent four days hunched over a laptop in Bruce's study, shooing away all interruptions, refusing sandwiches, letting the occasional cup of tea Alfred brought grow cold – and generally doing such a thorough recreation of Batman on a paperchase that Alfred nearly called her "sir."
It was at the end of Day Four when Alfred entered the study to collect the untouched lunchtray and stone cold cup of tea, that he found Selina staring, not at the computer screen but out the window, with a cold, hollow glare.
"Where is he, Alfred? Where is he right now?"
Alfred didn't know Selina had a "Catwoman voice" the same way Master Bruce assumed a deep growl when thinking as Batman, and the revelation gave him a chill. Nevertheless, he answered with the same butler's detachment he would assume with Master Bruce:
"Downstairs, Miss," he said, meaning the cave. "He returned a few minutes ago."
Selina stormed out in the direction of the grandfather clock. Alfred glanced at the laptop screen and saw a scanned memo on LexCorp letterhead with a brief hand-written postscript:
Beloved, why must we still be at odds since I've abandoned my father? This opposition is as needless as it is futile.
...to be continued...