Chapter 8: Thou Two-Faced Jerkwad Thou
The lines of magic shift and phase simultaneously through our world and a thousand other planes of existence. There is an elegant simplicity to the patterns they weave, linking time-space with other realities.
After a few decades practicing the magickal arts, a seasoned practitioner like Miriam Nash will learn to sense if those patterns shift or falter from some disturbance. But even an experienced witch like Miriam will seldom know the nature of the disturbance. The sense comes naturally from years channeling the magickal force, but learning to interpret it can take many lifetimes.
Still, as she tidied the backroom at the Curiosity Shop, Miriam tried to make sense of what she was experiencing. Ever since the tumult in the park began, there had been concentrated waves of disturbance. It was like a neighbor blasting a stereo. The magickal plane was in turmoil, but by now she was becoming accustomed to the constant din. She tried to “listen” for anything familiar. Selina and Lois were using her incantation to summon Hella, and she would recognize the patterns of her own magicks. When they began, she felt it distinctly. It was as if, in the midst of the neighbor’s blasting stereo, in the bewildering din of hiphop, she could pick out the strains of a favorite Mozart concerto. They were calling Hella. That comfortable recognized rhythm of her own magick grew stronger when they got through. It quickened and glowed with triumph when another magick, presumably Hella’s, began reverberating in a complimentary cadence… not only had they made contact with the goddess of the underworld, they had convinced her.
What was once a simple clearing in Robinson Park now resembled a battlefield. Batman had positioned himself on Janus’s back between the wings, enraging the demon like an itch he couldn’t scratch, the reinforced cape tied like a gag across the demon’s twin mouths, silencing his chanting. Without Janus’s protective mantra, the gargoyles could not reform themselves as they came, one by one, too close to a great cyclone in the center of the action and were ripped into an explosive blast of debris.
The last gargoyles destroyed themselves with a desperate, futile lunge at the heart of the tempest… then a figure walked through the whirring wall of the twister with the casual air of one walking through a doorway. It was a woman, her body pink and alive from the waist up, dead and rotting from the waist down. She paused once she completely cleared the funnel, directing a quick sort of shrug towards the whirlwind behind her. To Batman, well-versed in reading body language, it seemed like amused acknowledgement for a favorite pet’s trick: oh look, the doggy is walking on his hind legs.
Superman, seeing that the gargoyles were no more, slowed then stopped his frenzied spiral and let the cyclone disperse. As he stopped, he noticed the small fire caused by Ivy’s sudden collapse (thanks, Lois) into the candles. A quick blast of Superbreath extinguished the flame before it could reach Ivy’s unconscious body. He returned his attention to the figure that had strolled untouched through his tornado.
The woman continued her slow but direct progress towards Janus. When she got close enough, Batman could see that half of her face was lovely, half ugly and misshapen. This, he knew from his research into Norse mythology, would be Hel, goddess of the underworld. When she reached Janus, her eyes flared red, looking like Superman’s when he used his heat vision. There was no beam or sense of warmth, but the cape incinerated, sending Batman tumbling backwards onto the ground behind Janus, as the demon cried “My own!” joyously from the mouth nearest Hella the moment it was freed.
“Your… what?” Hella inquired while Superman flew to Batman’s side. He was about to brief Batman on all he had heard going on inside the cyclone, but Batman held up a hand for silence and watched Hella intently. There was something about that tone, “Your… what?” It was familiar. “Cat stuff… You don’t have a lot of cat stuff around your apartment. I always figured you would.” “Well, this isn’t a hideout; this is my home.” Translation: You just said something wrong; you need to figure out what and fix it. Quickly.
“My own, my Hella, my beauteous one…”
“I am unaware, Janus, of when I became that which could be owned.”
“But my darling…”
Batman almost shook his head.
“What’s going on?” Superman whispered.
“My,” Batman murmured, barely audible from behind closed teeth. “She doesn’t like the possessive. He doesn’t get it. He keeps hammering away at it.”
The two heroes looked past Janus, still positioned closest to them… they looked to Hella, standing just in front of him on the other side… then beyond in a straight line behind her to the three women: Ivy—picking herself off the ground… Lois—keeping her eye on Superman… and Selina—her eye trained most definitely on Hella—who had finished the preamble and was now on a roll.
“…never needed thy help, never asked for thy help, and thou certainly, by Freja’s golden chariot, never stopped to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I never wanted thy infernal help.”
“But this is all for you, my eternal love. It is not ‘help’; it’s a gift! I was called to right the wrong, and there was no greater wrong than—”
“A gift. A GIFT? What manner of gift be six thousand Berserkers that became irrelevant at the Battle of Vigrid nine eons past? What manner of JACKASS would think I have need of warriors now? What purpose can there be in such a gift but to indebt the receiver—That is not only a low trick, it is an obvious and insulting one to the daughter of Loki, greatest Trickster of the seven realms!”
The women weren’t actually nodding along, but the air of satisfaction from the grouping behind Hella was unmistakable.
“I refuse thy ‘gift,’ Janus. No inducement will persuade me to accept the burden thou tries to heap upon me disguised as a love-token. Thou canst depart this sphere whenever thy may wish. Return to watching the lower beings of the Third Circle play that idiotic game with the porcine bladder, if thou so chooses.”
“Or perhaps, instead of trying to impress me with misguided tokens of affection, thou couldst perhaps listen! As if any number of warriors—and, incidentally, the Dark Mortal is the only one among them that seems to have any ability beyond the Berserkund—as if any number of warriors could equal a little patience and understanding—”
“PATIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING?!? All I’ve ever shown you is patience! Infinite cursed patience and yet all you do is talk about how miserable you are! How lousy things have been for you since the fated day on the final fields!”
“If all I have done is given voice to my grief, it is because I have had precious else to speak of. The Yellow One at least pretended to care about my troubles.”
“Here we go.”
“He of the ochre-leather skin and eyes of infernal fire—”
“Infernal fire, my left wing! Etrigan is a vile insult to all trueborn sons of Hell! Bonded to a human pestilence by his own half-breed relation, he’s gone mad, I tell you. He’s gone native! He is a revolting affront to all that is ignoble in the netherworld—”
“Etrigan understood me!!!” Hella screamed, “Choosing thee over him was the worst mistake I ever made, thou— thou— thou—”
“Two-faced jerkwad!” Ivy prompted from behind.
Hella considered this. She had no idea what a ‘jerkwad’ might be, but it sounded right.
“Verily,” she pronounced, glaring at Janus.
“Well it’s too late now, Mistress!” Janus yelled. “‘Eternally
bonded,’ remember? I have done nothing but serve you since the
beginning of time, and this is to be all the thanks I get?!”
Batman and Superman—or to be more accurate, Bruce and Clark—winced. For all the mortal-bashing these demonic invaders had done since their arrival, neither of the insignificant mortal insects would have stepped into that one. Behind Hella, the women’s reaction was immediate and unambiguous: See, there it is! ‘After all I’ve done for you!’
The ground began to tremble slightly, and again Hella’s eyes glowed red. “The mortal sisters were right about thee,” she declared with a withering stare. “Thou forgets thyself, Bifrons. The Roman mortals might have called thee Janus and thought thee a god—a minor god—of doorways. Heh. But we both know thy true nature and thy true stature. Legions of dark beings thy may command but I am not one of them. I am Hella of Nifelheim, and I declare—”
“You would pull rank on me—”
“I declare the Berserkergang released from their enchantment.”
“—on ME! You ungrateful slut!”
“I restore those gargoyles made in the image of the lower beings to their places on the buildings of the human city.”
“I want your obnoxious Midgarde knickknacks out of the Fifth Circle by the blood moon, or by Neron—”
“I restore life to this park that thy ill-conceived enchantments has razed so disgracefully.”
“That stupid Viking scrollwork on absolutely everything—”
With a wave of her hand, Hella of Nifelheim, goddess of the Underworld, opened a large swirling portal in the ground. She stepped into the center of its circle, mystical energy dancing across her feet, and turned back to Janus.
“And I will tell Etrigan what you said about him.”
“What just happened?” Superman whispered as soon as Hella’s form had dissipated and disappeared down into the swirling void of the portal.
“Hell hath no fury…” Batman responded, his eyes never leaving Janus for a moment. Around them, the black fog that had filled the park started swirling down into the void as well.
Clark turned to look at his friend for a moment and noticed that strange twitching at the side of Batman’s mouth. “Was that a joke?”
“Of course not,” Batman replied flatly. Before Superman could say anything else, Janus suddenly howled—millennia of frustration, anger and rage pouring out from both mouths simultaneously.
The demon wheeled on the three women standing amidst the scattered remains of the summoning circle.
“YOU!” Janus bellowed, stepping toward the trio. “You three are the cause of this!”
“36-B,” Batman grunted and both heroes sprung into action. Superman was instantly hovering in front of Janus, his arms folded sternly over his chest.
“It’s over, Janus. Time for you to go home.”
A derisive snort escaping his nostrils, Janus swatted at the interfering, brightly clad gnat. Superman could have easily deflected or dodged the blow, but instead, took it square in the chest and sailed up out of the park like a homerun ball headed for the upper deck. Janus’s swing hadn’t been that powerful and, in fact, Superman had to add a bit of power to his trajectory in order to clear the first row of buildings outside the park and disappear beyond the horizon of the cityscape.
The eyes in Janus’s rear face, still blurry from the smoke-bomb earlier, registered movement behind him and a second later, he felt something like a tap on his lower back, just above his tail. He’d barely registered the glass capsule exploding against his hide, but the acid began to eat through his skin like a swarm of burning maggots.
Howling again, Janus spun toward Batman, who was standing with his arms across his chest in much the same posture Superman had been in only moments before.
“Insufferable worm!” Janus snarled as he stepped back toward Batman.
Janus hadn’t even heard the word as he stomped closer, his giant maw snapping violently.
A faint sound rolled across the sky—a light crack, followed by a low rumble that sounded like distant thunder. A demon long-used to the continual dull roar of the Underworld’s eternal fires, Janus barely registered the noise.
Batman heard it and knew exactly what it was: Clark, breaking the sound barrier out over the Atlantic as he raced back toward the city. And the park.
At the end of the countdown, just as Janus was swinging his massive taloned hand at the meddlesome mortal, Batman dropped to the ground and a giant red blur streaked in at incredible speed, right through where he had been standing. Superman planted both fists in Janus’s midsection and instantly rocketed him straight up into the air, not slowing down until they were in the upper part of the ionosphere.
“Show’s over,” Superman dictated, grabbing the surprised demon by his massive throat. “You lost. You want to throw a tantrum about it, fine.”
Superman spun the giant beast around and grabbed him by the base of his wings, tilting them both forward until they were hovering parallel, facing the ground several hundred miles below.
“But not on my planet!”
With a sudden burst of energy, they were in motion again, streaking back toward the surface. Janus squirmed, trying to release himself from the Man of Steel’s grip to no avail.
As they approached the ground, Superman caught sight of the mystical fog over Robinson Park, swirling around the portal like a miniature hurricane. He aimed for the center of the funnel, pressing harder, increasing speed.
At the last possible second, Superman released his grip and looped up skyward as Janus tumbled, howling in rage, into the portal. By the time Superman had slowed his momentum and returned to the park, the last of the fog sucked down into the portal and the magical gate closed itself.
Batman was just finishing a hurried conversation on the communicator in his cowl as Clark touched down beside him.
“Emergency crews are on their way to handle the civilians,” Batman explained.
“Well that was certainly… different,” Superman stated flatly. Batman grunted in the affirmative as Catwoman and Lois strolled nonchalantly up to them.
“You lost your cape, Handsome,” Catwoman purred teasingly. The tilt of her head as she eyed his upper body made it quite clear that she liked the look.
Batman grunted again, glancing back and forth between her and Lois. He glanced between them at the scattered remains of their summoning paraphernalia in the clearing behind them, noting the conspicuous absence of their third party member.
“That’s not all I lost.”
Considering the fact that all her beloved plantlife was inside the park, and all that awaited her outside were abandoned hansom cabs, concrete sidewalks, a row of hotels, and beyond that only the noise and suffocating congestion of midtown rush hour, the speed of Ivy’s exit would have shocked anyone who knew her. She had staggered awkwardly here and there as she reassessed the quickest path to the open air of Gotham, and only when she reached the promenade at the South Exit, clearing the boundary that was so recently a wall of black fog, did she pause to assume a more dignified carriage.
Comparatively dignified. There were limits, after a day like this, of what even a goddess could manage.
She needed somewhere to get away from all of this. Somewhere to relax. Somewhere quiet. Harley sometimes talked about a spa. Thoughtless girl, half of those places gave you “relaxation” by grinding up the rarest and dearest of her green babies into some kind of paste, then rubbing you down with the oozing guts squished out from poor defenseless plants. No, no, no. She couldn’t fight those battles now; she needed rest. She needed somewhere that she didn’t have to worry about bad magic, stupid men or even her suffering babies… somewhere safe…
“She’s where?” Batman growled in disgust.
“Arkham,” Superman replied. “Checked herself in, apparently.”
Batman grunted, staring from his perch on top of the Gotham Banking & Trust Building down into Robinson Park. The park was crawling with rescue crews, police, public works crewmen and a swarm of reporters. But it was the two large units of soldiers in Army fatigues carrying machine guns that held Batman’s attention. Superman followed his friend’s gaze to the closest cadre of soldiers standing guard at the southwest entrance to the park.
“National Guard?” the Man of Steel asked.
Batman confirmed. “Luthor’s asserting himself again. Sending ‘his boys’ into my city. Just to show me that he can.”
“Bruce, did you ever stop to consider that maybe the President’s intentions were altruistic?”
Bruce shot him a quick sideways glance, noting the barely contained smile creeping across Clark’s lips, then returned his attention to the park below. “Now who’s the one making jokes.”
There was a slight commotion on the fire escape. “Now just put your foot onto the ledge and give me your weight.” Selina’s voice. Then Lois’s, “My heel is stuck in the grate.” “I said not to put your weight down.” “I don’t see why I have to do this.” “You’re off the sidelines now, Lois. This is where the action is.”
One of the inherent benefits of working so closely together for so many years is a mutual understanding of the other’s thoughts. Bruce and Clark’s eyes met in a moment of silent, absolute communication bordering on telepathy, both agreeing that this would be the last time the “World’s Finest” team functioned as a quartet.
“Whatever happened to the idea of a Lo—damn, those were Italian—Preservation Society?” “You don’t need one. Maybe you can start one for Ivy.” “Man, what a high-strung prima donna she turned out to be.”
“Something we can do for you ladies?” Superman asked, assuming the crossed arms position in which he’d confronted Janus.
Catwoman ignored him and walked to the edge of the roof, peering into the park.
“National Guard?” she asked without turning her gaze.
“Yes,” Batman growled.
“Bastard,” she declared, “Just to show us he can.”
Superman looked very slowly from Catwoman back to Batman, who used virtually the same words seconds before. He tried to control the light smile threatening to spread across his face at this latest example of two people so perfectly matched.
Along with the ability to summon and cajole extra-planar beings, it seemed that Lois had somehow acquired a knack for reading minds. Because she suddenly elbowed her husband in the ribs, telling him silently to knock it off.
“So Luthor’s flexing his Commander-in-Chief muscles again,” Lois said, ignoring the ‘innocent’ stare from her husband as she strolled to the edge of the roof to look down at the scene below. “Is this really a surprise to any of us? He’s probably seeing to it right now that he gets credit for stopping this ‘threat to the American Public’s safety.’”
“Or finding a way to blame all of this on him,” Batman added, nodding in Clark’s direction.
“Yes, he’s been doing that more and more recently,” Clark agreed, already seeing the ‘Was Superman to Blame?’ headlines in his mind.
“I keep telling you it’s high time you took him down for good,” Lois chided, the distaste for all things Luthor apparent in her voice.
Superman bristled. “And I keep telling you that we cannot involve ourselves in the political affairs of this or any country…”
“Blah, blah, blah,” Lois dismissed him, not wanting to get into this argument all over again.
“It’s too late now,” Batman added with finality. “Any plan to oust Luthor from the Presidency would take years to plan and execute. By the time it was ready, he’d already be out of office.”
It was a lie, they all knew. Each of them knew, or at least suspected, that Batman already had a plan—probably more like six—to take Luthor down in ways that could never be traced back to anyone in the superhero community. Clark wouldn’t even be surprised if the groundwork was in place for a few of them already.
But Batman was in complete agreement with Superman on the issue. The second they crossed that line, the second they started taking action against the democratic decision of a free people—misguided or not—they stopped being Protectors and took that dangerous step toward Rulers. And that was a step that Batman would never allow. The message of Batman’s statement was clear: End of Discussion.
“At least everyone is safe and the crisis is over,” Superman announced, taking Batman’s cue and changing the subject back to the events of the day. He placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders, squeezing gently. “Though I’m still not entirely certain how…”
Lois turned, taking her husband’s hands in her own and tugging him toward the center of the roof. “C’mon, Smallville, I’ll explain it to you on the way back to the hotel. And don’t worry, I’ll use small words…”
Superman stared at her in mock disgust, then picked her up in his arms. He and Batman traded another silent look. They never said Thank You, they never patted each other on the back or commiserated over a job well done—it was never needed. They had done exactly what had needed to be done and that was that.
“Miss Lane,” Superman finally replied, “no need to dumb it down on my account.” With that, he took off into the sky, his wife in his arms, and disappeared over the cityscape.
“I’d give a lot to hear how she explains Good Will Humping,” Selina said once they were finally alone. Then she changed the subject abruptly back to the discussion Batman had declared at an end. “So you wait and let Luthor self-destruct.” It was Catwoman’s Rule #8: ‘Because he says so’ is not a reason to do/not do anything. Make sure he knows this. “He will self-destruct soon enough, I guess. All that hubris, he’s bound to trip over it sooner or later.” She glared down again at the National Guard troops. “But I really hope it’s sooner.”
Batman grunted and stared a moment more at the soldiers below, letting Selina’s words hang in the air. A familiar sting raced across his thigh—another returning scar—but he grunted that away as well. In the heat of battle, he’d pushed away the pain, drowning the returning wounds in a sea of adrenaline. Now that the fight was over, the pain returned but he managed to keep it mostly hidden.
He finally turned away from the park and looked directly at her. A strange, lengthy silence passed between them as he found his mouth trying to form the words. She had done a remarkable job today. He’d sent her off on a fact-finding mission, to discover what had happened and try to find a method to reverse it. In a sense, it was a simple expedient to get her away from the park, away from the battle, away from the danger. But not only had she found the information he’d been looking for, she’d rendered a solution, devised a plan and executed that plan to perfection.
Bruce knew that, although this wasn’t her normal milieu, there had been times in the past that she’d come through for him, for all of them. And she’d done it again today—she’d faced insurmountable odds, stared danger in the face and fixed a problem that wasn’t even her responsibility to fix. He wanted to thank her.
But Batman didn’t thank anybody. Not Nightwing. Not Oracle. Not any of his cohorts in the Justice League. Not even Clark. It just wasn’t done.
Selina watched him curiously for a moment, knowing the battle going on in his brain. She flashed her sly smile and sauntered up to him, pressing in dangerously close as her hand danced across the emblem on his chest.
“Don’t strain yourself, Stud,” she purred seductively. She playfully nipped his lower lip with her teeth, then turned and launched herself off the far end of the roof, her whip uncoiling as she went.
Batman peered over the roof, watching her lithe form twist and dance as she hopped from rooftop to fire escape. The twitchsmile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
He pulled the grapnel gun from his belt, turning instinctively toward the Grupnel building and taking aim. He froze and stared out across the barrel of the device, his eyes locking onto his target.
The gargoyle of Blostiban.
After a moment’s hesitation, he shifted the grapnel and fired, the metal claw gripping into the stone lip of the roof next to the gargoyle’s feet, and he swung out into the early evening air.
Martha Wayne used to call it the Sun Room. Large bay windows took up most of the eastern wall, affording a spectacular view of the east grounds and the woods beyond. As the morning sun peeked over the tops of the trees, the light would pour in through the windows and cast the entire room in a soft, warm glow.
Bruce sat motionless in the lotus position on a mat in the middle of the room. He always found the room to be the perfect meditation space. Though it seemed crammed in between the great library and the eastern dining room, the Sun Room somehow seemed detached from the rest of the manor—a silent, relaxing space.
He focused on the thin gentle lines of smoke flowing from a burning stick of incense.
The dark sandalwood scent filled his nostrils as he stared at the smoke line and tried not to notice the way smoke curled at the tip… tried not to notice it open into a spiral as it dispersed just like the void where Hella made her exit.
Magic. It was worse than feline logic.
Leave it to magic to re-fracture and re-herniate his vertebrae in the middle of a battle. A powerful sigh forced itself through the controlled exhale of his Ki breathing, decimating the thin slow line of smoke curling up from the incense. It reformed itself a moment later, right before Bruce’s eyes, and he glared at it with Batman’s most malevolent stare. What a metaphor. A few seconds’ disruption and all was set right again. That was magic’s attitude. No harm done. As if it was as simple as a few seconds’ paralysis.
He closed his eyes and took another deep breath, small beads of sweat collecting on his shoulders, rolling lazily down his naked back, zig-zagging over the scars and ridges, and finally getting soaked up by the waistband of his sweatpants. The morning sun danced across his back muscles as they twitched, another small cut opening across his left shoulder blade, then closing again in a perfectly formed scar. He exhaled slowly, clearing his mind of all other thoughts except the pattern of the returning scars. They were almost done, he knew now as he thought backward through the history of his wounds.
Another inhale brought a strange but familiar scent tingling into his nostrils. Lavender-Vanilla-Tearose.
“Good morning, Kitten,” he greeted without opening his eyes.
“Good morning, Handsome,” Selina replied softly. She watched him quietly, his whole body radiating in the glow of the room. She couldn’t help the small jolt in her own stomach as she saw a large cut suddenly open across his arm, then slowly close itself back up.
He’d finally relented the night before and told her about the returning scars. It couldn’t really be avoided with them sharing a bed—she’d seen the ones that had already come back the instant he took off his shirt. After making assurances that it would all be over soon, he’d kissed her gently and they’d gone to bed, the exhaustion of the day catching up to both of them. Bruce slept fitfully, the errant nature of the returning scars keeping him from getting more than a few minutes sleep at a time. He’d finally given up and come down to the Sun Room, hoping to meditate his way through the pain. It had mostly worked.
“You know, if you’d wanted a reason to not share a bed with me last night, you could have just said you ‘needed some space’ like a normal boyfriend and spared yourself all the magic mumbo-jumbo,” Selina teased lightly.
Bruce’s lip twitched in spite of himself. His eyes opened slowly, expecting to see her standing against the doorjamb, that teasing smile on her lips. She was standing in the doorway all right, but the smile was nowhere to be seen—in fact, her face showed an uncharacteristic concern, a twinge of worry creasing her brow. There was nothing either of them could do but wait it out, but she still couldn’t help the twisting in her gut about what he was going through.
His chest muscles spasmed lightly as four perfectly parallel lines suddenly opened across his chest, right where the Bat emblem normally rested. Fate, it seemed, was not without a sense of timing—his early Catwoman wound. He exhaled slowly as the cuts closed, his eyes locking onto hers without even a hint of malice behind them. In fact, his lip twitch turned into a full-fledged grin.
Selina came forward and knelt in front of him, placing her fingers gently over the scratches as they closed back into the original scars.
“That’s better,” she murmured.
“Talk about possessive.”
Her eyes flicked up from the scars to his face.
“Marking your territory,” he noted dryly.
“Maybe a little. Mostly I was just thinking. All this that you’ve been going through…” her fingers stroked another scar absently as she said this, “…it makes me realize how… silly… I’ve been. Angsting over stupid little… self-indulgent… nothings.”
“Feeling the cage door shut? I don’t know. It’s been…”
“It’s been all Clark’s fault.”
She looked up, confused by his sudden change of tone.
“When in doubt, blame the Alien. It works for the League,” he said.
Selina looked more confused than ever. He was almost… lighthearted. While she didn’t understand, she wasn’t going to mess with a good mood. She patted the restored cat-scratches playfully.
“Well, all over now anyway. Everything’s back as it should be.”
“If you say so,” Bruce agreed as she stood to go. Selina had just disappeared through the door when he brought a hand to his cheek and felt it ooze warm and wet as the first cat-scratch he ever received reappeared, and just as quickly dissolved.
“I told you so,” Lois reminded her husband sweetly. “I told you Bruce would wind up inviting us for something you didn’t pack for.” Clark decided not to notice that she said this in a halter top and wrap skirt he had never seen before.
“It was a surprise,” he admitted, rather than pointing out that she obviously hadn’t packed for a lunch cruise on their friend’s yacht either. It wasn’t like the invitation was foreseeable. It wasn’t like Bruce, a little getaway to recoup after the harrowing events of the previous day. In all the years they had worked together, Clark had never known Bruce to need (or at least to acknowledge the need for) reset time.
Clark regarded his friend shrewdly, then glanced through the deck and inner wall of the boat to read the words freshly stenciled on the hull. “La Gatta Mobile,” he mouthed. He looked again to Bruce, then back towards the side of the vessel.
From his position on the upper deck, Bruce watched his guests with a wry lip twitch, then headed down to the galley. Selina was unpacking the lunch basket and he moved behind her, placing his hands around her waist. She reacted to the interruption exactly as she would if she were cracking a Mattson safe instead of spooning jasmine rice onto poached salmon—as if it were no interruption at all and, of course, she knew he was there the whole time.
“Alfred’s idea of a picnic is very different from other people’s,” she noted.
“Mmhm,” he answered, burying his nose in her hair.
“I’m serious. Besides the salmon—with mustard-dill or red chili sauce depending on how daring your palette, there’s fruit here, green salad—with shallot vinaigrette…” she said, pulling out the bottle, “vegetable sushi, cashew-crusted chicken with honey mustard sauce, dinner rolls, butter pats, apple crisp for dessert and… after-dinner mints. Your butler is not human.”
“No. But one of our guests isn’t. Alfred is very fond of Clark, he’s never been certain about his appetite, and he likes to make sure.”
“Speaking of,” the voice graveling so softly in Selina’s ear became deeper and softer still, “I hate to be the one to tell you, Kitten, but I think you can expect another tête-à-tête before they go.”
“He looks at me, he looks at the boat, he looks at me again. I’d say you’re getting all the credit for this little outing.”
“Ivy should get the credit. It was all your scars coming back inside of a day that did it.”
“Let’s not tell him that.”
“Why not? He can send Lois up to Arkham to have ‘the talk’ with Ivy, Lois can slap her again in front of the surveillance cameras, Tim can set the whole thing to music and get himself into UCLA Film School, and I don’t have to talk to any of you ever again.”
“How did I get on that list?”
“You grunted in my hair.”
Back on deck, Clark stood with his arms wrapped in a similar stance around his wife’s waist as they looked out onto the sun glimmering off the water. He was strangely silent.
“You’re not listening in on them, I hope,” Lois chided.
“No, of course not,” he told her. “I was just… It is not ‘a cosmic crisis’ that the sundry shop didn’t have ZIRH. I could have zipped home for it if I wanted it that badly.”
“You could have zipped right down the block to Bloomingdale’s, Clark, but you didn’t. So what you wanted to do was exactly what you did. You came back to the room and yakked about it for ten minutes.”
“First meeting with my new publisher, I guess I was just a little nervous and needed something to hang it on. Was it that annoying?”
“Of course not, it’s adorable.”
“Of course not, it’s personal.”
“Selina, I am the only one that doesn’t know what was said inside that cyclone.”
“The only one besides Janus; and I think I have a right to.”
“This concerns thee not, Dark Mortal.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that if you want me to betray the sisterhood.”
“I named the boat for you.”
“And thank you for letting me have the whole byline.”
“It really wouldn’t kill you to label those videos, you know.”
“I have never called you hormonal.”
“It was implied.”
“He doesn’t have to say it, a woman can tell.”
“Estrogen solidarity. Poor Clark.”
“The things you decide to fixate on, I swear to god, Bruce. Hormonal and puppy dog eyes? I’m going to be having nightmares for a month about Channel 93 and Good Will Humping.”
“Okay, now I’m going to have them too… Thanks.”
“So 93 is the porn channel?”
“That’s my guess.”
“And the divisible by 2 thing would be Dent.”
“One presumes. Certainly based on the ‘Two-faced jerkwad’ comment.”
“It will be good to get back home to Metropolis.”
“You said it.”
“I didn’t say I don’t appreciate his help. I’m glad he was here considering what we were up against. I just said it will be nice to—”
“Have them gone.”
“Get back to normal.”
“Normal? For Gotham? What’s that?”
“Two to a rooftop, gargoyles don’t move, and Ivy is the only one that—”
“—that smells like a spice rack. I know, I thought I got the last of that herb oil out of my hair, but that rosemary really clings—wait a minute. Did you just make a joke?”
“Of course not.”
Selina glared at the corner of his lip until it twitched.
“You might have a point. It will be good when they finally go home and everything can go back to normal.”
A mile or so up Gotham Harbor, a woman stood alone at the prow of a larger, much more ornate yacht. The harbor breeze twirled her dark hair as she stared through a set of high-powered binoculars at Bruce and Selina making their way out onto the deck of the Gatta.
“Make your time, Cat-witch,” she said softly. “For I am coming to take back that which is rightfully mine.”
A wide smile spread across the woman’s face as she lowered the binoculars.