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Chapter 2: Second Thoughts

 

It was the dawn of the 22nd dynasty.  In the delta region of Lower Egypt, just southwest of Tanis on the River Nile, the capital city of the nome of Am-Khent rose to prominence, becoming the royal residence of Pharaoh Shoshenq I, and by extension, the power center of the ancient world.

This was Bubastis, the center of worship for the cat goddess Bast.  Within the greatest temple dwelt the Mau-im-dwo, what the Greek settlers came to call the Oracle of Bast.  Within the innermost sanctum, the priests of Bast learned a language, the Mau-im-dwo, by which they could speak with divine and mortal cats… assuming, of course, the cats were in the mood. 

Near the end of the 26th dynasty, a cat which called itself Apekteina Pontiki condescended to explain the very complex and very specific feline dogmas of right and wrong.  The priests were utterly mystified.  The nuances that were so obvious to cats seemed, to them, nonsensical contradictions: It was natural and permissible to kill a mouse, a bird, an insect, and any other creature whose size and speed was such that it could be killed.  In some cases, it was permissible—and even laudable—to play with one’s prey, prolonging its demise and torturing it with false hope.  At other times, this was the most grievous of sins.  There was one set of rules for morning, one for night, and none at all for midday, for nothing that hunted under a high sun was fit to call itself a cat.  There was one rule if your belly was empty and another if it was full.  There were rules for the flooding season, for the season of planting and for the harvest.  Yet the priests could never understand which rules took precedence.  If your belly was full, but it was evening and during the drought, but you were outdoors and the moon was waning, didn’t that mean you were both required and forbidden to kill and ignore the mouse in the doorway but not the lizard on the well?

Apekteina Pontiki looked on the befuddled priests of Bast, and she pitied them.  The word spread among the cats of the temple and then to the ones beyond: the two-footed creatures were nice enough, but they could not wrap their simple minds around the complexities of the Feline Way.  That same Feline Way that governed the torment of mice dictated that Man could not be taunted with a wisdom he could never understand.  With heavy hearts, the cats resolved to spare him the frustration.  As one, they stopped acknowledging the language of Mau-im-dwo. 

It took the priests a while to notice, for the cats often pretended not to understand.  You just had to wait for the right day and approach them in just the right way… Then the Persians invaded, and the priests, like the rest of Bubastis, had other things on their mind.

Two thousand years later, very little had changed.  The woman who was born Selina Kyle had so embraced her feline nature that she was, in every way that mattered, a cat-woman.  She too had a very complex and very specific code of right and wrong.  She didn’t care any more than the cats of old that her rules were different from other people’s, nor that they would never be able to grasp it if she tried to explain.  She only knew that her code worked for her: Her right was right, and she would keep it.  Her wrong was wrong, and she wouldn’t do it.  So it was and would ever be, meow and amen.

It was fine to live on the proceeds of her thefts; they were hers.  She had taken those paintings, jewels, statues, and other valuables.  She had bested Batman most of the time to get away.  She had converted the goods to cash through her own paw-selected fences, and she had the proceeds safely tucked away in her Zurich accounts.  Meow.

But to profit from Oswald Cobblepot’s crimes, that was another matter entirely.  That was just wrong. 

Okay, Vault had temporarily replaced the Iceberg, she understood that. 

She was the de facto “Oswald” of Vault, she accepted that, although nobody quite understood it.  (The fact that her old Cat-Tales set was displayed behind the bar as part of the themed décor undoubtedly figured in somehow, but even Batman was unable to reconstruct exactly how the dominoes had fallen.) 

Since Vault’s opening, everyone had apparently gone on paying the house its cut of whatever they did on the premises.  It was news to Selina when she discovered it, but it certainly made sense: Gotham crooks were creatures of habit, and if you were supposed to be paying off somebody, it was better to be safe than very, very—HAHAHAHA! Closed casket due to the death smile—sorry. 

On the same death-avoidance premise, Sly had apparently been converting all this ill-gotten gain into gems and gold bars, replacing the faux riches of her old Cat-Tales set with the real thing. 

It left her with a very tricky problem: what to do with it?

She had a sultan’s ransom of well-laundered riches on her hands.  Spiriting it off to Zurich to join the proceeds of her own crimes seemed wrong, just plain wrong.  Leaving it for Oswald, on the other hand, went beyond wrong into criminally negligent homicide.  With a war chest like that, Oswald could wipe out the other mobs, tearing up half the city in the process and creating ten kinds of hell for Batman.  He could also postpone that intermediary step and go after Batman immediately. 

There were other scenarios, other variations, and each one ended with either Batman, the entire city, or both placed in very serious danger.  She couldn’t just sit back and let it happen. 

Somehow, she had to make all those riches go away.

 

Still raining.  It was no “dark and stormy night” of cliché-bound fiction, it was a cold, persistent drizzle.  In daylight, it might be called a Hawaiian blessing.  At night, in the open hours after Batman’s early patrol, it was just a nuisance.  It was just cold enough and just wet enough for just long enough that most perps didn’t bother.  The psychopaths didn’t care about such things, of course, but psychopaths generally didn’t start the day at two o’clock in the morning. 

It was a dark and boring night.  All Batman had to show for his early patrol was the Plymouth townhouse, and he’d been entirely superfluous there.  He had seen two police units pulling up to the building and the officers rushing out with their guns drawn.  He ascertained from the police band that they were responding to a 10-10, shots fired, and he stood by to assist… but the lead officer had already entered the townhouse and found what is euphemistically called “a domestic disturbance” in progress.  He had disarmed the wife before Batman could fire a line, and by the time Batman reached the street, a stretcher was emerging from the front door.  It was the husband being carried to the waiting ambulance… not much blood… a superficial wound to the upper calf… One of the senior patrolmen sneeringly suggested that Batman could make himself useful giving the ambulance an escort to the hospital.

It was a dark and boring and frustrating night.  The rain was getting heavier.  There was no logical reason not to make an early night of it.  He could start the late patrol at once and make it a quick one, go home early and...  Hell, there wasn’t much reason even to do that.  If he skipped the second patrol entirely, would Gotham even care?

Except he didn’t WANT to go home early.  He wanted action.  He wanted to fulfill his purpose.  He wanted… apparently he wanted to stop crimes that were not happening at the moment, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to wish a crime into being just so he could smack the perpetrator around. 

A dark, boring, and infuriating night.  

Until…

Amber lights.  Blinking.

He spotted dim, amber lights blinking on and off in the lobby of an old office building.  That meant an alarm had been tripped, but there weren’t any police or fire responding.  It looked like an older building, not one with a phalanx of on-site security guards.  It was even possible the lights were part of some antiquated alarm that was no longer programmed to call in an alert.  Batman swung down to the street to investigate.

 

There was a time when Gotham National Bank would launder illicit funds, as much as you wanted and as fast as you needed.  With the cover of a legitimate bank servicing the biggest corporations in the city, they could handle greater sums than any other operation before or since. 

Of course, it was that same corporate cover that proved their undoing once Wayne Enterprises got involved.  Selina didn’t know it at the time, but looking back now… yep, once you knew Bruce Wayne was Batman, the speed with which he acted was just astonishing.  From the point where he would have learned what they really were to the point where he shut them down, it just—reowrl—boggled the mind.  He really was the best.

Which was, unfortunately, beside the point.  GNB was no longer a money-laundering institution… and for that matter, Selina didn’t really need the money laundered.  Sly had done that on his own.  It was cleaned, pressed, folded neatly, and stored away in her old Cat-Tales set.  She didn’t need it laundered.  She needed it GONE.

 

Liberty One Insurance had gone bankrupt in the early 1970s.  The building that had once been their corporate headquarters was now rented to a dance studio, a community center, a political action group, and a telemarketing firm.  None had anything of particular value: a few computers in the PAC office, a boom box and CDs in the dance studio, basket balls in the community center.  Not much to interest burglars, and the groups’ presence brought enough activity to the building to discourage squatters and undesirables from moving into the vacant floors.  The original locks were thought sufficient to protect what little was there, and it took Batman all of ten seconds to demagnetize them and gain access to the lobby.

His cape dripped on the highly polished floor, and his boots made a rubbery squelch that echoed eerily.  There was a cavernous emptiness to the place, and the blinking security lights gave off a soft, eerie echo of their own as they clicked on and off.  That lifeless heartbeat was disquieting enough on its own, but the blinking lights also made it harder for Batman’s eyes to adjust…  It was brighter.  It was dimmer.  It was brighter.  It was dimmer…  A poorly designed system, considering its purpose. 

Batman made his way to the elevators at the far end of the lobby.  There were only two, probably considered plenty when the place was built.  There were only eight or ten floors, after all.  Batman moved beyond these to the stairwell, then turned back sharply—was that a noise?  A fluctuation in the rhythmic echo in the lobby?  Or just a crimefighter’s instinct that something was wrong?

He quickly returned to the lobby, senses quivering with that vague feeling of… wrong.  Something here was wrong.  Something was not what it should be.  And his senses strained to find what it… was.

Batman swallowed hard as the image registered.

“Lenses engage,” he graveled, looking up at… at… how could he have missed this? 

He was looking up at a giant coin set in a perfectly recessed niche behind the reception desk.  A Liberty head silver dollar, with a positive trench carved deep and savagely across her cheek.

The image glowed brighter and dimmer as the amber lights flicked on and off.

Brighter… and dimmer…

There was no mistaking that image.

Brighter… and dimmer…

Two-Face’s coin. 

Brighter and…

Something else there is no mistaking: the grinding clack of the safety on a double-barreled shotgun clicking off behind your head. 

…dimmer…

Batman dropped and rolled as the first shot of two whizzed past his cowl.  He redirected his momentum as soon as he hit the floor to avoid rolling into the path of the second.  He regained his feet as his only half-glimpsed assailant snapped the barrels closed on two fresh shells, and Batman raced towards the stairwell just ahead of the next shots.  He needed the vertical plane more than the cover.  As soon as he could swing UP, he could fire a batarang at his assailant’s hands from a safe angle.  The last thing you wanted was to dislodge a shotgun on-level and risk—

It was the last conscious thought Batman had before the grapnel pierced some kind of tank suspended above him in the stairwell, between the railings of the second floor stairs.  A shower of oily petroleum ooze rained down on him while he was still in motion, but with the grapnel ascent stymied and the assailant’s footsteps closing in behind him, Batman could only shift his momentum, trying to regain his footing with nowhere to really go.  He shifted his balance towards the stairs—but kept going in a twisting skid he could barely control.  He found himself turning, which would at least allow him to face his attacker coming through the doorway, a surprise assault—

Except his feet kept turning on the hopelessly slicked surface, and before he could counter, his balance was gone and his legs were airborne. 

Batman lay sprawled on his back and flailing in the oil when the looming figure stepped into the doorway, silhouetted in the rhythmic amber flicker, brighter then dimmer…  brighter then dimmer…

Two-Face.

“We wanted to go the extra mile, Sport, seeing as it’s been two long.”

Then the butt of the shotgun came crashing down on his skull.

 

Once upon a time, Catwoman came across a dockside warehouse full of cash.  Back then, theme criminals were few and far between, and Batman’s war on crime was principally a war on organized crime.  He’d shut down every means Carmine Falcone had to launder his illegal income, forcing him to stockpile it like so many pre-printed t-shirts advertising a cancelled concert tour. 

A warehouse full of cash, stacked in bundles of bundled bundles: some long and low, like the tables in a dining hall; some tall, at least the height of a man; and some towering more than thirty feet high.  Just how much was there, Catwoman couldn’t guess.  Ten million?  Twenty?  Thirty?

Selina Kyle had not become Catwoman out of greed.  There was nothing to tempt her in a warehouse of untraceable cash.  There was no style in such a theft.  No challenge, no romance, and no triumph.  And nothing to feed the empty place that moved her to steal in the first place. 

But there is one appetite that all cats share: mischief.  If the money had no value as currency, it was beyond price in its mischief-making potential.  What on earth would Batman make of it if she brought him such a prize?  Carmine Falcone would be none too happy, and that would be fun too.  But it was the Batman side of the equation that Catwoman found irresistible. 

She arranged for him to spot her… chase her… catch her… and be terribly manly in all his terrifying crimefighter intensity once he had her pinned. 

Then, she oh, so sweetly purred her secret into his ear: of course, she had allowed him to find her, she had much to tell.

It was delicious.  Beyond words, beyond thought, beyond a pulsing tingle between her legs… all that intensity, the purest essence of Batman turned in on itself because of her.  He was flummoxed, utterly flummoxed, the thoughts racing and twisting behind those fiery eyes, burning to find the answer… all because of her.  All hers.  All that essence of pure, mainline Batman, hers.  What a rush.  No mere money could buy that. 

Batman… because of her… meow.

He was trying so hard to hide that inferno of bewilderment raging in his mind, he had no mental resources left to hide what he usually tried to hide.  While she played lightly with words, drawing whimsical distinctions between “helping” and “being helpful,” his tongue had slipped ever so briefly between his lips, and his index finger slid lightly against his thumb while his eyes were riveted on her breasts.

Meow.  Worth every dollar of the ten or twenty million.  Meow.  Meow.  Meow. 

What actually became of the money, she never really cared.  Several years later, Harvey told her that, back when he was D.A., he had gone with Batman to a warehouse full of Falcone cash.  He said the two of them doused it with gasoline and burned it to ash.  She and Harvey been swapping tall tales all night and she never quite believed the story, but still…

Tipping Batman to the Vault treasure didn’t seem like a hot idea.

 

Batman awoke chained in a spread eagle position over the X on the Liberty head coin. 

“Two pounds of C4,” Two-Face explained (unnecessarily), pointing to a canister beneath Batman’s feet.  “Double blasting cap, naturally.”  He indicated this, flicking it lightly with his thumb and middle finger.  “And of course, you will have two minutes,” he said, setting the timer. 

And twenty-two seconds,” Batman said grimly.

Two-Face considered this, unable to refute the logic, and added twenty-two seconds to the timer.  Batman strained to get a better look at the figure’s features, but his angle was too high.  The unscarred side certainly seemed to have Harvey Dent’s hair, but so did a quarter of the men in Gotham. 

He risked a direct question:

“Harvey, is that really you?”

“We’ve no time for chit-chat, Batman.  We have a great deal of missed coin flips to make up for.  Why, in the time since we last saw each other, we have come up with no fewer than eighteen ways to kill you, this being the best of the lot.”

He clicked the timer, set it down, and walked across the lobby.  When he reached the door, he paused.  He took out a coin, flipped it, and turned back to Batman as he said:

“To be scrupulously honest, Bats, we came up with nineteen ways to kill you.  But as a matter of principle, we have chosen to ignore the last, rather like lopping off the high score from the East German judge.”

With that he winked—a markedly Harvey “the Dentmeister” wink—and left.

 

Giving the money away, while obvious, was problematic. 

First and foremost, it had a distinct whiff of remorse.  The cat’s sense of smell is highly developed, and the thought of Catwoman prowling around the city, breaking into penthouses she had once burgled in order to leave a gold bar or a diamond tiara when she had previously relieved them of a Chagall, that had a very definite odor, the odor of a tabloid’s crimefighter making up for past wrongs.  No.

Charities were problematic too.  While she had nothing against orphans, she wouldn’t want to give money to an orphanage and appear to validate those demeaning lies about her origins.  For the same reason, any kind of city sponsored help-the-poor projects would have to exclude the East End.  Talk about the stench of the Gotham Post! 

 

An experienced escape artist could have freed himself from the coin shackles in two minutes, leaving him scant seconds to run from the blast.  But Batman had settings in Zogger to prepare for just this kind of situation.  He was free in under sixty seconds, leaving him ample time to stop the timer and disconnect the detonator.

Only then did he allow himself to breathe a sigh of relief, and only then did he consider the contracting knot in his stomach as the implication sunk in.

Was it Harvey?

He had only seen the face twice—and he winced at that irony—and also at the growing throbbing under his cowl.  The latter was from the blow from the shotgun.  What had been only a dull ache, not worth considering in the face of an imminent explosion, was now coming to the forefront.  Bitterly, Batman reflected that, even though he’d lost consciousness on the initial hit, Two-Face had undoubtedly struck him a second time.

He summoned the Batmobile remotely and croaked “home” once he was behind the wheel, the headache and growing nausea making it impossible to drive.  It was a concussion, no doubt of it, and if his vision blurred while he was trying to drive… He even considered stopping at Leslie’s clinic; it was closer than home.

Was it Harvey?

He had only seen the face twice: in the split second before the shotgun came crashing down on his head, and when Two-Face was clear across the lobby and turned back with that crack about the East German judge.  Neither was enough for a positive identification.  It looked like Harvey, yes—or at least, there was nothing that jumped out at him in those scant seconds that absolutely ruled out the possibility of its being Harvey.  That was not enough for a positive identification, even from Batman.

Of course, he had heard a lot more of the voice, and that definitely sounded like the Two-Face of old.  But voices were tricky.  Azrael could simulate the Bat-gravel so well, he had once fooled Commissioner Gordon.

Was it Harvey?

Batman trusted his judgment.  As much as any man alive, he trusted his eyes, and he trusted his mind, and he knew how the one could lie to the other.  He wanted it to be someone other than Harvey Dent; he was perfectly aware of that bias.  Wanting could make the eyes lie, and wanting could make the mind refuse to see what the eyes were showing it.  But that was not happening here. 

Bruce was not ready to say that the man he had seen was Harvey, not because he didn’t want it to be Harvey, but because what little he saw was not enough to be certain… and he had just made his headache ten times worse.  These circular thoughts hurt more than the blow from the shotgun.

 

Giving to the arts was a possibility. 

When she was actively stealing, Selina thought nothing of supporting the opera, the ballet, and even the museum’s acquisition fund.  There was nothing to prove back then.  Big donations brought invitations to the big fundraisers, access to the dowagers and their diamond necklaces, and it put more and better paintings on the walls of the Gotham museums…  It was self-interested altruism for the thinking cat burglar, meow.

But now it was tricky for the same reason breaking into random penthouses and leaving gold bars on their pillows was tricky: that vague hint of remorse.  She had used the symphony and opera galas as hunting grounds, and she’d taken so much from the museums over the years, it might seem like she was making restitution. 

Environmental causes came perilously close to using the money for the Catitat, and that was just like mingling it with the proceeds of her own thefts, pocketing Oswald’s money for herself.  No.  You don’t mix the bounty from Catwoman’s thefts, the product of feline cunning, grace, and panache, with the payoffs from any Dick, Harry, or Tomcat that schlep through Vault with the proceeds of their brainless strongarm robberies.  It wasn’t done.  It would be like hanging Dogs Playing Poker in Bruce’s penthouse between a Picasso and a Cezanne.

That left diseases, and that required some serious investigation into what research was most deserving and most in need of funding.  The problem there was that the Wayne Foundation had already done that investigating and did it better than she could hope to.  The simplest method, by far, was to turn the money over to the Wayne Foundation to use it where it would do the most good.

Except Bruce would have an aneurysm.

 

The Batmobile returning home on autopilot always set off an alert as it crossed electric eye omega.  The alert sounded discreetly in Alfred’s room, and he hurried to the Batcave.  He would normally open a com channel to the Batmobile to ascertain if the master was conscious, but in this case it was unnecessary, since the car was already pulling into its hangar.  The hatch opened as soon as it reached a full stop, and Master Bruce got out on his own power.

“Concussion. Nothing serious,” he said. 

Alfred glared, relief battling with preemptive frustration.  Of all the injuries he’d treated in his years as Batman’s personal medic, there was none where the patient was so difficult and quarrelsome. 

“The former diagnosis I accept, sir, as you were undoubtedly in a position to know.  The latter is for me to determine after a thorough examination.”

“Fine.  After the lo—” Batman started to argue.

Now, Master Bruce.  The logs will wait.”

Bruce had long ago accepted the futility of I’m-Batman declarations with Alfred.  The man who said “now” when it was a skinned knee or a bee sting could say it still, and the duty logs, the Mad Hatter’s escape from Arkham, or the Justice League’s assault on the Ice Reefs of Symbia 8 were relegated to the same “When I say you can and not before” status as a game of stick ball when Bruce was ten.  He removed his cowl and headed for the med lab, muttering his gratitude that at least Alfred didn’t wake Selina before coming down to the cave. 

Explanations followed while Alfred checked his reflexes, looked for any bleeding or bruising, checked for related neck injuries, and finally, applied ice.  By the time he was ready to declare Master Bruce free of skull fractures or brain injuries, Bruce had finished the chronicle of his Two-Face encounter.

“Of course, it wasn’t Harvey,” he pronounced at the end of the tale.  He was thinking much clearer now, and he could see how his earlier musings had been colored by the shock of seeing any Two-Face, and also by the physical pain of the concussion. 

“Indeed, sir?”

It was said without much inflection, but Bruce detected a note of skepticism.  He knew the tone as well as he had known that ‘the logs will wait’ tenor only moments before.  Alfred had found a few lapses in Bruce’s logic and would proceed to play devil’s advocate until those lapses were addressed. Bruce unpacked his thesis:

“For one thing, Harvey’s Two-Face would have taken my utility belt while I was unconscious.  Any experienced rogue knows I’ve got a dozen tools in there to help get out of whatever it is they’ve put me into.  To let me keep it is an amateur mistake.”

“Or one betraying a subconscious desire to help you escape, sir.  There was an episode with Miss Se– with Catwoman, that is.  I seem to recall your expounding at great length on the significance of her leaving you in possession of the belt when she surely knew it guaranteed your swift—”

“Alfred, really.  That is not the point.”

“It is not a parallel case, sir, I agree.  I merely remind you of it in order to illustrate a certain flaw in your reasoning.  There are a number of reasons this Two-Face may have left you the belt, one of which is not inconsistent with his being Harvey Dent.  Mr. Dent’s good half would surely not desire your death.”

Bruce grimaced.  He had opened up to Alfred in much the same way he would have related the incident in the logs—the difference being, the logs did not argue. 

“Maybe on its own the belt isn’t that significant, Alfred, but there is more evidence to consider.  The blow came from the right,” he said, indicating the lump on his left temple.  “When Harvey was Face, he always swung from the Face-side, the left.”

“Master Bruce, really.  Having spent the last thirty minutes examining the injury in question, I must inform you that the direction in which it was struck can only be described as down.  To use any other word merely perverts the language.  I fear you must consider, sir, that a significant amount of wishful thinking is presently tainting your analysis.”

“You’re wrong.  As a detective and man of logic, I have to admit that the possibility exists that it could be Harvey.  Simplest explanation, Ockham's razor, and all that.”

“I sense a ‘but’ awaiting expression, sir.”

But, the only reason to even consider that Two-Face might be Harvey is because he was Two-Face before.”

“Yes, sir,” Alfred said emphatically.  “The fact that Harvey Dent was Two-Face, and is, in fact, the only person who has ever been Two-Face, would seem to be a powerful argument.”

“An argument isn’t evidence, Alfred.  And that argument in particular loses weight given the other copycat psychopaths I’ve gone up against over the years.”

Bruce sighed lightly as his demeanor softened.  “Besides, Harvey was doing so well.  Why on Earth would he—”

“Begging your pardon, Master Bruce, but how would you know how Mister Dent is doing?  How long has it been since you've even spoken with him?”

Bruce grunted.

“And even so,” Alfred continued, “how the gentleman ‘is doing’ is a subjective matter, at best, whereas the dictates of logic and deduction would appear to call for objective and quantifiable evidence.  Should I perhaps arrange a meeting with him, sir?  Invite him back out to the manor for brunch?”

“That would certainly settle it one way or the other,” Bruce murmured, rubbing his head wearily.  “Either he shows up with one face, or he doesn't.”

 

It’s not like she’d be asking him to launder dirty money.  She didn’t want it back, she just wanted it to go off into the world where she wouldn’t have to worry about Oswald using it to buy a fleet of urban assault vehicles…

“Oh, you’re still up.”

Selina froze, finger poised on the corner of the book she wasn’t reading as she once might have done on the edge of a rooftop skylight.  As on that long ago rooftop, she responded to the disapproving gravel without turning to look at him.

“You make it sound like ‘those jewels don’t belong to you.’  In fact, I can think of at least four ‘those jewels don’t belong to me’ and three ‘the museum closed five hours ago’ when you sounded happier to see me than you did just now.  Guess I don’t have to ask how your night went.”

“It’s not you,” Bruce said, peeling off the kimono before getting into bed.  “There’s a… Alfred is making a call for me.  He’s going to make a call.  It’s a little too early.  Nothing to do for a few hours until he can make the call…”

“Did you hit your head?”

I didn’t hit my head.  Someone else hit my head, hard and repeatedly.  I didn’t want to go into that with you until I heard from Alfred.”

“Ah.  So grumbly disapproving battitude is because I’m awake before you’re ready for me.  At least that’s settled.  I don’t mind being the cause of that look on your face, but when I am, I like to know why.”

“And to have done it on purpose,” he noted with a lip twitch as he reached to turn out the light.

They dozed… although Bruce’s dreams were plagued with double images and distorted reflections.  The foppish playboy blundered over rooftops, and Psychobat tore up a cocktail party at the Knickerbocker Club.  When the dream turned to Crime Alley, it was coins that fell to the pavement instead of pearls, and when he woke, he was clutching Selina’s wrist the way Batman did when her teasing had gone too far.

Luckily, she was asleep and didn’t know.  He placed her hand gingerly back on the bedsheets, and stared at the ceiling until the faint yellow-white glow appeared at the top of the curtains.  Selina woke and stretched, and after the requisite good mornings, he cleared his throat.

“Have you, um, talked to Harvey recently?” he asked, introducing the subject as casually as possible without drifting into the fop.

Selina shook her head.

“No, but I was just thinking about him a few nights ago.  Funny you mention it… oh, of course, you probably thought of it for the same reason.  Tuesday the 22nd.  The gang at Vault were all ‘remembering’ him.  It was a little off-putting, actually, they way they were carrying on.  It was practically a wake.”

“Understandable.  From their point of view, he is essentially… eh, dead.  I can see where that would be… uh, disconcerting for you.”

Selina scowled.  He’d begun the statement with clinical detachment, the crimefighter expounding on the Rogue mindset he knew so well.  Then, halfway through, he glanced up at her and segued into a very un-Batmanlike shilly-shallying.

“Disconcerting to me specifically, you mean.”

“Yes, to you.”

“Because if Two-Face is dead because Harvey reformed, then, technically, I think Catwoman is a vampire.”

Bruce stared as he always had in the face of feline logic, phrases like “those jewels don’t belong to you” and “the museum is closed” as useless now as they had always been.

“Not to change the subject, Handsome, but do you remember back when the world was young when I gave you a heads up on that warehouse full of mob cash?”

Bruce raised a slow, suspicious eyebrow before he said “Yes.”

“Good,” Selina continued with gusto.  “Harvey told me a story once; it can't possibly be true, but... You didn’t, eh, burn it up, did you?”

“Of course,” he said instantly.  “While you supposedly get to a normal man’s heart through his stomach, to get to a man like Carmine Falcone, you go through the wallet.”

“Fuck,” Selina said dryly.

“What?  That was years ago.”

“Hm?  Oh.  Yes.  Right.  Just, y'know, memories of Harvey.  ‘He will be missed.’”

“Now don't you start reminiscing like he's dead, too.  We’ll invite him for brunch and catch up this weekend…”

While Selina was drawing a mental line through the idea of telling Batman about her Vault riches, Alfred came in with the breakfast tray.  He and Bruce exchanged looks, and then Alfred mentioned casually that he had tried several times but received no answer.  He would keep trying.

“Damn,” Bruce said.  It sounded exactly like Selina’s “Fuck” a moment before, and she knew it meant the same thing: a plan being overturned.

“This isn’t a casual talk we’ve been having,” she said when Alfred had left the room.  “Something’s up your nose about Harvey.”

“It’s…  it’s nothing.  It’s the concussion.  There are just some things I need to check out.”

“Check out about Harvey?  And what does that have to do with your concussion?”

“No, not with Harvey.  It’s… I mean...  the concussion is making it hard to focus.  I’ve got about 22 things rummaging around in my brain at the moment and—”

“22!  Don’t look now, Dark Knight, but your slip is showing.  Bruce, did—I can’t believe I’m asking this—did Two-Face do that to you?”

He grunted.  He started to deny it.  He stopped.  He swore.  And finally he said:

“Just let me tell you the whole story before you respond…”

Selina was silent for a long moment after he’d finished.

“Well, it isn’t him, obviously,” she said at last.  “It’s a second Two-Face.  That was bound to happen sooner or later, right?”

Bruce wanted to agree, to agree and be done with it, laugh it off together, get on with breakfast and start the day.  But somehow, he couldn’t make his mouth form the words.

“I honestly don't know,” he heard himself saying.  “I can’t believe it’s him either, but there’s not enough evidence to say one way or the other.”

“But he was doing so well.”

Bruce chuckled at hearing this echo of his own words earlier, and he answered in a markedly Alfredian tone:

“Pardon me for saying so, but how do we know how well he’s been doing?”

The question went unanswered.  After Bruce’s faux-Alfred voice subsided, the real one could be heard very faintly in the distance.  He was on the phone, and they both waited.

Waited. 

Waited.

And finally, just to break the tension, Selina spoke:

“Out of curiosity, would you have an aneurysm if the Foundation got an anonymous donation for, say, $800,000?”

To be continued...

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