Times Gone By
"But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne."
--Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne
Tim and Stephanie were not prone to the angst-ridden tribulations of the older couples. It was New Year's Eve and their conversation was devoted to the most famous song no one knows the words too: Auld Lang Syne.
Robin had won the toss and he and Spoiler were stationed in a prime position overlooking Gotham Plaza, while the others patrolled less interesting parts of the city.
At 12:01, Robin indulged in the common dating maneuver of quoting famous movies. In particular, Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally, 1989: "What does this song mean? My whole life, I don't know what this song means…"
It would have brought at least a chuckle from any girl in Gotham - except Stephanie Brown, whose father was the Cluemaster and whose mother was a teacher of English Literature and of Scottish descent. Her parents' disparate interests in obscure trivia, Celtic pride, and a fierce admiration of the poet Burns meant that Steph was able to provide from memory the original 18th Century transcription and a modern translation of all four verses of the classic song.
"It means Times Gone By."
"Isn't that Casablanca?" Robin asked.
"That's AS Time GOES By."
"Oh. Well anyway…"
"We sing: 'Take a cup of kindness yet for times gone by.'"
"Most people I know sing dum-dum-de-dum-dum-DUM-dedum, FOR AU-ULD LAND SYNE-."
"Then the next verse, the friends take hands and drink 'a right guid-willie waught.'"
"Mm. Very interesting. So anyway…"
"…which'd be a drink. My Mum'd say that's a mite more important in the highlands than a cup'o'kindness."
"Got it, 'a right guid-willie waught.' So ANYWAY – looks like the crowd's thinning out down there."
" -But seas between us braid hae roar'd, Sin auld lang syne… "
"We're singing now? Steph, I was just making a joke."
"Means -Seas between us, broad, have roared, since Times Gone By- …"
The world of the Batman was complicated with a variety of wildly-clad, hyperactive characters with sinister intentions. Alfred's world was not and he planned to keep it that way.
He was happy – no man more so – that Dick and Barbara had at last taken the great step of becoming engaged. But that did not call for the introduction into their lives of a wildly-clad, hyperactive character with sinister intentions. That did not call for the introduction of Mr. Corry.
Mr. Corry was a wedding planner. A Wedding Planner. A dark foreboding shuddered through his system at the mere thought of the words. Dear Miss Gordon, she was an outsider in the world of old Gotham society. She didn't know yet, poor thing. Things like that were not done, not at this level.
Dick might be a Flying Grayson, the former Robin, and Nightwing the scourge of Bludhaven, but he was also the son of Bruce Wayne… of the East Egg Waynes… Thomas's boy, and Martha's, who was a Van Giesen and a cousin to the Bassets.
There were forms to be observed. It was that simple.
Alfred expected resistance on this point from the younger generations that didn't think such things mattered. He expected it from Barbara; he expected it from Dick, and he expected it from Bruce – Bruce who thought nothing of disgracing his family name, appearing as a fop and a rake at the slightest provocation.
Well, Alfred got the expected resistance from Barbara. And from Dick, although that didn't count. For as the boy was soon to discover, the groom's opinion on any subject from the dress to the seating arrangements ranks right up there with that of the family dog.
But Alfred was pleased to find an unexpected ally in Bruce. Bruce wanted to make a fuss. He hadn't been much of a father to Dick, especially since the boy had grown up. No support for his transition from Robin to Nightwing, no show of pride for his leadership of the Titans. It was time to make amends, and this was how he would do it: a big announcement, a big party, a big splash – something to make the papers and set the social world on its ear. Dick was his son, and Bruce Wayne was going to say so in as grand and public a manner as possible. So there.
The more Alfred hovered around the murmured conversations about flowers, music and color schemes, the more encouraging glances he perceived from Bruce. When Alfred ventured to cough at a particularly objectionable suggestion, he perceived a nod from his employer. When he actually suggested to Barbara that he be allowed to make some calls of inquiry, he saw an out and out smile from Bruce. By New Year's Day, the name of Mr. Corry was heard no more at Wayne Manor, and Alfred was firmly in command of the Gordon-Grayson nuptials.
No one involved in this glittering but unremarkable story so far could realize that Talia Head, a.k.a. Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ra's Al Ghul The Demon's Head, had long ago put feelers in place to notify her if someone at Wayne Manor ever made the inquiries Alfred was now making about diamond solitaires, tiered cakes, engraved invitations, photographers, flowers, musicians, caterers, and couturiers…
January 2nd, A-minus 19
Dick sorted through an unusually thick stack of mail. He'd spent days at a time in Gotham before…
bill, bill, bill
…just not recently. There must have been this much mail waiting for him in the past…
flyer, bill, 500 free hours of AOL, Christmas card from "Aunt Kate" (do I have an Aunt Kate?)
he just didn't remember it that way since he'd been confining himself to the family dinner/patrol, one-night-only visits.
The drive back to Bludhaven was quiet time, time alone in his head, the first chance he'd had to really think since popping the question. It didn't happen the way he'd planned it. It wasn't a story they could tell their friends; they'd have to fabricate something suitably romantic later. More lies. There was no aspect of their lives that wasn't tied up in lies and cover stories. Sometimes it bothered him. But at least it was done. He and Barbara were engaged to be married.
Dick wasn't aware that he'd had 'expectations' until they weren't met. It took so much to work himself up to that proposal. It was the first time letting go of the trapeze, the first time putting on the mask as Robin, first time having sex, nothing was supposed to be the same after that. But he was the same. Barbara was the same. It was kind of surprising. They had lots more to talk about now. Stupid as it sounded, he hadn't fully realized to get to married you have to go through the wedding. (And he sure didn't realize what the wedding entailed.) Yes, they had a lot to talk about now, but they were still Dick and Barbara, and the way they were together hadn't really changed.
1000 hours of AOL plus free digital camera!…
… and a slip of blue paper:
"Dick, Not alone this week are you? Come have a slice of plum pudding at your neighbor's. Clancy"
And another one:
"Guess you had plans. Merry Christmas Dick. Clancy"
Then a coupon book, a W2, and another sheet of blue. This one smelled faintly of red wine:
"I get it you're in Gothham. Give 'em all my best best– well you can't do that because you'll be back when you read this. Clanc"
"If you're back, come have a glass of champagne with your neighbor. Happy New Year. Clancy."
It was a flirtation – a harmless flirtation. She was his landlady, she happened to live next door, she was about his age – but it didn't mean anything. It was just fun. Why do people have to assume any contact between an unattached male and female is some big romantic thing? Hell-o-hell-o-hell… People do get sentimental on the holidays though, don't they? And lonely. Oh man. He had to fix this…
January 3rd, A-minus 18
"Here it comes," Selina whispered, "the death rattle."
On the stage far below, the vengeful princess Amneris, third side of the most powerful love triangle in opera, pleaded (in Verdi's most intense writing for a mezzo-soprano) with the Egyptian priests to spare her lover Radames, whose fate she had already sealed in a fit of jealousy over his love for Aida.
"Selina's Operatic Rule #4: whoever make a noise like that will not be getting the guy in the end."
Bruce smiled. It was the last act, and the couple had relocated at intermission. He noted with amusement that, while Selina understood opera well and was clearly enjoying it very much, she did not approach it with the reverence of a typical opera fan. She would whisper only occasional comments in the theatre, but here on the roof she was free to let herself go.
Here on the roof… It wasn't so very long ago that he met her here as Batman.
It was a crazy risk to take, unlike him – inviting her like that.
You always get to pick the time and place. That's patently unfair.
9PM. Roof of the opera house.
I'll be there if you will, unless a real crime intervenes.
Inviting her to meet in costume but off the clock, so to speak. No crime for either of them to hide behind. How did he ever manage to do it? How did he ever pull himself out of the quagmire of guilt, denial and self-righteous posturing he'd worked himself into?
"I am vengeance, I am justice, I am…in desperate need of a personality transplant."
That was how. Her show – where she'd said it out loud: they wanted each other. She said it out loud, and the universe didn't collapse on itself. Then that strange epilogue at the museum. He said it. Well not exactly, but he'd said "This isn't a burglary, it's a date." He alluded openly to the fact that he was a man and she was a woman and there was something between them that had nothing to do with bats, cats, or crime. And again the universe didn't implode. He smiled at her that night – and the gaping void of nothingness didn't rise like a great anti-matter serpent and swallow the cosmos whole.
That was all it took: that little pin-prick. That led to the note, which led to this very roof, which led to all the rest.
"She has the audacity to act disappointed now,Selina was narrating again. The defeated Amneris mourned over the sealed tomb in which Radames was buried alive and where his true love, Aida, had hidden herself in order to die with him.
"Remind you of any jealous deranged hypocrites you know?" she added, but that wasn't why Bruce grimaced. He was remembering this duet from that night – "Nice choice of music for a first date, stud."
It sure was: Rigoletto, Traviata, Aida, La Forza del Destino, Un Ballo in Maschera. All the loves sung of that night ended badly. What a spectacularly bad omen for a first date. Well not exactly a date, and not exactly their first – but still.
January 6th, A-minus 15
Dick's hands shook. Nightwing! Black Belt! Acrobat since age 4! Trapeze artist since age 6! And his hands shook trying to dial the freaking phone. He had to talk to Barbara – or maybe Bruce first. Get some advice from the more experienced thoughtless playboy asinine womanizer shithead – he had to fucking fix this.
"Your decorator called."
After leaving those four heart-breaking notes over the holidays, that was Clancy's sole comment when she saw him again. Not the slightest reference to plum pudding, Gotham, or New Year's Eve. "Your decorator called."
He didn't have a decorator.
"From Gotham. Getting mighty fancy on us, Mr. Dick. Getting a bigshot city decorator."
...to be continued...