Chapter 3: Full Circle
Not this time. This time, Tim had a plan. You did not get to be Batman’s sidekick without mastering the fine art of learning from your mistakes. Since Selina came to live at the manor, every time Tim went to see her, she was contorting in some damn yoga posture and…
He lost his train of thought.
Right then, yoga. Not. This. Time.
This time, he was going directly down to the cave, where Bruce had surveillance feeds from all the security cameras around the manor. He’d do a quick check and make sure she was brushing her cats or watching TV or doing whatever she did when she wasn’t twisting and bending in that leotard…
Ho boy, lost his train of thought again. That was not a good sign.
Tim briefly reconsidered the wisdom of his plan. On the one hand, Selina Kyle was the one exception to the Bat Family’s embargo on helping him with his paper. Tim Drake knew her, knew her as Tim Drake, so there was no compromising himself as Robin on that score.
*** YEARS EARLIER ***
Dana Winters Drake was not what you’d call an evil stepmother—at least, when she wasn’t possessed by a cursed Ravenna amulet, and that was just the one time, so, y’know, not evil. She just… she had some really, really bad ideas when it came to food—scratch that, she had some really, really bad ideas about nutrition which led to entire meals consisting of nothing a growing, red-blooded, American boy would call “food.” All the brown rice and broccoli might be okay if there was a steak in sight at the end of it, but there wasn’t. It was always more pine nuts and lentils and tofu, or the occasional Proteins Gone Wild spree with halibut and beef livers that made you nostalgic for the lentils and tofu. Nothing a normal person considered, y’know, food.
That was the best thing about Bruce asking Tim to come over early. It was probably for some new training before they set off on patrol, or maybe an oral debriefing on the nights Robin and ‘Wing had covered for Batman. That was often the case if Bruce didn’t like something he saw in the logs. Tim was always getting caught between Bruce’s “my house, my rules” and Dick’s blowing off a proper log entry because he’s the bigshot senior crimefighter now, nobody’s sidekick, and he’ll do it his own way. So yeah, the more Tim thought about it, this was probably going to be an inquisition on his own logs to fill in the blanks about whatever Dick left out in his. But first, Tim would get to stop in the kitchen and get a hamburger or a roast beef sandwich and some loaded potato skins. Everything a growing boy needs before taking on the dregs of Goth—Ooo.
He was just passing the door to one of the drawing rooms Bruce only used for playboy visitors and parties. The light was on, so he glanced in as he passed and—Ooo—he couldn’t help but notice there was a really short dress with really long legs in there.
“Hiya,” Tim said cheerily—the really short dress had a really low back too, and if anything, the curves of that back were even better than the legs... “You must be a friend of Bruc-uh, of Mr. Wayne’s, I mean.”
She turned, and Tim found himself looking at the most perfectly formed breasts he had ever seen in his life—quite possibly, the most perfectly formed breasts anyone had ever seen in any life since the dawn of time. Thought was no longer an option. Thought beyond “don’t stare at them” was really, really not an option, but after a painfully dry swallow, that cautionary thought expanded to suggest he stand very close to the high-backed sofa.
“Tim Drake,” he answered, hoping she had asked his name, since that was a really stupid answer if she had asked the time.
“Selina Kyle,” she said—a name Tim might have recognized if she hadn’t leaned forward offering her hand as she said it, which bent her chest forward a little and… and uh, uh oh, okay, ah… good move standing behind the sofa then, wasn’t it? Just stay right there, don’t move from the waist down, and hope she does the same. Hope—no, pray—she doesn’t look down or go to the window or anything—window! Bat-Signal. Oh shit! Bat-Signal! That must be why she’s here alone. Did she say something about Bruce having stepped out? She said something when he came in, but all he heard was “Don’t stare at them”—which reminded him, he probably shouldn’t have his eyeballs hanging off her nipples that way.
“Boy, Miss Kyle, I sure hope Bruce's reputation doesn't bother you,” he managed. “I mean, he does have to rush off now and then, but it’s not scads of busty supermodels waiting in the wings like people think. He just has so much charity work taking up so much of his time.”
“You figure it's an emergency blood drive he's rushed off to at 8:15 on a Friday night?” she smiled.
“Oh. Well. I can't tell you how many times he's been at one of my father’s dinner parties and had to leave suddenly to keep the funding from falling through for some halfway house or Ugandan orphanage. You know, it’s business hours over there when it’s night here,” he added helpfully.
“Mhm,” Selina agreed, biting back a smile. “Those Ugandan orphans do have a reputation for being suddenly cash poor.”
“And don't get me started on the anti-child labor efforts, surprise inspections in all the Malaysian factories,” Tim enthused.
“He conducts those personally, does he?”
Tim’s eyes shifted around the room, trying to look anywhere except at Selina or the window.
“Tim, it’s okay, he told me.”
“It’s okay. He told me he’s Batman, I know he’s gone to answer the signal. He’s going to call and let me know if dinner is cancelled or if it’s just the new commissioner going flashlight happy again because Jervis Tetch sneezed.”
“Huh? I mean, uh… Huh?”
“Much as I would love to let you keep going, just for the entertainment value, sooner or later you will find out I knew, and then you’d probably wonder why I didn’t stop you after the Ugandan orphanage.”
“Uh… OH! Oh my,” Tim’s eyes suddenly widened as he realized where, exactly, he knew those breasts from. “Uh, right, uh, no… no, no… big misunderstanding. Big. Huge misunder-he probably told you that he was Batman because you were in that show, right, the Cat-Tits-TALES, Cat-Tales, where you were the, uh, Cat… So he might have tit you—TOLD you that he was, uh, because you might like… leaving, I’m leaving now, and I will, um, see Bruce another time, and uh… Leave message. If you see him first, just leave a message that I… died.”
“Breathe, Tim, you’re not breathing. That will catch up with you. The lungs rebel. Nice deep breath. Now… You saw Cat-Tales?”
“NO! No, of course not, I am an ordinary high school kid who doesn’t get out to see a lot of live theatre. No interest in that kind of thing, especially anything about, y’know, capes, bats, who cares. No. I play video games and uh, what else do I do? Study. I study a lot. Civil war. Blue and Gray. Fort Sumter. General Lee. They lost. Bye now.”
“Tim,” Selina said in the calm tone used to talk someone down from a ledge. “You saw my show, and you told ‘Wing you thought I should add a Harley Quinn impersonation, because you think the Marilyn Monroe squeak-laugh she does is funny. And it was. I added it the third week of the run, huge laughs every night. Thank you. That was a great suggestion.”
“No, see, I’m leaving now,” Tim insisted, clinging to the one clear thought that remained now that staring at Selina’s breasts ceased to be a problem. “If you see Bruce…”
“I’ll tell him you’ve died,” Selina nodded, giving up.
*** YEARS LATER ***
Tim Drake knew Selina Kyle, and Selina Kyle did the off-Broadway show Cat-Tales. So whether you believed she was really Catwoman or just a really ballsy actress, the contents of that show were up for grabs as far as his paper. It was just like the Flash interview in the Keystone Star, only better, since Selina was a lot more entertaining on subjects like “the team-up.” Some of that was certainly just Selina being Selina, and some of it, Tim was sure, was the fact that she didn’t have to go to the Watchtower the next day and sit through a League meeting with Wonder Woman.
So Cat-Tales was definitely the key to the section on the hero-hero and hero-villain team-up, but he didn’t really remember the details of her story about teaming up with Huntress. He also wanted to find out if the stories changed at all in the course of doing the show. Just because she didn’t mention Robin the night he saw Cat-Tales didn’t mean she couldn’t have added something about their team-up later. It would be so perfect if there was anything about the truce they agreed to. And it’s not like she didn’t make little additions as the show went along. She added that Harley Quinn impression… Once again, Tim briefly lost his train of thought.
Anyway, he had to talk to her and 1) get a refresher about the Huntress team-up, 2) see if she ever mentioned Robin, and then 3) get her kinda-sorta permission before he went and cited her in his paper. Bruce’s disapproval was one thing, but Bruce was going to make his life miserable no matter what. With Selina, there was that thing with the whip. Catwoman had not done the whip thing since Selina took up with Bruce, and for that, Drake generations yet unborn rejoiced.
*** YEARS EARLIER ***
Tim reached his room, flicked on the TV, and sat at his desk before the com went off. He had opened a textbook—Introductory French—but none of the words on the page quite penetrated his brain… Did students in Paris eat nothing but ham sandwiches? It didn’t seem very likely, but the ham sandwich with cheese and the ham sandwich without cheese seemed to be the two options—as well as the focus of an absurd number of conversations… Quelle sorte de fromage aimez-vous… avec… a muffled beep drew his attention.
:: I told you to come over early. :: the deep Bat-voice graveled.
“Yeah, that didn’t work. You were out—” he began.
:: You know to wait when that happens.::
“—and you had company. Boy was that a shock.”
“I know.” The voice sounded simultaneously in the com and at the window, then the com went dead as Batman held it up and clicked it off. “That wasn’t how I intended for you to meet. You still could have waited. Gone down to the cave or met me in town.”
“And confirm everything she was saying?! Go right down to the Batcave or, or change into—Are you crazy?! That’s what she was waiting for!”
“She was waiting for me to call and tell her if our date was cancelled. Tim, this isn’t how I meant to tell you, but after that show, I began seeing more of her ‘off-duty.’ It reached a point where… where the division was no longer acceptable to me. I wanted her in both halves of my life.”
“But she’s Catwoman!”
“That’s the half where it was always going to begin, Tim. Anything real had to start there. Look, there are details I won’t discuss, but I did intend to tell you tonight and give you the option of coming upstairs to meet her face-to-face.”
“Been there, done that,” Tim said acidly.
Batman’s lip twitched.
“Maybe you should try it again,” he said simply.
Tim’s eyes just bored into his.
“What about my dad, hm? Doctors say he’s got another year in the chair at the very least. And he managed to get himself kidnapped and poisoned walking on two legs anyway, so what about him?”
“What about him, Tim? What happened with your parents predates your becoming Robin, it had nothing to do with masked identities.”
“He’s still awfully vulnerable, Bruce.”
“No more than he was a week ago,” Bruce said gently. “Tim, you must know I would never do anything to put your family at risk. When you became a part of this, you accepted my way of doing things and that means accepting my judgment. When I tell you to go around to the alley and check the back entrance, you know who is telling you, you know the lifetime of expertise and experience behind that decision. This is no different.”
“Bruce, this is totally different. I mean that dress she was in. I didn’t think it could get worse than that catsuit, but there they were! I’m not sure I got my name right.”
This time Bruce suppressed the lip twitch before he spoke again.
“It isn’t any different, Tim. Not at all. My life has been protecting my identity since the day I put this mask on. Because it wasn’t just my life, it was Alfred’s, and later Dick’s, and now yours and Barbara’s and Cassie’s. Revealing it is not something I’m capable of doing lightly, not in the throes of passion, not in the throes of anything. Having lived these years the way I have, it is not possible for me to have done what I did frivolously, do you understand? Now, either you trust my judgment or you don’t. If you do, I would like you to come back to the house and meet Selina. If you don’t, then you should do some hard thinking before you put on that costume again.”
“OH COME ON! Because I’m not cool with the group hug welcoming your new girlfriend the cat thief!”
“Because if you don’t trust my judgment, then you shouldn’t be taking my orders in the field. There is plenty of time to think now: come back to the house or don’t, and if you don’t, you can always meet her another time. That is not an option in the field and you know it. You do not have the time to mull it over, case by case. You have to make your decision in an instant, and if you’re not happy with the result, there aren’t any do-overs the next day.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Tim murmured. “It just… It would have been nice to have some kind of warning—and yeah, I know, stuff is always going to happen without warning, it’s not a perfect world, expect the unexpected, blah blah blah…”
“You’re learning,” Batman said proudly.
“What was the signal lit for, anyway?”
“Victor Frieze was released from Arkham this morning. The commissioner thought I should be informed.”
“Oh come on! Like we can’t find that out on our own? Don’t tell Barbara. God. First this dufus replaces her father, then he doesn’t think Oracle is monitoring Arkham admissions and releases? She’ll wipe out his credit, suspend his driver’s license, and sell his mortgage to LexCorp.”
“Oracle…” Batman said thoughtfully. “That’s a very good idea.”
“Selling the new commissioner’s mortgage to LexCorp?”
“Tim, you are not invited back to the house to see Selina tonight. First, you should have a talk with Barbara.”
Catwoman was every inch the predator her name implied: she hunted, she prowled her territory until she caught a whiff of something she wanted. Once she targeted her prey, she stalked it with cunning, chased it down with as much speed and tenacity as was required, and if necessary, she would fight off any competing predators, scavengers or crimefighters in order to keep what was rightly hers.
This naturally predatory spirit did not extend to the one hunt indulged in by every non-criminal in Selina Kyle’s ultra-chic upper eastside neighborhood: she had never hunted down designer sample sales. She was too hippy and far too busty for most pieces stitched together for a size 0 model to walk down the runway. Plus, the one time a caper took her backstage at a fashion show, she saw firsthand the cloud of perspiration, cigarette smoke, and hairspray that permeated everything behind the scenes. The thought of wearing the castoffs from that nightmare world next to her own skin rivaled the Ratcatcher episode for disgusting gag reflex no-no. Kitty would just pick up an extra Goya the next time she was in Barcelona and go on paying retail on 57th Street, thank you very much, meow.
But then on Monday there she was, coming back from Raoul’s coffee cart with her double espresso, and there was Binky Sherborn waiting at the elevator. A shared elevator with Binky often provided a few promising Catwoman targets, so Selina wasted no time getting her talking. Today’s bulletins had nothing to do with soon to be ex-husbands hiding assets, however, nor did they prophesy who would be wearing Harry Winston at the next glitterati fundraiser (note to self: when The Cat goes back to business as usual, Wayne Foundation fundraisers are now off-limits). But today’s Binky prattle had nothing to interest Catwoman. Binky was just enthused about the upcoming sample sales…
Now, Selina had to wonder about that: Binky couldn’t wear a size 0 any more than she could. When pressed, it turned out Binky didn’t go for suits, separates or evening gowns. She went for handbags and shoes.
“Manolo Blahniks for $100?” Selina gasped—in precisely the same tone she once used to thank Felix Faust for a bead of kryptonite.
“Oh that’s nothing,” Binky laughed—which, eerily, is exactly what Faust said. If Catwoman had only been more sympathetic about his wife not understanding him, there’s no guessing what wonders he might have conjured next.
Actually, on second thought, one could guess, and the prospect wasn’t nearly as appealing as what Binky was saying: the YSL sale was Wednesday, and if Selina wanted to get on the list, Binky would be happy to arrange it. Her “spies” said there would not only be the jeans, sweaters, coats, and Rive Gauche gowns (that neither woman could squeeze into), there would be “tons” of shoes and maybe a few handbags.
Selina bit her lip, thinking it over for all of six seconds. She hadn’t gotten away with those cat icons from the auction house, and considering the way that confrontation ended, she wasn’t going to attempt a break-in like that again any time soon. As long as things were heating up with Ba… Bruce. As long as things were heating up so dramatically with Bruce... Yeah, that was quite enough to handle for the moment. Batman had a face under that mask, a face that made her absolutely weak in the knees, he was as off-the-scale exceptional in bed as he was at everything else, and oh, by the way, his name was Bruce. Enough, Kitty’s brain is full.
No really, Kitty’s brain is full. No more she can handle right now, not the time go traipsing out to Queens to see how the MoMA had settled into their temporary location and how the security was around Batman’s favorite Van… God, the Van Gogh. Time was, that little encounter would have been earth-shattering, that peek into the man under the mask would have kept her buzzed for a year. But now, the opera house roof, the auction house vault, his touch, his kiss, “a crimefighter loving a thief,” “My name is Bruce…” Not just any Bruce, either. Bruce Wayne, Wayne Manor, Wayne Enterprises, Alfred the butler, “Casanova ate fifty oysters for breakfast every day, that’s what made him such a sex machine” “Oh yes miss, you encountered the Fop…” So much had happened since the MoMA roof, she’d completely forgotten about that Van Gogh.
Clearly, a night withdrawal from the GNB safe deposit boxes was not in her immediate future, so until she got her head on straight, a bargain spree of designer shoes might be just the thing…
*** YEARS LATER ***
Tim blinked. He double-checked the security feeds, or what should have been a security feed on Monitor 8. It was supposed to be Camera G14, which would be, uh… second floor, front hall, bedrooms… Ah, well, okay, Selina’s suite.
Well that was nice of her. If the world’s greatest cat burglar didn’t want Bruce’s security cameras spying on her in her suite, she could have overridden the feed with anything. It could have been a tape loop of the room when it was empty, so you wouldn’t even know you weren’t looking at the live feed. She could have it duplicate the feed from another camera, the dining room or the kitchen, so it looked like a snafu in the system rather than an expert thief messing with the equipment. But of course that wouldn’t be any fun for someone like Catwoman, would it?
Still, if she wanted to tweak Bruce’s nose, she could have rigged it to show someone sitting at this workstation the back of his own head. Instead, it was ESPN. That was cool! Purdue kicking Star City’s ass, heh. Tim sat back and watched the game for a while, keeping an intermittent eye on the other monitors in case Selina showed up. But then Purdue fumbled, Star intercepted and was running it in for a touchdown just as Bruce was coming through the study, so Tim didn’t know anyone was coming down to the cave until he felt a rhythmic tap-tap on his shoulder.
“Uh, hi,” he squirmed. “I was just, uh… Star City U’s getting flattened.”
“There’s a television upstairs,” Bruce pointed out.
Explanations followed, and once Tim admitted he was there to see Selina, Bruce guessed the reason.
“This is for that class you’re taking—the class you know I do not approve of, and which no one on the team will help you with. You think Selina will be more accommodating, either because she isn’t strictly ‘Team Bat,’ or because she’s more open about her identity.”
“She’s more than ‘open,’ Bruce, she did a stage show. Anything she said in Cat-Tales is as good as a quote Superman gave in the Daily Planet. It’s fair game, anyone who has never set foot in this cave could know it and that means I can use it.”
“Then why do you need to talk to her?” Bruce asked through clenched teeth.
“Well first, I want to clarify some stuff she said about team-ups, and I kinda want to get her okay before I use it. Don’t want to risk the whip thing, you know how it is.”
“You’re asking Selina’s permission? You know I disapprove, but—”
“Bruce, c’mon, you’re gonna make my life miserable no matter what. Selina’s different. The best part of it for me since you two got together, no more whip thing from Catwoman.”
*** YEARS EARLIER ***
Eggless omelets, it should be a Riddler clue. Riddle me this: How do you make an omelet without any eggs? It was Riddler challenge, not dinner. So Tim stopped in the kitchen on his way down to the cave, and Alfred came through with some fried chicken. When Tim made it down to the Batcave, Bruce was still there, watching, eh…
“Cheetahs. It’s a show Selina’s fond of, Big Cat Diary. It’s very interesting, you should watch this. Cheetahs are lightweight, streamlined. That hyena is substantially bigger, with the most powerful jaws of any predator in the region. It can crunch through a buffalo’s thighbone like a match stick, could make a meal of the cat. She’s overmatched, both animals know it—but look, hyena’s tail goes down, that’s a sign of submission, and… it’s leaving. This is the second time she’s chased one off. She’s even hunted in the middle of a pride of lions that would view her as a snack. Insanely rash, but she keeps getting away with it. Another one of these had a lioness scaring off two adult males.”
“Okay, we’re not talking about Wild Kingdom then, it’s lesson time. You’re studying Catwoman’s fighting style based on this show Selina watches. Sketching out a few protocols?”
Bruce looked up in shock.
“Of course not. My… ‘girlfriend’ I guess we should call her… likes this show. It’s only natural to watch. Get an idea of what she likes, presents and such down the line.”
“She likes cats, Bruce. The clue is in her name.”
“I’m just watching out of curiosity, Tim. I’m not authoring any Catwoman protocols. I noticed some interesting parallels, that’s all. And as someone who must occasionally fight an opponent substantially larger and stronger, I’ll make those observations wherever I find them. I suggest you do the same.”
“I am,” Tim said sternly—and again, Bruce stared in shock. “Bruce, do me a favor and don’t mess this thing up with Selina. I talked to Barbara like you said, and I’m still not completely onboard with the idea, but if I get onboard, it’d be nice to know this isn’t going to be another crash-and-burn if it crashes and burns. Everybody in Young Justice looks at me funny now, because they’re sure I must have a hard drive full of schemes to take them out. Dick’s in the same situation with the Titans. So it’d be real nice if you didn’t go and stick it to us again with this Catwoman thing, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Well first, ‘this Catwoman thing’ is my private life, Timothy, and it’s not really any of your business. To the extent that it does affect you and the others, I informed you. As for the protocols, if your teammates in Young Justice can’t grasp the need for a fire extinguisher in a kitchen or a lock on a gun cabinet, you would do well to reevaluate your association with them. That said, if things would ‘crash and burn’ with Selina, I don’t think you need to worry about her reacting with shock and horror at the revelation that Batman’s made a study of her weaknesses. In a strange way, the Rogues seem to have a clearer perspective on the core realities of the lives we’ve chosen than certain members of the Justice League.”
“Oh man,” Tim said, shaking his head sadly. “Poor Selina.”
Wednesday morning, Selina and Binky set off for the YSL sample sale, undeterred by a torrential downpour. They returned triumphant, weighed down with shopping bags, joking about whether those wimpy Knights would go ahead with their little baseball game tonight. Selina vaguely noticed there was someone else standing beside Nick the doorman, but between the rain and the umbrellas and the shopping bags—not to mention a taxi that was taking no prisoners and a FedEx van that didn’t care who he killed—she didn’t exactly see who it was. She just perceived a general bustle of helpfulness getting her and Binky and the bags and the umbrellas into the dry calm of the lobby. Only then did she see that Nick had taken Binky’s bags while the newcomer—Tim Drake, the kid from the manor—was carrying hers.
“Um, thanks,” she said, giving the umbrella a good shakeout before getting into the elevator.
He said little more than “Hi” until Binky left the elevator, but as soon as the doors closed behind her, he unburdened himself: the Gotham Knights were not “wimpy.” The pitcher’s mound and the base paths are dirt, they turn to mud. Plus, the ball would be heavier and harder to catch if it was wet, harder to throw with any degree of accuracy, a wet bat would be a lot harder to grip, and as for sliding into home…
“Point taken,” Selina conceded. “I will simply say that the women of Gotham would never let anything as inconsequential as a little water falling from the sky come between them and a $300 Yves St. Laurent. From what I saw today, they wouldn’t let Killer Croc come between them and a $300 YSL.”
Tim smiled, although he wasn’t completely comfortable with the casual name-dropping of a name villain. By the time they reached Selina’s door, however, he realized it was the kind of thing anyone might say. They went inside, he set down her bags, and while she put away her umbrella, Tim remarked on the surprising lack of cat stuff in her apartment.
“At least you guys are consistent,” Selina said under her breath.
“So, uh, I kinda made a mess of things meeting you the other night,” Tim said frankly. “I thought I’d give it another try, if that’s okay.”
“If you like” Selina said pleasantly. “It’s not like we haven’t met before a few dozen times, though.”
“Yeah,” Tim said, shifting his weight. “That’s the thing, I’m really not too comfortable with all this.”
“Join the club,” Selina said, handing him a diet soda, and clinking her can against his as if in an unspoken toast.
“Seriously?” Tim sputtered, looking at the soda can in wonder.
“It’s quite the little boys’ club you fellas have,” Selina nodded vigorously. “And that first step into the clubhouse is a doozy. I hadn’t caught my breath after ‘Welcome to the Batcave’—and by the way, how exactly a costume I wore for two weeks six years ago winds up in his trophy room, at some point that needs to be explained to me—and also by the way, I saw my file in your little ‘bat-computer’ and there seems to be a certain difference of opinion about my weight and measurements, which we will also discuss at another time—I haven’t caught my breath after that overload, he wants me to meet him at the office next day and have lunch at the penthouse. Do you know what he has hanging next to his Picasso up there? Another Picasso. Then comes the country club where he springs a new personality on me. This, I later learn, is ‘the Fop,’ and because I’m apparently not filling my metaphorical loot sack with these insights for some Hugo Strange Psychodrama Spectacular, I get tea. Tim, seriously, you being ‘not too comfortable with all this’ is the only halfway normal thing that’s happened all week.”
“Wow,” Tim said, swallowing.
“Yeah, okay, that was kind of a meltdown. You forget about mine, I’ll forget yours the other night.”
“Mine was understandable,” Tim said bravely. “I mean that was… that was a really nice dress.”
“You called my show Cat-Tits, Timothy.”
“It was a really nice dress,” he repeated.
Selina managed a smile.
“Is it my imagination, or are you maybe a little more comfortable with all this than you were ten minutes ago.”
“Nah,” Tim lied, with a wide grin. Then he turned serious. “Look, truth is, I had a little talk with Oracle last night. She says you’ve known who she is for a long time and you were pretty cool about it.”
“Y-yeah, I might not be cool much longer about that, because it seems like she keeps telling the story to nosy crimefighters, and then your next stop is here. That’s a big no-no for the people I work for.”
“Yeah, about that, you could really do me a solid.”
“Do you a solid?”
“You said the Harley Quinn idea really worked for you, right? Got big laughs? Well, this would be a great way to pay me back.”
“I’m surprised you even heard that, it didn’t seem like your brain was ‘receiving’ at that point.”
“Well I did, it was, and this would be a great way to thank me.”
“By doing you a solid,” she said flatly.
“Related to an Oracle job I did a hundred years ago, before the telegraph and penicillin.”
“Yeah, see I get a lot of ‘detective homework,’ I guess you’d call it. Cold case stuff, filling in all the unanswered questions that the initial investigation didn’t… Uh… No, that’s a lie. The thing is, Selina, now that you’re involved with Bruce, it’s like you all of a sudden have access to all this inside information, about all of us. Stuff you really shouldn’t know—boy that sounds harsh. I mean, stuff that Catwoman would have no way of finding out. Stuff you only know because one of us is telling Selina. I guess I kinda want you to give something back. Tell me—tell Tim Drake—something that Robin shouldn’t know.”
“That’s fair—wait a minute! Wait a… Did that manipulative son of a bitch send you here to charm the story out of me with that ‘women love me, I’m cuddly and unthreatening’ act?”
“It is NOT an act,” Tim fumed, “I am cud—wait a minute, cuddly? I’m not cuddly! I was trained by Batman, lady! And then Shiva! And then Batman again to correct some of the Shiva stuff he didn’t like.”
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard the Shiva stories, kid. Lady Death Incarnate says you are cute as a button.”
“This is a test,” Tim announced in the same way you assure yourself an in-progress nightmare is just a dream. “It’s a test, and if I pass, I get the Parallel Mayhem story.”
“Yes,” Selina said finally, unable to suppress a laugh. “You do get the story, not because you’re particularly charming, but because if I don’t put a stop to this, she’s going to tell Azrael next, and that lunkhead knocking on my door, I don’t need. So, briefly, I had a hunch this Parallel Mayhem was running something just a little bigger than a hacker trap. I have an old friend who has an old friend in MI-6…”
“Whoa, like James Bond MI-6?”
“With less glamour and more paperwork, yes. My friend hooked me up with one of their Gotham agents who gave me the rundown on the intelligence community soap opera: what the CIA kept from the FBI, what the FBI kept from the DOJ. Treasury and Army Intelligence seem to be ‘special friends’ but in a non-creepy brotherly way: patriotism, cooperation for its own sake, politics stops at the water, that kind of thing—unlike the NSA and National Reconnaissance Office, which apparently share the inter-agency synergy that dare not speak its name. Oh, and absolutely nobody but the DEA is down market enough to talk to the GCPD.”
“This is the coolest CaseRep I ever heard,” Tim laughed.
“The coolest what?!”
“Some goddamn Bat-crimefighter-thing, is that what you just said?”
“No ma’am,” Tim shook his head.
“You can leave now.”
“Oh come on! You can’t cut me off there, it was just getting good!”
“It’s really not all that interesting,” Selina sighed. “The Department of Justice, Navy Intelligence, and GCPD had the biggest reasons to, shall we say, ‘count the silver’ after the FBI came to dinner. I picked Navy Intelligence, went in after hours, picked the office of a Lieutenant Commander Glint. I just liked the sound of it. Went into his office and generated a memo hinting that the FBI was developing this worm to infiltrate everything that plugs into a socket, and do we really think they’re just trying to catch a hacker or are they planning to spy on us? Went back to the FBI—by now I was getting really bored with their sorry excuse for building security. Found an office on a floor I hadn’t been to before, Special Agent Who-Remembers. Had him send a memo how the Navy is snooping around Sibyl Snare and are we sure everything is as it should be. Naturally once they all started poking around, Cummings’s work comes under all kinds of scrutiny and he’s busted.”
“And this Glint and Agent Whozzit that supposedly got the ball rolling, they get the credit so they’re not going to deny anything.”
“Pfft, who cares? I’m thinking those places are so clogged with bureaucracy, I doubt anyone looked to see where the paper trail started.”
“That is still seriously cool,” Tim said admiringly.
“I always considered it a snooze. No chases, no gunfire, no yummy aftermath with a honked off cape. Just picking locks, sending memos, and geeks poking into computer code while I was home eating Haagen Daaz.”
“Best CaseRep ever.”
*** YEARS LATER ***
Selina laughed, delighted.
“Look, Tim, I enjoy tweaking his nose as much as the next person. I always have, it’s practically my trademark. But if you reference Robin in this paper of yours, his head will explode. Just use the Huntress story, it makes the same point.”
“It does? What point is that?” Tim gaped.
“When it’s really important, when the city or the world is at risk, we can put our law and order differences aside and work together. When that happens, those of us on the villain side of the equation behave like civilized adults with a job to do, while your lot carry on like petulant teenagers, griping in the back seat because you’re being dragged to a family reunion when you wanted to stay home and play video games with your friends.”
“That’s the point?! What kind of point is that?”
“Accurate! So pin the tail on Huntress, let her come off like the bad-tempered, short-sighted ingrate. Robin is still cuddly and non-threatening, and maybe we can get through the semester without you making Bruce’s head explode.”
“I am not cuddly,” Tim said through clenched teeth. Then he stopped, tilted his head back as if staring at something behind Selina, and then knit his brow. “Wow, full circle.”
“What is?” Selina asked.
“Remember that day? ‘Cuddly and non-threatening,’ you remember what I asked you that day?”
Selina thought for a minute, remembering.
“Oracle’s FBI hacker,” she said finally.
“No, not that part. I wanted you to tell me about it so I’d know you had your guard down with us, the same way Bruce did with you. I asked for you to tell Tim Drake something Robin would never find out as Robin. So y’know, now you’re giving Tim cover to know stuff only Robin should know—full circle.”
“It sure is,” Selina chuckled.
“See, my big thought that day was how...damn. See, I found him watching that show you like with the big cats, and it was right after the protocols, and all I could think was how you guys were going to split up in a month after all these big confidences are exchanged, and then in that crazed animosity of a breakup... What the hell did I know, anyway. I was still on Quelle sorte de fromage aimez-vous avec jambon, but I knew everything there was to know about the crazy things people do after a split.”
“We all miss her, Tim.”
“Full circle all right. Couple years later, you and Bruce are still together and I tell Steph—”
“Stop. Right. There.”
“Cuddly and non-threatening, yeah, that’s me. Bruce is cuddly and non-threatening. I’m the freakin’ Terminator. You know what the last thing I said to her was?”
“My whip is right in the closet, young man. You keep this up—”
“You can’t say it’s not true, Selina.”
“That you’re the Terminator? Yes, I can say that’s not true. I can also say this: Tim, you’ve always been the most normal one around here, and in your case, ‘normal’ isn’t overrated. You’re fine. As for Stephanie, don’t tell me the last thing you said to her, tell me your best memory of her.”
“The best ones are kinda private,” Tim said with a blush. “But she really liked the idea of you and Bruce. Total romantic there. The night I told her, we were hanging around outside 30 Rock. Sting was appearing on SNL, so officially we were ‘crowd control,’ but really, Steph was just hoping to see him…”
To be continued...