Dearly Beloved
Chapter 1: Good Morning


A pulsing orb of fire spun slowly in the nothingness of space. Over eons that are but minutes in the cosmic scheme of things (or maybe it's the other way around), Selina realized the ball of fire was her head. Awareness grew slowly. She became aware of absence… there were no city sounds outside the window… there was no warm mass of Whiskers and Nutmeg curled at her ankles… and the throbbing ball of pain was her head…this was not good…

The first system to "come online" was smell. She smelled coffee.

An eye cracked open and saw – BRIGHT – LIGHT - BAD - LIGHT - BAD – SILVER POT - LIGHT - BAD !
Logic circuits were not yet online to connect this bit of sensory data (silver pot) with the previous one (coffee smell) - nor with the next:

"Want some coffee?"

The words had no meaning, but at that primal core of her brain she did perceive that the sound was Batman's voice.

Throbbing head and Batman's voice. Oh, serious shit going on here.

She forced her eyes open again and saw a not-pointyBat-head silhouetted against the BAD BRIGHT LIGHT BAD still streaming through the window.

"Dead?" she asked.

"Tattinger '96," he answered.

"Feels like dead," she croaked.

"Well in that case, Kitten, you've got eight lives left," he chucked. She opened her eyes to see Bruce smirking at some private joke. "Good morning… Mrs. Wayne."


THE DAY BEFORE…

6:04 a.m. Sunrise

The rays of warm sunlight that escaped through the slats of Venetian blind to fall on Dick Grayson's eyelids were not enough to wake him — only enough to dimly transport his subconscious to an earlier time. He was home. Wayne Manor was home now. He'd come to accept that the circus would never be home again. He'd even started accepting the idea that Bruce could be his father without treading on the memory of his real father. In a way, Bruce was his father in this new life, in this new identity – Robin. Batman and Robin. How cool was that! He was a superhero! He fought evil-doers! Well, he wasn't allowed to fight them yet, but that was coming. He had to train more first. And he wasn't allowed to train if he didn't get his grades up….school… Why does it have to be so early? It was never like this at the circus. The tutor was Gretchen, the lion tamer, and she was onstage 'til 10:30 like everybody else on show nights. Class started promptly at noon! Why did these city kids have to start so…

"Rrrly," Dick drooled into his pillow. "Toorrly. Tellem uptll…patrllng…can't schooo t'day."

That's when Alfred would say "Master Dick, you know the rules. If your nighttime activities interfere with a proper school schedule in any way, it is the nighttime activity which will be discontinued," adding quietly when he thought Dick couldn't hear "and a jolly fine thing that would be, too."

When Alfred's voice did not intercede as expected, Dick pulled himself awake… His old room. As he had every day since coming back to the manor, Dick took a deep breath as if expecting to smell bacon and coffee brewing. Smells from the kitchen would never reach to this part of the house, but for some reason, he still expected –WEDDING! Lord God, TODAY- WEDDING – WEDDING TODAY - WEDDING DAY - NOW – HERE –– SHIT!


6:10 a.m.

If you're a Gotham City 'night person', it sometimes happens that you can wake up in a drugged fog and have to piece together just where you are and what's going on. I woke up in just such a fog, minus the drugs. I wasn't in the catsuit…

:Twitterbringngng: :Twitterbringngng:

Whiskers and Nutmeg were curled on my ankles – I was home.

:Twitterbringngng:

But something was definitely happening that I couldn't quite work out.

:Twitterbringngng:

There was that noise.

:Twitterbringngng:

It was… my eyes focused on something next to the bed and, with Herculean effort, I grabbed onto an idea…

:Twitterbringngng:

It was the PHONE.

:Twitterbringngng:

How could this…who could this be?…. who that I know would call at… I didn't even know what that said on the clock…

:Twitterbringngng: :Twitterbringngng:

"Oh for god's sake what do you want?"
Was this the rogue line? No. I rephrased:

"Who are you, and what do you want?"

..:Selina! Panic attack. Help me, girl. Time for estrogen solidarity:..

"Ummh…Wha?"

..:You know that dream where you wake up and there's a history test that you haven't studied for and you're totally unprepared and you've got to go take it right now?:..

"What? No. I don't know that one …I know the one where there's this noise that won't stop and it turns out to be the phone and…who is this again?"

..:Selina, meow! Wake up! It's Barbara!:..

I yawned, swallowed, breathed, and swatted Nutmeg off the phonecord. More awake now, so I managed a (comparatively) friendly: "I don't know a Barbara. Call back in an hour, please."

..:Ha. Ha. Listen, I've been thinking - They had the bachelor party at Bruce's penthouse and Poison Ivy showed up. You don't think there could be any truth in that curse, do you?:..

At this point, I woke up enough to realize what day it was – the Wedding Day – Barbara's special day. Mustn't call a girl a loopy, paranoid headcase on her special day.

"No," I said, "I don't think Ivy hit the party cause it was Bruce's penthouse, I think it was probably because she figured there'd be rich men to ensnare." Including Bruce, which, note to self, I will take up with her at a later date. For now, I swatted Whiskers off the belt of my bathrobe as Barbara went on … something about rose petals…

I could focus on the clock now – it was six o'clock. Six o'clock in the morning - not a time of day we night people routinely deal with, and I'd have to say that, based on my experience with it so far, there's a very good reason for that.

I walked the phone towards the kitchen and stared at the coffee machine. It looked complicated - I didn't think that was going to be happening any time soon. I'd go down to Raoul's Cart in the park as soon as I was off the phone and dressed. Off the phone, the idea echoed. Yeah, speaking of which…

"Look, Barbara, under the circumstances, if it were me, I'd be looking forward to it! Scatter the rose petals and watch people squash'em flat. High spiked heels and all those flower guts oozing out. It should be very therapeutic…. No, I don't think it will remind anybody else about Ivy. Everybody will have other things on their mind like how beautiful you look…" -and, I thought, how big Catwoman's ass looks in those yellow ruffles.


6:20 a.m.

Bruce stood on the stairs of Wayne Manor, staring over the banister at a ringing telephone in the hall. He assaulted it with the same deathscowl he'd direct at gangbangers playing cop-killer rap. The deathscowl could make the lowliest scum look to the skies as though actually sensing the malevolent force of judgment about to descend on them. It could make pushers, mobsters and sociopaths cower in dread.

The telephone merely twittered in cheery defiance.

Bruce hopped over the banister, answering defiance with defiance. He had realized sooner than Dick or Selina what day it was, which made it obvious to the deductive mind why Alfred was not available to answer the phone. Still, he wasn't nearly as awake as his physical manner let on. On the rare occasions he was up at this disgusting time of day, it was for a Wayne Enterprises meeting, and who cared if he was alert for that.

He picked up the receiver.

"Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne speaking."

..:Morning, Handsome:.. the warm voice caressed his ear and, for a split-second, his instinct said Catwoman instead of Selina. Catwoman taunting him back to life from some half-conscious haze. Straddling him on the ground of some alley or hideout, purring threats or hissing propositions into his ear, and playing with the edge of his mask as if, one of these days, she might actually-

..:Orders from General Barbara: If Dick slept there last night, he needs to be out of the house by nine o'clock sharp.:..

Catwoman taunting him out of a half-conscious haze never said anything like that.

..:She has to come over to dress and supervise the setup, and they can't see each other today, it's a rule.:..

On the cold, damp floor of a hideout, her warm body on top of him, he would always murmur something stupid. Old habits were hard to break:

"Huh? Wait. So why are you calling again?"

..: Use your head, would you! What if it was Barbara that called and Dick had answered the phone! :..

Feline logic. There was no arguing with it. Whether the subject was culpability for releasing dangerous criminals as a diversion to pull off a theft or wedding day telephone etiquette, you couldn't win. A man simply could not win.

..: So you'll tell him? :..

"What?"

..: You'll tell Dick to be out of the house by nine. :..

And if God forbid the subject was whether it's possible for a man to be present in a room with a stripper – or a woman posing as a stripper – and not happen to notice that he knows her in another context, even if it's a context where the man is usually focused and observant, that does not necessarily mean it's because he wasn't looking at her face.

..: And that doesn't mean the cave, Barbara was very specific about this, it means out of the house, off the grounds, and completely out of the picture – we don't want any accidents. :…


6:25 a.m.

Dick's Wedding Day realization produced only a few moments of panic, which a hot shower had cured.

He skipped down the stairs, down the hall past the little telephone table - "Morning Bruce" - and turned smartly into the kitchen – when his stomach lurched forward, up, down, then up again.

It was a sense memory - intense and strangely unsettling: Alfred had thoughtfully laid out, on the left of the counter, a pitcher of orange juice and two glasses… beside the juice a bowl of apples behind, a basket of muffins in front. Toast rack. Then a tray of bagels and croissants and a covered dish over a flame: scrambled eggs, bacon, kippers. The Gotham Times, The Daily Planet, two plates, napkins, and utensils. Serve yourself.

It was First Day of School breakfast.

Dick licked his lip absently – not in anticipation of the scrambled eggs, but in reflection. First day of school breakfast – also served the morning of his interview for a summer internship – also served the morning he left for Hudson U. This was Alfred's big day breakfast: Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.

Oh man.

He was frozen in the doorway, so Bruce stepped around him, picked up a plate and took a muffin.

"That was Selina on the phone, you're to be out of the house by nine."

Dick's brow furrowed.

"Are we being evicted?"


7:00 a.m.

..: Did Dick send flowers? :..

"What?" Bruce had again answered the phone, and again couldn't help flashing to Batman for parallels. This time, it wasn't a Catwoman-specific memory so much as that sick feeling when he'd realize he'd just stepped into the same trap twice. Follow the riddle to the train station and ZAP an electric charge stuns him into unconsciousness. Follow the next riddle to the dump and ZAP…
How many times was it going to take for him to learn? All he had to do was stop answering this phone

..: Morning of the wedding:.. Selina was explaining patiently, ..: it's traditional for the groom to send flowers. Did he?:..

"I have no idea."

..: Look, I'm being nice, trying to keep the kid out of trouble. If you don't care enough to do the same-:..

They'd had this conversation before. Back then, she was "being nice" capturing Penguin and leaving him tied up under the Batsignal. And he was expected to show his appreciation by looking the other way while she plundered Tiffany's. What's he supposed to be doing this time?

"I will make sure Dick sends flowers," Bruce intoned wearily.

..:NO! Flowers mean Ivy. You gotta make sure he DIDN'T send flowers. CANCEL IT, if he sent flowers, he's got to cancel it! :..

"Yes, dear," Bruce said sarcastically, beginning to feel that, if he had to be whipped by this woman, the literal method might be preferable.


8:50 a.m.

Dick's Mazda pulled out of the front drive just as a small convoy of catering and florists' vans turned into the rear. These were followed by Mr. Jose's station wagon, Mr. Corry's sedan and, on foot, the French chef Anatole from next door. Anatole felt a special connection with this dear young couple, and no rivalry with Alfred, nor even his near-fatal experience here with that homicidal clown, would dissuade him from giving his services for that magnificent dainty: the wedding cake.

He had constructed pieces for a wondrous confection: a mosaic of cake more complex than the mosques of Istanbul, and at its center, a fountain of champagne.

They would have to be assembled, glued together with marzipan paste here on the site, and Anatole planned to guard his masterpiece in person.

No clumsy caterer would be allowed to upset or upstage this glorious creation. Of that, he would be certain.


9:05 a.m.

If I got caught, Barbara would kill me. But "if I get caught" isn't something I traditionally worry about, and I wasn't about to start now.

I made a call and explained the situation. He was reluctant, so I purred a little. Sometimes it works. I named a dollar figure and he agreed. Halleluiah.


9:10 a.m.

Bruce watched from his study while the parade of workmen marched cartons of alcohol into the Great Hall where the reception would be held. There was one fellow in particular, not doing the lifting but organizing bottles behind the 18th Century demi-mantel moved from the library to act as a bar… yes, a bar … that was Sly, the bartender from the Iceberg Lounge! Sly who worked for the Penguin! What was he doing here? My god, Bruce thought, the curse! What if there really was a curse?

Bruce stepped forward, thinking to question Sly directly, then thought the better of it. This was not a criminal investigation and it wasn't the Iceberg Lounge. If he took action and there was fallout, it wouldn't be a case of "Batman triumphant: Banner day for Arkham admissions office." It would be "The world today saw the rise of new arch-villain Alfred Pennyworth, who single-handedly drove the Caped Crusader out of Gotham City into a hermit's cave in Guadeloupe." For once, he'd have to be circumspect.

First stop was the kitchen, now converted to the war room of a vast military operation by the curious triumvirate of Mr. Corry, Anatole, and Constance Catering, each supervising their own teams of serfs in blue, white, and khaki polo shirts, respectively. Alfred, Bruce was told, had a more private headquarters set up in the butler's pantry. Peeking in, Bruce had the impression of entering the tent of the ranking general.

"Alfred, could I have a minute?"

"Is it urgent, sir?" were the words, although the tone said: "only if you are gushing blood."

"I suppose not."


9:25 a.m.

I pulled into the drive. "The garment" sat on the seat beside me in its special couture bag. Just through the gate with the giant looming W, this little Napoleon of a parking attendant said it was too early; he wasn't set up yet. Oh, but wait, was I the family?

I really had no answer for that, so I showed him the garment. Yellow ruffles. If I wasn't something connected to this event, would I even consider draping myself in yellow ruffles?

He waved me through and I parked in the garage between the Daimler and the Porsche. I don't usually do this. Usually I leave my car in the drive, but today, god knows, they needed the space in front. Still, it felt funny.

Was I "the family," Napoleon had asked? What kind of question was that? How was I supposed to answer something like that: "Well, I've known them all a long time, but it wasn't too friendly, unless you subscribe to the theory that all the fighting was just sublimated sexual tension and we've really been stuck on each other since day one. And I did watch the kid grow up, although I never knew who he was 'til last year. Oh, and the bride and I once had to fight our way out of a training camp for a splinter group of Syrian terrorists and, even if you're technically on opposite sides, that creates quite a bond."

This was stupid.

Was this the kind of crap this day was going to rake up?

When Napoleon asks "Oh, but wait, are you in the family?" I should smile and say "Yes."

Right?


9:30 a.m.

Bruce returned to the Great Hall to learn what he could from Constance "of Constance Catering" as it said beneath her nametag and those of all the khaki-clad workers. She seemed as friendly as a woman can seem holding a clip board, a palm pilot, and a walkie-talkie, but she was clearly too efficient for the playboy approach.

"Morning, Mr. Wayne," called Sly.

"Oh, you're Bruce Wayne," Constance eyed him warily. She had been warned by every society hostess on the Upper East Side not to ever be alone with this man. She had been reassured by his butler that those stories were wildly exaggerated. But, Alfred had added, while Constance should not fear Mr. Wayne as a lothario, she should certainly not let him converse, distract, or interfere with the preparations in any way.

Batman's reading of body language saw her shut down to him. But in case he had missed it, another voice provided narration as Constance "of Constance Catering" walked away.

"Shot down, Hotstuff! Pink Team: 1, Fop: 0"

He turned. Naughty grin… Twitch-smile… And a perfunctory kiss hello. (Was it his imagination or was the kiss a little strained? She couldn't still be mad about Ivy?)

"Morning, Miss Kyle," called Sly.

But before this interruption could remind Bruce of his investigation, he caught a glimpse of color in the bag over Selina's arm.


"Yellow?" he asked. And unless I'm very much mistaken, it was exactly the same voice: 80 percent disapproval/20 percent disbelief, that once asked about the Rothchild Rubies.

I wanted to remind him how fetching he looked wrapped in a bedsheet toga, which was at least in the privacy of my apartment while he waited for clothes to be delivered, not paraded in public before a garden full of strangers.

But before I could say anything, Mr. Corry appeared and insisted – and I mean insisted – that we come look at what was going on in the garden. Mad Hatter, complete with hypno-chip, would be easier to say no to.

"Look at this," Corry demanded, waving his arms like a South American dictator.

I looked. It was a sight that, frankly, invited one of those minimalist, dogmatic bat-declarations: "Going down" or "Don't try."

Unfortunately, Bruce didn't say a word, and Mr. Corry was looking at me. Why? 'cause I was the woman? I wasn't the bride here, it hadn't come to that. But somebody needed to say something. This couldn't be allowed to just be there, looking like that, and get away with it. It was time for justice. It was time for the truth to be spoken:

"It's the wedding from hell," I said flatly.

And it was. Six rows of little gilt chairs faced a clearing with a kind of non-descript altar, and arranged around that were fourteen candelabra of different heights. When they were lit, it would look like Dante's Inferno up there.

"That's what I say," Mr. Corry huffed. "The candles should be at the end of each row of chairs!"

"Okay," I answered.

Bruce's lip twitched.

"Then you can tape a little ribbon on each," Corry explained, pointing.

"Okay," I repeated.

Another twitch.

"Ribbon and perhaps a flower."

"Absolutely," I said.

And – wait for it – yep, there was the twitch.

Mr. Corry stormed off, ready to convey my opinion on the Dante Hellfire Altar to whoever it was that set it up this way. In my peripheral vision, I noted yet another lip-twitch.

"Can I help you?" I turned, fed-up with his smarmy condescending amusement.

"I was just thinking, that's all," Bruce said innocently.

"What?" I demanded.

"You. Just now: 'Okay, okay, absolutely'… That's just how you sound humoring Joker."

I stared. I didn't think that's what he was smirking at, but you can never be sure with him.


9:40 a.m.

"Are we sacrificing somebody?"

Dick emerged from the Garden Maze and eyed the altar with horror. Bruce and Selina turned and said in unison: "You're not supposed to be here."

Dick looked at them.

"You two are scary," he said, then turned back to the altar, "But not as scary as that… That looks like - You remember that voodoo guy? Cult in the sewers?"

Bruce (who, by his own admission, nobody ever called "Mr. Sensitivity") returned to the house, so Dick told Selina about it:

"There was this voodoo guy, staged these ritualistic human sacrifices – releasing the power of the ancient gods to possess the dead bodies or something – real black arts shit - this is what it looked like." He pointed to the altar.

Selina took pity on him, forcing her embarrassment with the wedding details into a corner.

"We'll change it," she promised cheerily. "The candelabra are supposed to go up the sides, at the end of the chairs."

Dick looked skeptical.

"Just two at the altar," she assured him.

He continued to look skeptical.

"With ribbons attached… and a flower… It'll be nice. I promise. I'll make sure they fix it… Dick, stop looking like that. I will personally make sure they fix it, okay? Now get out of here. Scary altar is nothing compared to the scary bad luck if you and Barbara see each other today."


10:00 a.m.

Still no Barbara. Which was odd. No sign of Mr. Corry either since he left to chew ass about the Fire Altar of the Damned. No sign of Bruce, which was just as well cause every time I thought of him – who remained stone-faced in Riddler's redecorated Hatter/Two-Face/Roxy/Ivy/Penguin lair but twitched at a little peek of yellow silk - I got an itch to claw something.

Speaking of which, Steve arrived. This was the winner who had brought Poison Ivy to the bachelor party, and only Aunt Kate believed his story that Ivy got to him as soon as his plane touched down in Gotham. I know what Pammy is capable of, and she's certainly capable of that as far as foresight and seduction. But if it were that simple, it would have been only the women's side of the bridal party that was pissed at him. But the guys were freezing him out too – and that meant they knew something. "If he was completely innocent from the start," Barbara declared, "they'd stick together. But they're not. They're mad at him for getting them in trouble. Q.E.D. he was in full control of himself when he decided to bring Dick a red-headed stripper."

Steve, I should mention, was already wearing his tuxedo. He was, I learned, afraid to change clothes with the other groomsmen – not because of their presumed hostility after the Poison Ivy Affair, but because of a grand tradition of pranks in his and Dick's college dorm. Pranks involving Bengay and jockey shorts.

That's Bengay! And jockey shorts!

When I think of the times Nightwing has put on that sanctimonious tsk-tsk act: harming your fellow man, having a little compassion for other human beings! Bengay in jockey shorts, Richard! Find me ONE ROGUE who has EVER come up with ANYTHING that perversely wicked!

Well, much as I would have loved to sit around and learn more guilty secrets from ol' Stevo, I had a guest to smuggle in.

On my way through the kitchen, the chef from next door with the funny name I can never remember (Anatole! that's it, Anatole) stopped me. He said Mr. Corry was busy with Mr. Jose (of the House of Shri – originator of the yellow ruffles – speaking of the itch to claw someone), and of course he couldn't ask Alfred for help (What the deal is with those two, I don't know - and as Harvey once said when the subject of Batman and Catwoman was raised: I don't need to know, I don't want to know).

So anyway, Anatole couldn't ask Alfred; so could I please show him where the dinner would be served because he needed to set up the cake? I took him to the Great Hall where they were just about done setting the tables. He had a high-pitched hissyfit about something so important that mere English was inadequate: the traffic patterns – guests wouldn't be able to see - waiters upsetting his great creation – and all in a rapid-fire patter that made you think THIS is what Gilbert and Sullivan would have sounded like if they wrote in French.

The sixth sense quivered, and I perceived a familiar, silent, unassailable (but benevolent) force of nature standing behind me, watching, waiting, listening - and poised to come to the rescue.

"If I may, Miss," Alfred intoned quietly, "A display of the gifts is set up in that alcove. If we place the cake on a table beside it, all the guests will surely be able to admire it on their way in and out of that room."

Salvation. I left Alfred and Anatole to work out the details (still no Barbara?) and returned to the kitchen…but there was DICK, letting in my special, secret guest.

"Mr. Kittlemeier! What are you doing here?" Dick asked, bewildered.

"Ze better queztion is vat are you doing here, Young Man. Eet iz very bad for groom to zee bride before vedding, everyone knows thiz."

"Everyone except Mr. The-manor-is-cursed-and-we're-all-doomed," I interjected."Dick, what are you still doing here?"

Dick turned to me.

"It still looks likes the Well of Souls out there,"he announced, pointing out the door towards the garden.

"And I said I will get it changed. DICK, WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE?!"

"I need my suit," he answered. "It's up in my room."

The kitchen door swung open and Bruce peeked in, telephone in hand.

"It's Reverend Geoff," he announced, "Did we reach a consensus on 'obey'?"

Now, you see, in the past week, as this "happy event" loomed closer and closer, it had swallowed up every spare minute of, shall we call it, "non-bat conversation" in, around, and below the Wayne household. I'd done my best to avoid these conversations—and that little trick was right up there with avoiding the heat sensors at the bullion depository—but I had at least managed to remove myself from anything that could be construed as a decision about the process of spiritually and contractually joining two previously free and independent souls into one binding unit 'til death do they part—and I had especially avoided this subject matter in Bruce's presence, let alone, god forbid, actually talking TO him—and if I didn't take a breath soon, I was going to pass out…

Breeeaaattthhheee.

I had, as I said, avoided this – particularly with Bruce. But some things you don't let pass. The man inside Batman and I were finally going to have a conversation about a wedding issue and that issue (what did I do to deserve this!) was the blessed vows!

I turned as coolly as possible and pronounced my view:

"I think we can omit that part. And hey, if that goes well, maybe one day women will be able to vote and own land."


...to be continued...