Chapter 6: You Can’t Go Home Again
I was on my way home. Home-home-home-home-home. Meow! It was Economy as far as Pittsburgh (as Bridgett Morse, Sr. Programmer, Imaging Systems Ltd. who Jean Paul seemed to feel wouldn’t spring for at least Business class on a 4½ hour flight—cheap bastards). Then salvation. I slipped into the first class lounge for the Gotham shuttle, shed my dowdy Bridget Morse duds, and boarded my flight home as me. It wasn’t Wayne One, but I had legroom, a glass of champagne, and peace of mind that an insurance salesman from Allentown wouldn’t occupy the seat next to me.
I thumbed through the in-flight magazine and nearly purred at the delicious photos of Gotham, my Gotham, after dark. More than a few of the cityscapes were shot from above. It wasn’t quite the rooftop perspective, but it was close. Close enough for a homesick kitty missing the old rooftop thrills.
Despite the hitch-free delivery, it wasn’t a very satisfying job. Despite the money… Despite Lorena’s gratitude on behalf of the Sub Diegans… Despite a moment’s familiar annoyance with a meddling hero… The whole thing just wasn’t… complete.
I knew why, of course. I’d be a fool not to see why.
I missed him.
A few days apart shopping in Paris or because a JLA mission dragged on, that was one thing. But stealing again, stealing again without any Bat lurking in the shadows to challenge me? It was… flat.
I sipped my champagne and ran a fingertip across that delicious photo of the glittering Gotham cityscape just as I would over the emblem on his chestplate. Gotham Night, as seen from above. Would he be out there by now, I wondered? Probably not, it was still a touch early. But suited up, most likely. In the cave, the At-Large list open, mapping out his route for the night. And next to his workstation, beside his right elbow, a tray-size rectangle kept totally clear. Alfred would come by and set the tray down—a cup of bisque he won’t drink, a sandwich he won’t eat…
I felt such a pang. This was wrong. It was all wrong. I should have been reveling in this: I just finished one hell of a big score. It was a flawless job. It wasn’t an easy job, but I had pulled it off flawlessly, perfectly… purrfectly even. And best of all, it was for one of them, one of the self-righteous heroes, one of his JLA-cronies, and they had to come to me. And I pulled it off as only I can, and I was extremely well paid for my trouble.
And now instead of stroking my fur as I deserved, I was sitting there thinking about him.
That’s how it is now. We were never just a criminal and a crimefighter doing what came naturally. Once upon a time we could deny that, now we can’t. So. What to do about it?
A cat, I reminded myself, always knows how to make her own fun. If things were… like they used to be, he would be sitting exactly where he is right now, at the workstation, with Alfred bringing a dinner he wouldn’t eat. My name would be on that At-Large list, and he might make an extra pass through Museum Row or the Diamond District or—
I had an idea. I paged backwards through the in-flight magazine looking for a blurb that had caught my eye. There it was, on page 8: “Kiton, the Neapolitan upscale clothier bought the neoclassical six-story Banco di Napoli building, gutted it, and rebuilt the interior with glass, steel, and Murano chandeliers…”
I buzzed the stewardess for another glass of champagne.
Game on, Dark Knight. Catwoman is coming home.
Harley knew she was lucky. If Stan from the video rental place hadn’t remembered seeing her that night, if he wasn’t willing to come along to the Iceberg to tell them all how she was renting Addicted to Love, Sleepless in Seattle, and Joe Versus the Volcano when that blonde Robin was running around bashing the remnants of the old Black Mask gang, she would have no alibi. They would have turned on her like a pack of rabid dogs if they thought she’d gone over to the other side, the crazed freaks.
It was a shame how Stan thought her asking him out to the Iceberg was a date. It was really a shame how he had such a glass jaw and how he hit the end table so hard when she socked him. But you can’t let a guy go inviting himself to your Meg Ryan film festival, and then put his arm around you when the little kid is booking his flight to go meet Annie on top of the Empire State Building like in An Affair to Remember, even if he did save your life by giving you an alibi so the Iceberg crazies don’t think you’ve gone Bat.
You just can’t.
Harley sighed at her half-finished
manuscript and her copious notes for Chapters 9 through 11: Edward
Nigma—Passive-Aggressive Intellectual Narcissism as Compensation for
Perceived or Actual Physical Deficiencies, Roxy Rocket—the Penis
Envy/Thrill Fetish connection and Bane—Debunking the Machismo
You just can’t. You just can’t go public once you’ve crawled inside the Rogue Community and been accepted as one of them. They wouldn’t see her bringing enlightenment to the world about their dear quirky foibles; they would only see her calling Riddler a balding egotist with a little dick.
She’d have to find some other way to get published.
Last call at the Iceberg. Batman usually staffed this one out. Unless there was some particular rogue he was tracking, he let Batgirl, Robin, or Spoiler swing through at this time of night to note who was closing the place, who headed off in what direction and with whom. But a few times each month he would look in himself, especially if patrol was uneventful, as tonight’s had been: One drug dealer, a couple college kids vandalizing the ICX Pharmaceuticals office to protest animal testing, and in a rather ironic counterpoint, a mishap at Scarecrow’s hideout where the scorpions he kept for his sick fear experiments somehow escaped from their tank. It was hardly a banner night for crimefighting, so Batman had taken up his favorite vantage point above the Iceberg to observe the night’s departures.
He was therefore pleased more than not when the Bat-Signal was lit. He wasn’t a ghoul; he certainly hoped he wasn’t about to hear of some violent atrocity. But he was a crimefighter, and he was invigorated by the prospect of criminal prey.
As was his habit, Batman stopped first on a roof near police headquarters to observe those waiting to meet him. It began as a simple precaution in the days before his alliance with the police was secure and he was never certain what kind of reception to expect. The years that followed had seen some extraordinary reception committees: Interim Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners, FBI Observers, Catwoman a couple of times! Two-Face in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Bundles of Joker’s belongings when Harley moved him out of the Hacienda after the big breakup. There was no lack of variety in the welcomes that had been waiting for him when that signal was lit… but this was the first time he detected nothing at all waiting on that roof.
He advanced cautiously. He searched carefully around and under the signal, assuring himself no one was lying in wait. Finally he went to the control panel to switch it off. The panel was kept locked, the police obviously didn’t want just anybody able to switch the thing on, but it was an easy lock to pick. Harley had done it. In the past. Harley had picked this lock in the past, but tonight’s unauthorized access was clearly not her handiwork. A quick examination of the mechanism and Batman’s lip gave a reflexive twitch. The lock didn’t appear to be picked at all. It had been, obviously, for the signal was lit. But it wasn’t picked by any conventional means. And that could only mean one thing. There were less than a dozen people worldwide that could pull this off and one of them was…
She was home.
There was a siren, far in the distance, twenty, twenty-five blocks probably, traveling west. The quiet warble made the tense silence in the Redbird all the more present.
They had worked well together, Robin and Spoiler. At first, it had looked like a simple mugging waiting to happen. The scum waited in an alley that wasn’t as sinister as it appeared. He watched as the big theatre let out—it was an old musical, a blockbuster in its day, but after eight years, it was nothing but an overpriced tourist trap. The doors opened, the audience poured out, the scum watched. They were all tourists. Easy pickings. About 60 crossed the alley and clustered at the door to Sardi’s, the famous Broadway bistro, while another 40 or so filed into a tiny gift shop of theatre souvenirs… And all the while the scum watched, choosing his target. Tourists. Easy pickings. That’s what Robin and Spoiler thought… until he spotted the taser… and the knife. This was no ordinary mugger.
They had worked well together. A left hook to the body, a straight right to the jaw. A sweep kick. A chop. Put away the unused Batarang.
The distant siren wailed farther away. They had worked well together. Now it was back to tense silence.
The amused twitch with which Batman first opened the Bat-Signal control panel gave way to a fierce scowl. He had spotted a small bit of torn paper wadded between the controls, extracted it with tweezers, and he stood now staring down at a fragment of a 1,000 lira note. What the hell was she doing?
Lighting the signal, appropriating his signal as her own personal “Honey, I’m home” message, that he was prepared to accept as typical, maddening brazen felinity—in short, pure Selina. But this, this whatever it was—clue, he would have to call it—what the hell was that supposed to mean? Was she leaving an Eddie Trail? That wasn’t her M.O. (when she had an M.O., which she didn’t anymore). Or maybe…
His lip twitched again.
Yes, actually it was her M.O.
To. The. Letter.
Playing with him. Playing with his head. Playing like he was her yarn toy.
To some he was a fable, to some a nightmare, to some a detective, a freak, a hero, or a demon. But to Catwoman, he had always been, well… hers.
The annoyed scowl gave way to a curious expression. He had missed her, this part of her, and the chase.
A lira note, Italian currency… He shook his head in a wondering burst of amusement that would have produced a chuckle if he was not in costume.
“Italian currency. The Banco di Napoli building, now Kiton. Cute, Kitten. Very cute.”
I was practically salivating. It was a clothiers, not a bank anymore. They had gutted the building, but you could still tell where the vault had been. I made myself comfortable there—it seemed a fitting spot—and waited.
I did notice that they had some lovely knits. Made a mental note to come back tomorrow as Selina.
I had already decided to do some shopping, after all, back in California. This was a lucrative job. It was only natural to have a little spree with the proceeds.
Okay, maybe it was slightly odd to be noticing the merchandise and planning what to try on when I came back while I was waiting for Batman, but when you think about it, really, it’s not that strange. I was there, the clothes were there, Batman wasn’t there yet, I had time to kill… I know it’s not the kind of thing I would have done in the old days, but in the old days the loot wasn’t mine to spend until I had gotten away clean from Batman. And that wasn’t the case now, so why not at least notice the knits that were sitting ten feet away?
He would be there soon enough and I’d have my scrap and scratch. Just like old times. Reowrl. This was going to be fun.
There she was. Criminal prey. Brazen. Feline. Dangerous.
A creature of the night, just as he was. A predator, just as he was. A formidable foe.
Alluring to be sure, beautiful and
graceful—as is a tiger. He must steel himself against all that.
She is merely prey. She would have no effect on him this time.
He would accost her as he would any criminal. That’s far enough,
He really had missed this. Missed her. Look at her. The way that suit wrapped around her curves. Hold it right there, Catwoman!
From this distance, she would unfurl the whip for effect, but she wouldn’t use it. It would be a flurry of kicks, most likely, then a grab-toss and run. Not this time, Catwoman.
And she’d run to that window. That’s where the whip would come in. She’d snare that beam, and then swing up and out. He would be ready. Enough, Catwoman! This ends tonight.
That’s far enough!
Hold it right there!
Not this time!
This ends tonight.
I have NEVER given him the satisfaction of surprising me. Never. It’s a rule.
Catwoman’s Rule #12: never react with surprise when he makes an appearance, no matter how sudden or unexpected.
He snuck in, I didn’t hear him, and he caught me by surprise. That much I could handle fine. I have a hundred times before.
What I was not prepared to handle was “Here, Kitty-kitty.”
So I spun around, hissed, unfurled the whip and cracked it on the floor a few times to get his attention.
Except, it came out more like a warm smile and a fingertip wave and a “Meow, come over here and say that, Stud.”
Time for a daring show of bravado, firing a line and swinging down to challenge his quarry in a close face-to-face confrontation.
Instead, Batman reached down with his arm to steady himself and vaulted into the main showroom like a hiker climbing down off a fence. He walked up to her almost casually, as casually as he ever moved in the costume.
It was one of those moments, daring him. He couldn’t and she knew that and she taunted him with her sexuality. She knew he wanted her and she knew he could never act on it and she stood there so defiantly provocative, so amused by his predicament, so…
Wait a minute.
Like HELL he couldn’t.
Never let it be said that Batman is a complacent kisser.
It occurred to me that we’d sort of bypassed the preliminaries: banter, fight, chase, more banter.
It occurred to me… and um… was going to do something about that except… couldn’t feel my legs.
“Welcome home, Kitten.”
Headrush still—God, I love that voice—I mumbled something.
“You were missed. I’m glad you’re back. A lot has happened.”
I managed a deep, feral purr. My arms were already around his neck. Not really sure when that happened…
Another kiss—kept my head better that time.
And he carried me up to the roof.
Harley found “Googling” her name to be an interesting experience. There were 31,000 websites referencing her.
She wanted insights into how people saw her in order to find a good hook
for her new book idea. She found that there was a shop in Bludhaven
offering Harley Quinn Harleys: a custom paint job for any motorcycle,
featuring “genuine Harley Quinn red” with black detailing.
There was something called Harley Quinn Kryptonite, which was really just
some new kind of reddish sandstone marbled with black lava they found in
Hawaii. Some geologist named it for her. Ha, ha, that was cute.
Then there was a funny one from some
feminist newsletter: “Oh yes, I’ll name my daughter after the psychologist
who fell in love with one of her patients and developed a psychosis of her
own such that she’s codependent on a homicidal sociopath who treats her like
shit. Wake up, ladies! Harley Quinn is not a role model! She’s
Well how do you like that. What does a dried up prune like that
know about true love anyways? How can one without a soul understand
the emptiness that yearns for a soul mate??? She just doesn’t know
Harley went back to the search page
and clicked another link. Sooner or later, she would find the people
who really understood what she was about.
Gotham. This is why it was home. This is why the job for Aquaman had been such a bore.
The encounter in Kiton had not played out as planned. Nobody was complaining. He had brought me up to the roof, and the nostalgic confrontation of Bat and Cat continued to be… other than expected. The subtext was changed forever. I could stretch up to him, teasing, letting my lips hover nearly in contact with his until he grunted against them… like a thousand rooftops before, a thousand tempting promises… But we both knew the temptation I offered wasn’t as empty as we once thought, and his grunt now held more than disapproving disappointment. It included a hint of satisfaction and returned desire.
Our bodies were more attuned to each other, too. There had always
been physical tension and sometimes a certain beautiful clumsiness.
Now, there was casual familiarity. An extra moment’s touch needn’t be
stolen pressing my back to his chest inside a pin… not when merely lowering
my hip let his palm slide to his favorite spot across my abs.
So the Bat-Cat reunion didn’t play out as planned.
That wasn’t the last surprise Gotham
had to offer. Tinkerbelle was next. We were cuddled together on
the Banco di Napoli roof. I was playing with his gauntlet while his
ungloved hand stroked up my thigh, when this glowing golf ball floated up to
me and started talking in Jason Blood’s voice:
~Selina, I hope this Orbis Vox Vocis
finds you well.~
The ball flashed brighter on each syllable, and Batman grunted at it—the
old grunt, disapproving disappointment.
~I would like to invite you for a little chat, like old times. Your terrace after midnight, if convenient. I hope to see you then.~
I laughed as the Tinkerbelle golf ball spun faster, brighter, and smaller after delivering its message, until it finally just twinkled into nothing in a little burst of fairy dust.
“The nerve,” Batman graveled.
“That’s why I love Gotham,” I said happily. “Always something new. Even the unexpected manages to outdo itself.”
“Oh, come on,” I teased him. “You did something very similar to get a message to me during No Man’s Land, remember? That little summons you had Oracle hide inside that emerald?”
“That was different.”
“It sure was. Jason’s invitation was far more polite.”
“Ah, that again. Well, that’s what Jason does, m’love. Oracle does nanite-generated holograms, you do the gruff ‘n grunty shtick, and Jason Blood—”
“Magically healed Harvey’s face without reading the fine print.”
“I told you a lot has been happening while you were away.”
Another siren warbled, punctuating the silence in the Redbird… Who did she think she was any way? A Robin, that was a laugh. Tim knew he was no Batman, but he was certainly the best detective in THIS car… And Steph was questioning his call—Steph was. Tim didn’t care if she only wore the costume for one night, if she had EVER been Robin in ANY sense of the word, she would have known piping up that way when you don’t know what you’re talking about is verboten. He was no Batman—he wouldn’t sentence anybody to 30 hours of Zogger for daring to question him—But he couldn’t help reliving that moment in the alley. It felt wrong. Every instinct as they watched that scum felt wrong. He got out the scope for a closer look—and then when he saw the taser and the knife, he moved in immediately. Once they had him, Robin bagged the knife—and found the guy had a roll of duct tape too. It was just duct tape, but it seemed to confirm everything that made him sick watching the guy.
And then Spoiler went off at him: He
could only hope the police would match the knife to something or else
they only had him on a few misdemeanors. They should have waited, she
said, to catch him red handed. She said that! She dared
to put on a Robin costume when… “That way we’d have something solid,” she
”He was going to KILL SOMEONE. You DON’T take that chance, PERIOD. You don’t give him that chance, PERIOD.” Robin was aware when he’d said it, it was with Batman’s inflection. How dare she not know that. She wore the Robin costume and she doesn’t even know that you DO NOT take that chance and you DO NOT question the call of the team leader…
They didn’t work well together. Working together was more than a well-timed sweep kick. It was more than not needing the Batarang.
Catwoman couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Harvey is back? Completely? No more Two-Face?”
“Like you said: in Gotham, even the unexpected manages to outdo itself.”
“It’s not like when your scars were healed, I hope. It will kill him. Bruce, it will kill him. To have Two-Face gone and then suddenly come back—”
“I know. Selina, I know. It’s not like that, not exactly. It turns out that Harvey’s healing can be reversed, but only if he reneges on some kind of bargain with the universe that Jason inadvertently made on his behalf. Harvey can’t use his coin again to make a decision. Not ever.”
“Ouch,” she winced. “That’s not going to go over well.”
“I know. He’s putting on a good face right now, but—”
“This is funny to you?”
“Either that or he doesn’t realize… What? No, nothing about this is remotely funny. Why would you think—”
“‘Putting on a good face,’” she quoted back to him.
“Oh.” He sighed. “Figure of speech. I did that with him too. I said ‘Penny for your thought.’”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“A penny is a coin.”
“Ho boy. This is going to be hard, isn’t it, dealing with him now?”
“It is hard. It’s hard not to get sucked in. He’s so damn happy.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“It won’t last. When the bubble pops—”
“You don’t know that. Harvey is no fool. If he knows what’s at stake, he’s not going to just—”
“See, I told you. It’s hard not to get sucked into it. You’re halfway there right now and you haven’t even see him yet.”
“Why are you being such a jackass about this? Is it just the magic thing or—”
“Because ‘too good to be true’ isn’t.”
There was silence for a moment. When Selina spoke, it was with a gentler tone.
“It doesn’t cost anything to hope.”
To be continued...