I got better at the motorcycle the longer I rode on it. Bruce made me wait until he got home from work every day before I could practice, but I did everything right so he would let me ride as much as possible. The bike had a feel to it – I knew when it ran smoothly and when it choked up, when it turned easily and at what angle was too sharp, when to rev up and when to slow down.
My life would have been perfect except for two things: school and the approaching Black and White Ball. True to his word, Bruce drove me in Monday morning with the intent of requesting that I get moved up a grade. On the way there, I begged him not to.
"Let me stay in my classes one more week. Just one more week. I don't want to move."
"Don't argue," Bruce slowed down in the traffic. "I need you to be where you're getting challenged, not goofing off because you're bored. You're smart and you should be giving your full potential to your classes. It's like gearing up to fight the Joker – you have to be prepared and at the height of your game. If I was goofing off before, he would have killed me."
I didn't see how Batman fighting the Joker had anything to do with me and school, so I just turned my head and rolled my eyes where he couldn't see me.
His cellphone rang and he answered it. "Bruce Wayne . . . oh, hey."
His voice softened – he was talking to a girl.
I reached in my bookbag and pulled out an MP3 player and headphones. I didn't want to hear him get all mushy and lovey-dovey with some girl. Other than Selina, he sometimes saw Vicki Vale and Julie Madison. They were both okay, I guess, but I didn't want to hear him talking.
Traffic was slow, and we inched past a computer store with all kinds of new gadgets in the window. Mac had a new notebook out; Xbox360 had two new games.
Bruce had ended his conversation, and I pulled off my headphones. "Bruce?"
"When can I have more allowance?"
"You get plenty in allowance, and you're not getting any while you're grounded."
So that was still going on. "I know – I get an allowance for acting right, but I'm thirteen. I should get more than fifteen dollars a week which I've never gotten."
"Go a week with behaving and you will."
"But you adopted me, right? Why can't I have lots of money like you?"
Bruce finally looked at me. "What do you need money for? You have everything you need."
"Sometimes I might like to buy something I don't need. You get to."
"I'm the adult. I earn the money."
"You didn't inherit it from your father?"
Bruce tightened his jaw. "That has nothing to do with this. And I didn't get to buy anything I wanted at your age. Alfred didn't let me. I had an account set up for little things I needed."
"So can I get an account?"
"Because you would just buy things to annoy me."
"Oh, man," I crossed my arms, "you are such a jerk sometimes."
Instead of getting angry, he actually laughed. "I like keeping a close eye on you. Last time you had money, you took the bus into Gotham and asked out Barbara."
"I did that once. I won't do it again." I looked out the window. "Next time I'll rent a limo."
He laughed again. "Jeez, Dick, you're going to be the death of me. Sixteen dollars a week."
"Twenty," I countered.
"Done," I put my hand out, and he shook it with a smile.
"Where do you come up with this stuff?" he asked as we turned into the parking deck of my school. "I never challenged Alfred like you do me. And I certainly never made bargains with my father."
"They weren't as strict as you are with me."
"My father was, sometimes," Bruce pulled the car into the parking space. "I wanted to ride my bike to the end of the driveway, and he said I had to stay where I could see the house."
"How old were you?" I swung out of the car.
"Seven," he admitted. "But I acted much older. I could have handled myself."
"Yeah, right. Oh, please, don't walk in with me. That's so embarrassing."
"Suck it up," Bruce locked the car. "I never fought against my parents walking me into school. I even held Mom's arm, like a gentleman."
"Were you still seven?"
Bruce didn't say anything as we walked into school.
It was so humiliating. Everyone knew Bruce had adopted me, and to be seen in middle school with your dad walking you in was the lowest of the low.
"Hi, Mr. Wayne," Barbara ran up to us with an eager smile. "Dick, my dad said yes."
"Yes?" I blinked.
"To going to the Black and White Ball. He was so mad at me for going out – I thought he would explode. But I got permission and he said if I don't step a toe out of line all week, he'll even let me get a dress."
She was practically bouncing up and down on her toes.
Bruce sighed. "All right, which two classes do you guys have together?"
"English and social studies," Barbara answered.
"You can keep those classes," Bruce told me. "You two go to class. I need to talk to the office."
"Are you in trouble?" Barbara walked with me down the hall. "I was worried that Bruce would take your head off once you dropped us off."
"It was a long night," was all I would admit.
"Gosh, I'm so excited about the Ball," Barbara said. "You have no idea how jealous Pamela was when I told her. She was so mad she said it was a stupid party for the lamest people in Gotham. She would do anything to be invited. She shut herself up in her greenhouse all weekend and tended to her plants, like that was going to make her feel better. Jeez, there's the bell."
Bruce never told me what happened in the office, but by Tuesday my classes had been changed. I didn't even have to take an admissions test. The advanced classes were harder, but it was kind of cool to be with the older kids.
The new classes had more homework, and the week flew by until Friday evening.
When Bruce got home, I had all my homework done, my room clean, and everything perfectly in order.
"Alfred's going out tonight," Bruce said as way of greeting as he came in the side door.
"He's not going to play com-man for us out on patrol?"
Bruce didn't quite look at me. "No, and we can't patrol tonight. I got to go to Metropolis for something, as Batman."
"But Bruce -!"
"I know, I know – you want to take the bike out on patrol. You just need a little more practice. We can go out tomorrow night."
"Okay," I agreed.
"But tonight," he gave me a meaningful look, "tonight I need to know if I can leave you alone without you doing something crazy."
"I won't take the bus into the city," I promised.
"This is your last chance," Bruce held up a warning finger. "You blow this, and I will not leave you here again. I'll get a babysitter."
My face turned red. "You wouldn't!"
"Guys my age don't have babysitters – we are babysitters. I'm thirteen. I'm not some dumb little kid. I won't leave the property."
"You better not," Bruce warned. "I would drop you off at Commissioner Gordon's for the evening, but he's out of town."
"I don't need to be watched. This is why we fight so much – you treat me like a child."
"You act like a child," Bruce looked tired.
"Because you treat me like one!"
"Ugh," he moved towards the stairs, "everything's an argument here."
An hour later, he laid down the law for me. "You can watch TV. No ordering pay-per-view. You can find something to eat in the kitchen. Don't eat only sugar. Go to bed before midnight. Don't let anyone in. Don't order pizza. Don't go out of the house. Do not look at anything bad on the computer. Do not go into any chatrooms. Do not give anyone any information. Call me right before you go to bed. I won't be back until two or three. If I find you're still up, you're grounded."
I rolled my eyes.
"Don't roll your eyes," he started for the entrance of the Batcave, but he paused with his hands above the piano keyboards. "Alcohol?"
"I won't touch it."
"Good. The same goes for smoking, drugs, and drinking cough syrup."
"I heard some kids do that to get a high," Bruce hit the keys and the wall panel slid open. "Don't drive any of my cars. And above all," he got onto the lift, "do not even think about taking out the bike."
I rolled my eyes one last time. "I promise."
Once I heard the sound of the Batmobile leave the cave, I started in on my fun night. The first thing I did was put on roller-skates and zoom around the marble floor. My skates were plastic so I didn't think they'd hurt the marble, but Alfred doesn't like anyone whizzing around the mansion so I never got to wear skates inside.
I turned up the stereo and blared it through the first floor as I skated around, narrowly missing vases, sculptures, and antique furniture.
I went to the kitchen and found all the sweets I could: donuts, cookies, ice cream, candy, pop tarts, and cake. I ate a few potato chips so I could truthfully say I hadn't eaten only sugar, but then I gorged on the junk food. Pop tarts taste really good in ice cream, and donuts on top of cookies are awesome.
When I felt almost sick from the food, I went into the den to watch TV. I found a movie playing on FX that looked edgy and I flopped on the sofa to watch it.
I must have dozed off because I jerked awake with the ringing of the phone. I stared at it. Bruce hadn't said anything about answering the phone. Our number is unlisted, but still . . .
The machine came on, and our message played.
"Dick? Are you there?"
I skated over to the phone and picked it up. "Hey, Bruce."
"Is everything okay?" the odd static was in the background. He was calling from the Batmobile.
"Yeah, I'm about to go to bed."
"Good. I'll be there in a few hours. Will you be okay going to sleep alone in the house?"
"Yeah, I'm not a baby. I've barely noticed you're gone."
I looked at the clock as I hung up the phone. It was almost eleven. No way was I going to bed now.
I had a thought at that moment. I was good at riding the bike. I was good at roller-skating. How would I be with riding the bike while wearing roller-skates?
Bruce had said to stay inside, and technically the Batcave was connected to the house. Bruce had also said not to take out the motorcycle, and I wasn't. I would ride it inside the Batcave.
Roller-skating in the cave was harder than in the mansion; the stone wasn't as smooth and I bumped so hard that I couldn't get up any speed. Some of the floor was slightly slanted, and I had to fight rolling to the edge and crashing into the railing or even toppling over the railing to the floors below.
I got to the bike and I was fooling around with it and trying to figure out how to step on the gas with roller skates when I thought I heard a sound. The lower level of the cave had a waterfall covering the exit to the road so there was always the pounding of water. I was used to it – I had spent so much time in the cave that I barely noticed the constant falling water. The bats annoyed me sometimes, but they didn't hang around so much now that Bruce had electricity and technology around every square inch.
I ignored the noise and tried to stomp on the pedal to rev the bike on. The wheels spun my foot right off the pedal, and I scowled in frustration as I tried again.
A rumbling filled the cave, and then, two floors below, the Batmobile shot through the waterfall.
I dove off the bike and scrambled to the side of the computer. Bruce had been running computer tests on the bike so it was right next to the multiple screen. I crawled under the desk, into the dark space under the key boards, and sat there waiting with my heart pounding.
I would be in trouble for coming down without him, but I hadn't actually turned it on and I hadn't bothered anything in the cave. At this rate, I could kiss any allowance goodbye forever, but I still had a slight chance of explaining myself though I thought he should have to explain himself for coming back so early.
"You took that curve too tight," Bruce said as the floor lift started to move.
"Oh, typical," a female voice said. "The man's always trying to tell the woman how to drive."
I froze. The voice was familiar though we had never had a female in the cave that I could remember.
"I'm not telling you what to do," Bruce said, and his voice was clear, unlike his Batman growl. "You should be glad I let you drive. No one has ever driven the car but me."
"I know why you let me drive," the woman teased. "I know what you want, what you always want."
"Well, can I get it?" Bruce said in a voice far too amused to promise anything good.
He never talked to me like that, but it was still annoying to hear him joking in the cave where he was usually so strict. But what completely shocked me was the woman's voice. I recognized it – Selina Kyle.
I couldn't even think, want to think, begin to think why Selina would get to enter the cave much less drive the Batmobile, much less know Batman's identity, much less –
They stepped off the lift, and from my hiding position, I could see Bruce with his mask off but with the rest of his costume on.
Beside him with her costume on but her mask also off was Catwoman.
I nearly screamed out loud. Selina Kyle was Catwoman! Catwoman! CATWOMAN! She was a villain, a thief, a bad guy! We had chased her before to get back what she had stolen and she had teamed up with other bad guys before, and now she was walking around the cave in that swaying way of hers like she owned it, and Bruce was just letting it happen.
"You men are all the same," Selina smirked. "One thing on your mind all the time."
"It's not my fault," Bruce grinned at her. Smiling when he should have been tying her up and calling the police! "I let you drive and now I want my reward."
"Isn't doing the right thing reward enough?" she teased, stepping closer. "Don't heroes refuse rewards because they do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts?"
"Hey," Bruce held up his hand with the gloves still on, "no one is forcing you."
"No one forces me to do anything I don't want to," she was in front of him now. "But you can take comfort in the fact that I will only do this for you. No one else, ever."
"Ah, that's hot," Bruce grabbed her and kissed her, spinning her around to sit on the back of the bike. My bike! Catwoman was sitting on the back of my bike.
They kept kissing and groaning and moaning, and I was so embarrassed I wanted to die. Adults were so awful sometimes with their . . . stuff.
Selina stepped off the bike and smiled wickedly. Then she dropped to one knee and pulled her other leg down to kneel in front of him. She gazed up at him like an adoring worshiper.
Then she reached for the belt at his waist to loosen his – his –
I lost it then.
"I don't want to see!" I howled as I scrambled out of my hiding place.
"Dick!" Bruce yelled.
Selina hissed in surprise and leapt backwards up on the bike, teeth bared and back arched.
"My eyes! Don't let my eyes see," I tripped with the skates still on my feet and slid towards the balcony edge.
Bruce was trying to refasten his belt, but he shouted to Selina, "Don't let him fall!"
She might have said something, but I skidded to the edge and fell right off. I saw the ground below me – two floors down – and then arms grabbed me by the ankles.
I dangled for a second and glanced up to see Selina hanging over the edge with her hands on my ankles and Bruce's hands around her ankles. She scowled down at me, and the talons from her own black gloves dug into the jeans just above the top of my skates.
"I should let you fall," she snarled at me.
"Selina," Bruce warned. "Get him up so I can deal with him."
"Let me drop," I whispered to her. Maybe a few broken bones would make him more sympathetic.
She pulled me up with unbelievable strength, and I felt dizzy as I stood in front of them both.
"Are you insane?" Bruce grabbed me and swatted me with his hand. It hurt so bad with his heavy glove on. "You're not supposed to be down here, and you're not supposed to be skating. The edge of the balconies don't have railings!"
"You brought Catwoman here," I struggled to get free. "She's a villain, and you brought her here to our cave."
"Ooo," Selina ducked in front of me, twisting her neck like a cat. "Surprise, surprise. I've been here before."
"Don't taunt him," Bruce frowned, but he didn't try to swat me again.
"How long have you known who she was"?" I looked up at him in dismay. "How long have you known?"
"Oh, just a few," Bruce dropped his head and his voice, "years."
"Years!" I screeched. "Years? And you didn't tell me. You made me be nice to her!"
"I made you be nice to Selina," Bruce corrected. "I never made you be nice to Catwoman. There's a difference."
"You just wanted to have sex with her. You were going to have sex here, maybe on my bike. And you gave me that lecture on sex. You big liar!"
"I think the word you're looking for is hypocrite," Selina looked so smug. "but I don't expect a little boy to know such big words."
I lunged at her, but Bruce kept me back. "Don't rile him up. I swear, you're on thin ice already. I should have dumped you in Arkham after I caught you robbing that retirement home."
"I wasn't robbing the retirement home. I was robbing the millionaire in the home. He had a family heirloom with a rare kind of pearl in it. He wouldn't miss it."
"Stealing is wrong," Bruce said in the kind of voice he uses to tell me to behave.
"Oh, but making bargains for blow jobs is okay?"
"Selina!" Bruce reached down to cover my ears. "Watch your mouth around children."
"Are you going to wash it out with soap if I don't?" she smiled at me. "Yeah, Bruce told me about that. You've been a naughty boy lately."
"You're both about to be in trouble," Bruce shook me as I tried to get at her. "This is my cave and my house and my rules. If you don't get along, no one is going to have any fun."
"Our types of fun are different," Selina prissily fussed with her hair. "Send him to bed and we can have adult time again."
"I think we've had all the adult time I'll get tonight," Bruce sounded grumpy as he hauled me over to the computer chair. "Take off those skates. Were you planning to ride the bike with the skates on?"
"No," I tried to keep my face from turning red. "Who would do such a dumb thing?"
"Hmph," he didn't sound convinced. "Selina, get your stuff out of the car. Go change to regular clothes in one of the nooks."
"Why? I like my costume on."
"The rule is we don't take costumes upstairs in the house."
"You're letting her up in the house?" I was outraged. "But she's evil and –"
"The only reason I'm not tanning your hide right now is because I know this is confusing. I promise when you're older you'll understand what I go through and why I like her."
"You like me?" Selina popped her head out of the Batmobile. "Bruce, you've never said you liked me before. How sickeningly sweet."
"You were going to have sex with someone you don't like?" I tried not to screech again.
"It's adult and complicated," Bruce declared. "And Selina, if you don't shut up, I'm coming over to you next."
"It's the threats I like most," she ducked out of sight into one of the nooks of the cave. "They make me feel all warm inside. Especially with the Batman growl. No one threatens me like you do, Bruce."
"This is a nuthouse," Bruce grabbed my skates.
"I'll never understand you," I glared at him. "And I'll never forgive you if you invite her upstairs. She's going to steal all my stuff."
"If she does, I'll get it back," Bruce reached over me to shut down the cave for the night. "Stay here while I go change."
I crossed my arms and set my mouth in an angry frown while he changed. Selina came out, wearing black jeans and a hoodie with a large leather bag on her shoulder. She pretended not to notice me as she took out a mirror and checked her makeup.
"You're disgusting," I said low enough so Bruce wouldn't hear.
"I'm a grown woman," she snapped the mirror shut. "You're a boy so of course you think I'm gross. Little boys make jokes about sex and boobies and how women look. Then they turn into men and they want to have sex and touch those boobies and drool over how we look."
"I won't do that," I said.
"Oh, but you will," she hooked a pair of hoops into her earlobes. "Girls will go from being gross to being the only thing you want."
"I've kissed a girl before," I boasted. "And a real kiss, not like a kindergarten one."
"Well, eventually you'll want to do more with her. Bruce may be all prim and proper with you, but he's an animal in bed."
"I don't want to hear that," I made a face.
"Good, you shouldn't. People think everyone should be liberal with sex now, but you should think parents having sex is disgusting. Otherwise something's seriously wrong with you. We were about to do something down here that you shouldn't have to see or hear about. It's private between Bruce and me, not you."
Her honesty surprised me. No adult ever talked to me like that.
"You seem to flaunt around a lot," I ventured. I expected her to tell me to be quiet – Bruce would have already changed the topic.
"Sex and sex appeal are different," she slung the bag back over her shoulder. "I'm gorgeous and men see me as an object that they want. I use that want to get what I want. No one treats me like a real person because I'm pretty. Why should I treat them well when I'm constantly looked at with leering eyes?"
It was confusing to understand. Bruce was hanging up the suit and about to come out. I leaned forward and whispered, "Are you like that with Bruce? Does he treat you like that?"
She smiled, almost softly. "Bruce is different. It's always different with him. He doesn't let me pretend or lie or do anything I usually do. I should hate him, but –"
She stepped back as he came out, dressed in normal clothes.
"Are you both playing nicely?" he asked skeptically.
She gave him a brilliant smile but he gave us both an indulgent look.
"Let's go up."
We rode the lift up and got out on the main floor. Bruce took us both to the kitchen to get something to drink. I had forgotten what a mess the kitchen was in after I had ravaged it for junk food.
Bruce frowned at me over the mess, but he made some tea for all of us. Usually, I didn't like tea, but I supposed that if I got to stay up with the adults I had to have what they were having.
We all sat at the table with steaming cups of tea in front of us, and Bruce finally said, "All right, you can ask her one question. And nothing bad or rude or unpleasant."
"How did you become Catwoman?" I asked.
"That's easy," Selina took a sip of tea. "I died. I was pushed from a ten story building. I died upon impact, but cats came and covered my body. When I woke up, I was in the hospital."
She went on to tell us about how she had healed and how she tracked down the people who had tried to murder her. She didn't say what she did to them, but she went on to tell about living as a cat-woman hybrid."
"The hardest part is water," she admitted. "I want to lick myself clean. I have to force myself to take showers and tell myself that my hair won't fall out."
I wanted to laugh, but a beeping sound went off.
Bruce glanced around. "That's my watch. Where's my watch?"
He looked down at his bare wrist and then up at Selina.
She guiltily pulled her bag towards her. "I'm sorry – force of habit. It was such a nice watch."
"No, it's not a nice watch," he said. "It's the watch that connects to the cave and the sensors I have hidden around the city. That beeping says that someone has broken out of Arkham. Give it to me, Selina."
She clutched her bag even tighter, shaking her head.
"Selina," Bruce's tone scared me, "right now."
"No, no!" she cried out. "No, I won't let you go. That was my part in all of this."
"Yes, I was supposed to keep you away," her lips trembled a little. "I owe Clayface, and he said if I kept you busy tonight, we'd be even. He thought I would lead you on a chase, but I knew I could bring you back here and make love. I grabbed your watch a while ago, but I forgot about it when the kid found us."
"What's Clayface planning?"
"No," two tears spilled down her face, "no, Bruce I won't tell you. I won't ever tell you."
"It's Bane," Bruce stood up. "You only ever get like this when it's Bane."
"No," she jumped up and grabbed his arm, "no, you're not going after them. I'll make you tear me apart before I let you out of this room."
"People are going to get hurt!"
"Then let them!" she was screaming now. "Let them get hurt and save yourself. He broke your back last time. I saw you, lying in that bed. He will kill you this time. I won't let you go."
"Then come with me," Bruce moved up against her. "We can fight him together. I'm stronger with you there – you're deadly with your aim and you can focus on his mask while I subdue him."
Selina dropped her bag on the floor and covered both eyes with her hands. She gave a hoarse sob, but when she finally straightened, her face was set and calm. "We subdue him, but you don't fight him. If he gets too unruly, we call the police to bring in the bombs. They will nuke him before you try to fight him, man to man. That has to be the deal."
"It can be the deal," Bruce nodded. He crouched down to search through her bag for his watch.
Selina looked at me. "And Dick comes too."
Bruce froze. "You're crazy if you think I'm letting him near Bane."
"Not near Bane," she said. "But he can be in the car to alert the police. You have to have him in contact with Alfred. Don't call Alfred until we get close – he told me to never let you near Bane again, and I promised I wouldn't. But I would have promised him anything while you lay in that bed, broken."
Bruce glanced at me, and I just stared back, completely unsure what to do.
"All right," Bruce stood up. "But Selina's going to drive the Batmobile, I'm taking the Batplane, and Dick's on the motorcycle. If we need to get away, we can outride or outfly him on one of those machines."
I still didn't say anything, too sure I was dreaming.
"Your new costume is ready," Bruce said as we got onto the lift. "I had it made and I made the mask myself."
On the second floor of the cave, he took me to a panel built into the wall. With a button pushed, the panel slid back to reveal a green costume with long leggings, a solid breastplate, and cording of black and green. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, after the motorcycle. A black face mask hung above the costume.
"The mask has a built-in radio as well as a direct line to Alfred and the police," Bruce said. "I'm only sorry we can't give Robin's first official mission more prestige."
"I'll be fine," I reached to take the costume off the display. "But now the three of us can down Clayface and Bane."