Home  | Book 7  |  Chapter  1   

Gifts

by Chris Dee and Wanders Nowhere

 

Alfred couldn’t bring himself to find fault with any aspect of the process that would establish Bruce and Selina formally and officially as Mr. and Mrs. Wayne—but the odious globular object hovering over his tea canisters was certainly testing his resolve.

He ignored it—or tried to—as he poured the final steep of a red Himalayan that had temporarily replaced Miss Selina’s coffee on the breakfast tray.  It was the Object (he avoided its name as if it were Voldemort) that prompted the change. 

He had divined Miss Selina’s tastes in the first five nights she slept in the manor and he refined those observations over the next weeks to arrive at the ideal routine of cappuccino and cafe au lait served on alternate days, prepared with the house blend of the King of Sweden using Kenyan, Brazilian, and Antiguan Arabica.  Now this upstart had her starting the day with a cup of leaf water, too weak to be called a proper cup of tea, to minimize fluctuations in her shape between fittings. 

Miss Selina had a closet full of Paris couture.  She was no stranger to fittings, and he had to assume she indulged in the legendary French cuisine in the midst of those fittings.  Yet here she was, adapting her daily intake and modifying her routine at the suggestion of... the object.

“Come, vile thing,” he told it, picking up the breakfast tray and then adding quietly, “Since there’s no stopping you.”

The object hadn’t appeared when he came down to make Master Bruce’s breakfast, for the monstrous little beast knew.  It interfaced (in some mystical way they were all absurdly expected to believe wasn’t magic) with the Batcomputer and the Watchtower (and who knows what other sources), so it knew there was a Justice League meeting and Master Bruce would be up early to attend.  It required only the most modest artificial intelligence to deduce that Miss Selina would not get up at such an hour when she didn’t have to, so the object let Alfred pass by and get on with his tasks as he had always done: alone.  When it was time to prepare Miss Selina’s tray, however...

The little parlor off the foyer had been commandeered to display the wedding gifts, for the Ashton-Larrabys of the world like tradition, especially when it comes to weddings.  Bruce and Selina may have requested “in lieu of gifts” donations to the Thomas Wayne Trauma Center, but writing a check simply wasn’t satisfying.  The old guard sent gifts anyway, the new money that could afford it sent both, and the long table along the wall quickly filled with Pâte de Verre crystal, Herend porcelain, lacquer trays lined with Chinese wallpaper, and so on.  The object made its home behind a pair of Carrara marble bookends, and from there it rose each morning like a radio-controlled drone whenever Alfred passed by on his way to make the breakfasts.  It followed him through the breakfast making and volunteered whatever information it thought relevant until the handoff. 

It floated now like an independent intelligence maneuvering just to the right of his shoulder as he took the servant’s passage to the parlor with the gifts. 

“That is where you belong,” he noted as they passed a lynx and cashmere throw which, despite being faux fur, was, in Alfred’s view, in exceptionally bad taste.

“Observation: A gift of fur denotes the passive-aggression of a loser who had hopes of becoming Mrs. Wayne herself,” the object noted in its dry, non-mechanized tones that Alfred found galling.  “I do not see the categorical pertinence.”

The voice was male and with a pronounced English accent that, despite appearances, was not patterned on Alfred’s but on its donor.  Alfred knew this, but it didn’t make the composed, occasionally sarcastic, unerringly well-informed dictums any easier to take.

“You are a wedding gift,” Alfred told it, then mentally added ‘whose usefulness is very much in doubt.’

They proceeded, butler and AI-drone of presumed magical make-up, up the grand staircase and down the hall to the bedroom.

Miss Selina was up, rubbing the cream of a new skin regimen into her face—a regimen also recommended by the object, though not quite so despised in Alfred’s view since it did not intrude into his kitchen or housekeeping practices.

“Your breakfast, miss, and your... assistant is reporting for duty.”

“Thank you, Alfred.  Did Bruce make it off to his meeting okay?”

“Yes, miss,” Alfred said, nearly speaking over her last words in order to preempt the AI answering for him.  “He took a glass of orange juice on his way down to the cave, where he rejected further nourishment on the grounds that he could ‘grab coffee and a roll’ at the Watchtower.  He expects the meeting to run to ten.”

“God, whoever scheduled that at dawn Gotham time should be shot—and yes, before you say it, I know half of them are bulletproof.  It’s a figure of speech.”

This was directed at the AI, which instead informed her that Batman’s estimate of the meeting length had a high accuracy index but he would be delayed returning.  There was a 46% probability he would be contacting her between 10:10 and 10:20 to join him at the Watchtower; 41% he would return with a guest and ask her to join them in the cave.  A factor she might consider in choosing her outfit for the day, as the cave’s temperature was a constant 52 degrees Fahrenheit; the Watchtower’s 68.

“Thank you, Faust,” Selina said while Alfred assumed the expression of silent disapproval honed in Bruce’s earliest days in the cowl.

 

It wasn’t an ideal morning to have breakfast on the terrace: it was overcast, a little brisk and the air had a damp, dewy feel that threatened rain later in the day.  Still Selina took her tea outside.  She was about to do something that wanted distance from her morning routine. She was about to do something… stupid.  And the mind-splittingly stupid thing must not be ushered into her life with an unrestrained open-armed welcome as if this is simply the way it was going to be now.

“Okay,” she announced, looking suspiciously at the open expanse of table beside her cup.  There was a centerpiece—samian ware, she thought absently as she moved it—and then she repeated “Okay” as she regarded the now totally bare tabletop apart from the cup.  “Let’s do this,” she said, and sat.  She took a very deliberate sip of tea.  The sun crept out from behind the clouds and bathed the patio in a warming glow, and she shot it a nasty look like its hopeful imagery was not welcome.  There was even a bird chirping that she hadn’t noticed before, and she scanned the now idyllic setting with the simmering contempt of a wet cat.  “This is why we don’t do mornings around here,” she grumbled.

“Alright, let’s get this massive mistake over with,” she said, extracting the folded newspaper seemingly from nowhere as she had every night on the stage of the Hijinx Playhouse to segue into her monologue’s triumphant conclusion at the end of Act I.

“I’m sure you all saw this,” was the line, but instead of holding up the despised tabloid for the audience to see the glaring headline, she laid the Gotham Post on the table and looked down on the glossy image. Instead of a bloody Jim Gordon lying sprawled in the foreground, there was nothing but Venetian lace and rich ivory peau de soie.  Instead of receding into a blurred image that was supposedly her running away from a shooting, the folds of elegant fabric receded into a blurred image that was supposedly her in the Deeor boutique pinned in for her first fitting.  Instead of a second coming headline screaming OFFICER DOWN, a comparatively restrained SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW teased the first glimpse of Selina Kyle’s wedding gown.  Shot by some mysterious means through the 57th Street window, it had the usual Gotham Post embellishments (black lace, for the love of Bast) but compared to the paper’s previous slanders, sketchy taste in a bridal palette could only be called progress.

She was really going to do this.

She was really going to do this.

She was really going to open the Gotham Post sans mind control and read what they were saying about her.

“Do it quick, like ripping off a Band-Aid,” she said and did just that.

She breathed.

Deeor hadn’t sold her out—thank God.

They got the materials right but that really wasn’t surprising.  Shipments from Jesurum on Calle Larga XXII Marzo a few blocks west of Piazza San Marco and the Viaduc des Arts showroom of Malhia Kent, Avenue Daumesnil, Paris, both coming to the Gotham atelier within days of Selina’s visit could only be for the Wayne dress.  They didn’t know why it was Emilia third-generation Burano lace from Jesurum or peau de soie from Malhia on Avenue Daumesnil, and that meant her secret was still hers to tell Bruce and the world in her own way and at her own time.

Making a tweezers with her outstretched fingers, she carefully picked up the very corner of the page as if to touch as little as possible as she turned.  Since she’d gone this far, buying and reading a Gotham Post, she may as well press on.

Alfred was in the dining room.  It wasn’t his usual day to dust there, but he knew Miss Selina had settled far from the intercoms in her suite and the morning room, and he thought it best to be within earshot should she require anything. 

“Sweet merciful god!” rang out from the terrace.

Alfred took it with his usual calm, though he shot a withering look at the object which hovered near the french doors like a dog who had followed his master as far as he was allowed and waited patiently for his return. 

“I don’t suppose you know what that’s about,” he asked, though his tone clearly said ‘I know very well you caused this upset, whatever it is.  And if you didn’t, it’s still quite likely a problem that could have been dealt with if you’d informed me beforehand.’

Faust bobbed and grew a little brighter, as if consulting its memory routines.  Then it said:

“Information: the mistress has taken a Gotham Post out to the terrace with a 99.97% probability of reading the cover story titled ‘First Look: Inside DEEOR for the first glimpse of Selina Kyle’s Wedding Dress.’  There are five possible items in the issue that could have provoked the exclamation in question, the most likely involves…”

The french doors opened and Selina stood like the soothsayer in a Greek Tragedy as she announced “These… people.  Imagine.  I am… friends… with Pamela Train-Crash Isley and Harleen Unfit-for-Human-Company Quinzel.  They are dangling the possibility before the world that I would have that garbage sitcom as attendants at my wedding.

“It’d be nothing but the same old-same old Gotham Post slander—Selina is a bottom-feeding nobody with no taste or standards—except this is Harley and a wedding we’re talking about, and that psychopath gets sugared up.  She’s going to see this, even money she’ll be excited.  And the whacko-miss being disappointed when she finds out she is not invited let alone going to be outfitted in orchid and lavender chiffon…”

“Information: There is a 31% probability of criminal mischief, miss, and a 54% probability of—”

“Thank you, Faust; I don’t need the odds on this one… And then there’s Ivy.  She’s got no illusions about our being friends, but she is in pretty bad shape since the depowering.  I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘depressed’ but she certainly seemed to be missing something the night we saved her from Clayface.  I may not like her much as a person, but I don’t like kicking someone when they’re down.”

“I believe I have a solution, miss,” Alfred and Faust began saying together.  Selina looked from one to the other while Alfred affixed Faust with a slow-burning glare of death.

“Okay, I can’t do this by committee,” she said tactfully.  “Alfred, Bruce is probably bringing somebody back with him from the Watchtower.  Why don’t you make up a tray of snacks for the cave and we’ll talk later, and alone.”  She emphasized the final words in a way that might have hurt the AI’s feelings if it had them, but since it didn’t, they served only to let Alfred know his council was valued and the she was only humoring Faust by hearing its suggestion first.

At 10:10, Selina was on her way to the Batcave with Faust following like Tinkerbell.  The intercom had buzzed twelve minutes ahead of schedule, and Bruce asked her to come down to see Arthur.  When she asked what it was about, there was one of the spiked silences only Batman can really pull off, followed by an ominous “I don’t know.

She introduced Faust as “a wedding gift from Jason Blood.  We’re assured it’s not technically magic because it’s from the future, at a point where what it does is considered technology and not at all mystical.  Alfred still hates it.”

“And Bruce doesn’t?” Arthur asked, turning with a wide grin and expecting Batman’s angriest glare.  Instead he saw grim submission.

“It was brought here by magic,” Bruce said.  “Jason wants to split hairs and say that’s also a matter of perspective depending on which end of the timeline you’re on, but that’s sophistry.  It was brought here by magic and he used magic to ‘fine tune’ it.  It doesn’t know all things, it just interfaces with a variety of computer networks and absorbs information that could affect the wedding.  As in all intel that could affect the wedding, no matter how improbable or fantastic the cause-and-effect.  How a determination like that can be made without magical precognance I find it hard to conceive.”

“For an advanced AI?” Arthur said.  “I’m sure any well-programmed computer armed with all the variables and probabilities…You’re shaking your head.”

“He’s done it before,” Bruce said flatly.  “There was a dimensional crisis at one point, Jason set up a magical portal with alternate realities tethered to the crisis, so of all the infinite possibilities, the traveler would only be transported to a time and place that was relevant.”

“Ah.  And this fine-tuning the AI—” Arthur said. 

“Looks like a duck and quacks like a duck.”

Arthur chuckled.

“I see.  Well in that case, what I know of Blood, I’d agree.  He’s looked me in the eye and told some whoppers about his past dealings with Atlantis.  But if you know he’s lying and that thing is magic, why is it here?”

“Because there’s a shapeshifter who wants to kill me,” Selina said calmly.  “The bride being murdered would affect the wedding, so Bruce figures Faust is sucking in all intel that could point to a Clayface attack.  It’s a tradeoff worth making.”

“I see,” Arthur said, giving the floating ball a piercing look.  He then asked quite casually if Bruce could leave so he could talk to Selina alone.  Bruce agreed with a shrug and left, and Arthur watched him go with an appraising stare.  He hadn’t expected the casual tone to work, but apparently even Batman accepted that weddings involved a lot of bother he’d just as soon not deal with.  Arthur returned his attention to the light ball.  “Did it tell you why I’m here?”

“Your Majesty may ask me directly,” Faust said, floating forward from its spot behind Selina and bobbing as if in a curtsy.  “Information: I made Miss Kyle aware of an 87% probability a member of the Justice League would approach Batman for a private meeting after the formal business at the Watchtower concluded.  Ordinarily I would have specified attire appropriate to an audience with the King of Atlantis, but as there was a 96% probability Your Majesty would specify this meeting is not taking place, I thought it best to suppress any details.”

“Thank you,” Arthur said like one so accustomed to cloying, overly officious pedantry it didn’t even register.  “That being the case, maybe we could dispense with the honorifics.  It’s Arthur, or Aquaman.”

“As you wish,” Faust replied with another bob. 

“And it’s right,” he said, returning his attention to Selina.  “I must stress that I am not here today and this conversation is not taking place.  I only spoke to Batman during the meeting and afterwards I returned to Atlantis immediately without talking to anyone.  He likewise came home alone.  Agreed?”

“What’s on your mind, Arthur?”

He grimaced. 

“Ra’s al Ghul has my political balls in a vice, that’s what’s on my mind.”

 

The texts began during the League meeting, and by the time Arthur made his deliberately casual, hyper-consciously discreet exit immediately after Batman, a shadowy cabal had formed.  Eel, Kyle and Wally had studied the Dark Knight throughout the meeting, compared notes and formed their conclusion: Batman was too close to the situation and therefore could not see clearly—and therefore could not be trusted to not keep his bachelor party from being epic.  He must therefore be saved from himself.  #BoomTube #TamaranianStrippers #MakeItHappen

At first the three men had lingered in the meeting room.  Batman left, Arthur left, but though meaningful looks were exchanged, no one else had gone.  Kyle was the one to realize there were simply too many people, all three of them lingering created a meeting-after-the-meeting vibe that Diana and J’onn would never skip out on.  Vixen had monitor duty, and Clark was clearly sticking around to get caught up. 

Kyle improvised a ‘that thing I wanted to show you’ in the quasi-apartment/office he kept at the Watchtower as one of the Big Seven.  When the door closed behind them, he merely glared at Eel.

“What?!” Eel squawked.

“Hashtag Boom Tube?” Wally said.

“Hashtag Tamaranean Strippers?” Kyle added.  “Spelled with an ‘e’ by the way.”

“Hashtag You know the Batcomputer monitors hashtags, don’t you, Eel?”

є~Ahem~э sounded in the telepathic link that Martian Manhunter provided during synchronized League operations.  є~You three might want to remember there’s a good bit of enhanced hearing out here, and one set of those super-ears belongs to the best man.  He’d like me to inform you that Bruce Wayne’s bachelor party is in Dubai, the first tier of it anyway, with a more exclusive circle on Wayne One for the flight over and back, and circling the hotel during I’d imagine... ~э

“Hashtag Busted,” Kyle said softly.

 

“As a prisoner in Atlantis, Ra’s al Ghul has no contact with the surface,” Arthur was saying.  “But we’re not savages, prisoners are given… He has access to our libraries, and I’m afraid he’s found the means to get back at me for those weekly visits I pay him whenever I’m in the city.  I’ll admit I’ve indulged in a fair amount of condescension.  He’s such a presumptuous, overbearing prick, I couldn’t help myself.”

Selina laughed.

“Nobody in this house will ever take issue with that, Arthur.  Believe me, we’re all fans.  What’s your problem and how can we help?”

“Well, to explain the problem, I have to explain the history.  First he petitioned—formally, through the courts—to be recognized as what we call a Front Edge of the surface world.  It’s something like a head of state or a political leader, except, well, it’s based on fish.  And fish switch back and forth from schools to schoals—that is, from strict hierarchies to lax social groups—seemingly on a whim.  The arrival of a predator, even the time of day might cause a change.  That makes it very difficult to prove someone isn’t a Front Edge if they claim to be.”

“That’s a very elaborate explanation,” Selina noted.  “Feels a bit like you know we’re going to be mad and are preemptively explaining why it couldn’t be helped.”

Arthur scowled. 

“He has followers, Selina, that’s the real waterspout.  He also said his capture resulted from an act of war, which wasn’t entirely inaccurate: he had seized an Atlantis stronghold and I sent in troops to remove him.  If I opposed his petition, I probably would have lost.  More importantly, I would have to give him access to the surface.  He would have the right to assemble evidence to back up his claim.  There was simply no way to deny him that other than avoiding the fight by granting his petition.  So I did.  I would have told Bruce, but you were all occupied with that Joker/Luthor situation, and it really wasn’t important enough to bother you.” 

“I’m not sure he’ll see it that way,” Selina said with a wry smile, “but I’d say it was the right call.  So where does that leave us, Ra’s is a Front Edge.  What does that mean?” 

“Very little.  It doesn’t affect his sentence or the terms of his incarceration in Atlantis.  There are a few courtesies that have to be observed: he has guards of a higher rank now, they address him by his title, sprig of parsley on his dinner tray, that kind of thing.  Nothing that matters beyond the annoyance.  He’s such a pretentious ass, it’s galling seeing him puffed up like a mantis shrimp, but it does no real harm.”

“I think you mean it didn’t do any harm, but now we’re having a conversation that isn’t really taking place because you’re officially not here, so something must’ve happened.  What changed that led to this ‘political balls in a vice’?”

“He found out about your engagement,” Arthur said grimly.  “I’m not sure how, and I’m afraid he is revoltingly well-informed about his rights.  He is asserting obligations to acknowledge the event as a head of state, send a letter of congratulations, a gift, and so on.  And if I were to prevent him—Selina, if I deny someone the Crown has recognized as a Front Edge from fulfilling his diplomatic obligations, it would be a very serious matter.  There are councilors who can use it to make trouble.”

“Arthur, you must realize he’s going to use any opening you give him to make contact with Demon.  I don’t wish any political trouble on you, but—”

“See, I was rather hoping you would express confidence that the Demon’s Head could not possibly get one past me, let alone get it past me and Bruce and you yourself.  I hoped you’d find it an amusing challenge, and say it would be fun to see what he comes up with.”

Selina’s mouth had formed a ‘W’ but instead of saying whatever started with that sound, she looked around, left and right, as if searching for a better phrase.  “What’s the Atlantis sea-based term for snow job?” she asked, seemingly impressed with his gall.  “An amusing challenge?  Is this the kind of thing your Atlantis counselors fall for?”

“Selina, please, the King of Atlantis is asking a favor,” he said, ignoring the theatrics.  “Atlantis will owe you one, that’s not a bad way to begin your married life.”

“Maybe not, but giving Bruce a Ra’s al Ghul problem to worry about is,” she said pointedly… And waited, looking at him critically… Some men would have tried the puppy head tilt, some would have pushed back, and some would have bargained to sweeten the deal.  Arthur simply sat back, a king. 

A king who knew the worth of his offer.

A king who knew the worth of what he had offered and did not... 

He did not…

He did not have a cat. 

Rather than maintain the fiercely critical appraisal, Selina had tilted her head at a kittenish angle and offered a simple smile.

“Atlantis will owe you, and I will too,” he said.  “Personally, I will owe you a huge favor.  And all you have to do is let the dog-faced puffer send you a gift of some kind.”

The cute kitten smile broke into a triumphant cackle.

“You’re on!  I want your chef,” she declared, and went on as Arthur blinked in shock.  “Your personal chef.  When I was down there to see Ra’s, he gave me tea.  (Because of course he did; you know what he’s like with the gracious host routine.)  And there were these wonderful little globules, almost like Japanese raindrop cakes, but without the syrup and much, much more flavor.  And I figure, if that’s prison food, it must be a fairly pedestrian part of Atlantis cuisine, am I right?”

He was laughing, head down, shaking his head. 

“Alginate spheres, yes, they’re about as common as microwave popcorn.” 

“Well they’re beautiful,” she said.  “And nobody on the surface has seen anything like them, whereas a wedding cake is kind of…  And I’m guessing the royal pastry chef does something a lot more sophisticated than whoever cooks for the puffer-face prisoner, am I right?  The… ‘spheres’ Ra’s served had something like ‘sea-raisins’ suspended inside.  Think we could do something more wedding-ish and pretty like candied rose petals?”

“I will lend you my chef to reproduce whatever it was in the alginate spheres at our last state dinner,” Arthur said, offering his hand in a bargain.

“You are a darling,” Selina beamed.  “I will tell Bruce we’re expecting a gift from Ra’s al Ghul, manage his reaction (somehow), and send a thank you note.  I think that last part is going to be the hardest actually.” 

“I’m sure,” Arthur said, relieved. 

They chatted for a few minutes, Arthur became the latest male acquaintance who offered to give her away if Selina wanted someone to take the role, but before he could receive her pat response, Alfred appeared with a snack tray—as well as news that Selina had a visitor who was, regrettably, upstairs being received by Bruce in her absence. 

“Mr. Cobblepot, miss.”

Selina rushed off, shooting Faust a nasty look as she went and muttering that it saw fit to ‘warn her’ Aquaman was coming but didn’t think the Penguin was worth mentioning.

Arthur accepted a cookie and considered Alfred.

“You do all the cooking around here, I take it.” 

Alfred confirmed it, and Arthur’s manner became less regal.

“You’re probably the one I should ask then.  Surface weddings, wedding gifts, it has its place I know but, someone like Bruce doesn’t need another knick-knack any more than I do.  Whereas the traditional Atlantis gift…”

“Sir?” Alfred prompted when he trailed off.

“Salt.  Rare and exotic salt. Bali Reef fleur de sel, grey sea salt from Brittany, black lava salt from Cypress, pink mineral salt mined from ancient seabeds in the foothills of the Himalayas, red Hawaiian—it turns red from the clay beds they dry it in, you know.  And the Koreans roast their salt in bamboo and it releases this incredible—”

“What you describe would make an uncommonly welcome and appropriate gift, sir.  One I can guarantee will be thoroughly appreciated by the recipients.” 

 

The scene Selina walked into made her nostalgic for the day Eddie had come to the manor and the war of subtext that followed.  It rivaled 007 and the Bond Villain du jour squaring off at baccarat, but at least Eddie knew it was Batman’s door he’d knocked on and where the subtext was coming from.  But Oswald, at first she couldn’t guess what Oswald thought or why Bruce had the Battitude dialed up to palpable. 

They were in the sun room.  Alfred said he’d left them in the parlor off the foyer, but Bruce evidently felt proximity to the door was not an adequate tradeoff to balance proximity to the gifts.  When Selina joined them, there was a spike in the Bat-presence, but oddly Oswald didn’t seem to return the hostility.  He just accepted it.  Selina watched Bruce’s eyes curiously… maybe it wasn’t Battitude exactly.  More the non-fop and not-kidding Bruce Wayne who might not break your legs if you took him on at the wrong time, but who would certainly buy up every lot in a three blocks radius of your club and torture you out of business in whatever way amused him.

With Selina’s arrival he was dismissed.  He turned to her with a kiss and “I’ll just leave you two to settle whatever you have to work out” in a tone that made it impossible to imagine this man had ever been described as a fop…  Until the last second as he pulled back from the kiss, something flashed in his eyes, something that might almost be called humor if it wasn’t so clearly Batman.

“Yes, of course,” Selina murmured, and he left without ever glancing back at Oswald. 

Selina smiled a greeting, trying to ferret out his reaction (or lack of it) but figuring it would all be clear soon.

“My utmost congratulations, my esteemed feline colleague, and dare I say, after all this time, my good friend,” he cooed.

“Whatever you want, the answer is no,” Selina said firmly.

“An understandable response.  Allow me to explain the unfortunate but well-intentioned lapses that led to my unfortunate participation in that unfortunate business with the Pelacci-Marcuso nuptials.”

“That’s three unfortunates in a sentence that isn’t saying anything.  Fewer words, more sense, make it quick and get out.”

“Yes,” Oswald breathed.  “Your hostility and that of the lucky bridegroom is entirely—”

“Fewer words.”

“Ahem, understandable, yes.  But my dear Selina, you did hoist me up like a game bird several stories above Sixth Avenue.  If I can forgive and forget, surely you—”

“…”

“Yes, well, perhaps not one of those cases where the fault lay on both sides.  The point is, it was only the best of motives that brought me into the company of those damaged—intellectually challenged, emotionally damaged and batshit crazy individuals—who sought to prevent you and Wayne from knitting your souls together in holy matrimony.”

“…”

“Because they are precisely that: intellectually challenged, emotionally damaged and batshit crazy.  My dear Selina, there was no telling to what lengths such insane morons might go to prevent the marriage we all thought was yours.  I only joined them to keep it from going too far.  Please don’t hurt me.”

“…”

“I can easily arrange Jervis Tetch and Victor Frieze to be delivered up to your tender mercies.  Jonathan Crane will take a little more doing since he’s up in Arkham, but if you say the word, I will make it happen.”

“Oswald.”

“Let me live.”

“I’m not going to kill anyone.  Leave the wedding alone.  Don’t bother me until three weeks—no, let’s say five weeks after Bruce and I get back from the honeymoon and we’ll call it square, okay?”

“You are truly the most generous creature to ever—”

“Fewer words, more sense, go away,” she repeated.

“Yes, of course.  I did have one more—”

“Brief.”

“If you were in need of a… that is… somewhat lacking in the elder male relative department.”

“No.”

“In need of a father figure—”

“Thank you, no.”

“It would be no trouble at all, I already have the morning coat, in fact, I own six, and—”

“Giving myself away, Oswald.  Strictly speaking, I did a long time ago.  That’s why I live here.”

“Yes, kwak, quite.  Well then, I thank you, Mrs. Wayne (if I may jump the gun a little to be the first to call you so) for your munificent understanding, and perhaps you will be so good as to coax a little forgiveness from your future husband.  He seems quite inclined to hold a grudge.”

 

Bruce was dressing for what was to be his last three days at Wayne Enterprises before the extended leave that would span the wedding, honeymoon and an undetermined period on his return to Gotham, when he noticed a yellow glow on his dress shirts and turned to see Faust hovering behind him.

“Worried I’ll wear the Princeton tie to the arbitrage meeting and it will be misinterpreted in Hong Kong?” he graveled.

“Observation: You allude to an anecdote in Jon Prevel’s Tales of the Abyss and LexCorp that could be taken as either humor or sarcasm,” Faust observed.  “Since you are aware I am an AI and derive no enjoyment from witticisms, there is a 91% probability your intention is to express aggression and disapproval.  Query: Why?”

“I disapprove of you,” Bruce told it.  “What do you want?”

“Information: since the break-up of this morning’s meeting, nineteen queries have been initiated through Watchtower systems relating to Burj Al Arab hotel and marina in Dubai on the logins West, Raynor and O’Brian.”

“I see.”

“There is also a video of Tiger Woods teeing off from the Royal Suite’s helipad which has been viewed seven times.”

Bruce’s lip twitched.

“There is a 94% probability the plans for your bachelor party have been leaked,” Faust concluded.

“That was the idea,” Bruce said simply.

 

Selina’s afternoon only became more chaotic after Oswald left, and she wouldn’t have minded a good sparring session in lieu of dinner to blow off steam.  Unfortunately with such a late start getting into the city, Bruce said he’d be going on patrol straight from the tower.  Selina went to the cave anyway, bypassed the gym and went straight to Workstation 1.  She pulled up the At-Large list (noting that Maxie Zeus and Firefly were the only ones she hadn’t either seen or spoken to since breakfast) and made an educated guess at the patrol route that would result.  She studied it, and picked a catworthy target.

Just after midnight, Batman saw the telltale signs of a break-in at Le Joyau.  Proximity to the alarm box revealed a bit of a puzzle: the burglar was an obvious pro.  It was a rushed job: this model would allow only a ten to twelve second window to strip and cut the wires in sequence, and given the speed, it was incredibly neat work.  He took the service door inside as he considered the problem that deduction presented: real skill at the alarm box, yet the tells that caught his attention were sloppy for thieves of this caliber.  That probably meant a team, a more experienced man on the alarm working with a junior who gave away their position inside.  It could also mean out-of-towners who weren’t accustomed to crimefighters and their vantage points on rooftops.  But who came into Gotham without working Batman into their pla—

“Let me tell you about my day,” said the irate bustle of purple coming at him a split second ahead of the thought.  Batman shut his eyes as the impact of a leather backpack hit his chest.  He looked inside and saw six long, thin jewel boxes with the Joyau logo stamped into the lids.  Her arm was dangling in easy grabbing distance, and he snatched at her wrist and led her back to the vault.  She talked non-stop as he returned the loot he’d “recovered.”

Aquaman’s Ra’s problem, which was now their Ra’s problem in so far as they would have to accept a gift that was probably more than it seemed.  Oswald’s appeal for forgiveness which was followed by Jervis Tetch coming to the manor with a similar plea, followed by Victor—all begging her understanding and forgiveness for opposing her marriage to Bruce, all offering up the other two to buy their own second chance, and all but Jervis throwing in Jonathan Crane as a sweetener.  These visits were interrupted by an honor guard of elite Atlantean Cetea bringing Arthur’s gift: seven miniature chests of salt that Alfred was quite spectacularly excited about and he’ll be telling you why in considerable detail.  And if by some chance he’s forgotten why the Hawaiian Haleakala Alaea is red, that’s okay because the Atlantis honor guard who brought the stuff are staying. They’re back at the manor now, guarding the gifts apparently, because when His Majesty, Orin VI of Poseidonis sends salt of the seven realms, it’s a thing.  And then there’s Harley…

 

Harley might be delusional enough to put stock in the Gotham Post, but Pamela Isley knew exactly what Selina thought of her.  Catwoman might show up to help save her from Clayface, but that was only because Hagen would have come for her next.  They weren’t friends.  They moved in the same circles and they tolerated each other because their friends all knew each other.  And that was that.  There could be no reason for Selina to invite her other than pity and Pamela had too much pride to go along with that.

The irony that would haunt her for days is if she’d said any of that when Selina called, her refusal would have very likely been accepted.  Instead, for reasons she would never understand, she burbled an excuse about Harley.  Harley!  Of all the stupid… Selina knew enough to connect the dots, and at that point it all came out: Harley had gone back to Joker (of course), he’d cut her wrists (of course), and Pamela just couldn’t get past it.  Not this time.  Not another bloody round after all the raised hopes and disappointments.  No.  More.  Pamela realized why Selina must be doing this, to humor Harley.  After that nonsense in the Post, the insane ditz must have wedding fever as never before and Pamela… couldn’t bear to see it.  She didn’t know if she ever wanted to be in the same room as that ditzy airhead again, but she certainly couldn’t bring herself to witness… She couldn’t just plaster a smile on her face pretending to give a fuck about Bruce and Selina while Harley bubbled and fizzed at the idea of two people getting married. 

At least…

At least she didn’t think she wanted see it.

Selina had said nothing, she’d just let Pamela babble on, and without Selina saying anything to contradict, Pamela began arguing against herself.

Harley bubbling and fizzing was something to see.  It made you feel good just standing there looking at it.  Just breathing the same air as all that bubbling idiocy, it was…

Pleasant.

And the thing was, Harley was going to be bubbling and fizzing whether Pam was there to see it or not.

But no.  No.  It would be too hard.  It would be too awkward.  Seeing her again?  After she’d gone back to Joker again.  How could she even…

Selina pointed out that there would be another guest.  Doris would be there.  If Pammy was that anxious about seeing Harley again, it was certainly better to do it in a group than one-on-one.

 

…By now, Batman had restored the Le Joyau vault and taken his ‘prisoner’ to a nearby gargoyle to finish her story. 

“So your bachelorette fling is going to be Isley, Quinn, and Doris,” he said grimly.

“Part 1 is,” Selina said with the naughty grin his disapproval usually evoked.  “Middle of the week to contain the damage (theoretically) and get it out of the way so I can relax and enjoy the rest.”

“Part 1,” he graveled.

“Cats have nine lives,” she reminded him.  “Transitions take time.” 

“Selina—Catwoman,” he amended, with an exasperated gesture at her costume, “It doesn’t occur to you that inviting Poison Ivy, even in her current state, Harley Quinn and Game Theory to your bachelorette just might spark ideas about Batman?  Mischief centered around Batman?”

Selina looked at him pityingly. 

“Well you picked your hemisphere, darling.  That left me with the one that includes Gotham.  Be strong.  The republic will survive.”

He scowled.

“It’ll be fine.  It’ll be boring.”

He scowled.

“Some champagne, some heist movies.  Do you know, I’ve never seen Ocean’s Eleven?” 

Bruce looked at his fiancée.  Batman looked at Catwoman.  And Psychobat looked at the harbinger of Gotham’s destruction. 

He scowled.

“Can I see your cuffs.”

He… scowled but also looked around the back of her shoulder, touched her hair briefly, inspected her claws…

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Checking for signs of a dimension leak.  Alternate universe seepage, shape shifters, magic—”

“It’s me, jackass.  I was just… I read the Post today.”

“Oh Selina, why would you—”

“Have you seen it?”

“I saw the headline,” he admitted.  “I know they identified your designer, and I assumed I am not to look inside if—”

“It’s not that, it’s—they haven’t got the dress; it’s safe if you want to look.  It’s just… They think I’m fearless.  And I’m left remembering what a ‘fraidy cat I was when we got together: my independence, stealing—a master violinist in a room full of pianos, remember?  And the giant mouse in my closet before I moved in?”

His lip twitched. 

“There wasn’t actually a mouse, was there,” she said rhetorically.  “I invented it.  A real mouse never would have spooked me, but a manifestation of… no Scarecrow toxin required.”

“Selina, our lives are complex, more than the Gotham Post could ever depict even if they knew… everything.”

“I know.  I know you’re right, it’s just… that chick with the bad hair is fearless.”

“Selina, that’s you.  It’s meant to be you; that’s what they see.”

“I invented a mouse that wasn’t there.  I was nearly in tears the night I thought Ivy’d greened you, remember?  ‘The wildcat’s been tamed.’  And let’s not forget the MoMA opening.”

“You hide it well.  They only see the serene, magnificent feline.”

“With bad hair.”

“...”

“Serene, magnificent, fearless, and for some reason, 2003 Calvin Klein model hair.”

“...”

“Bruce, I love you more than I know how to express… but I was scared.  I’m okay now because we’re here, and we’re… wonderful together, but then?  You were there; you saw what a mess I was.  Every step we took, I didn’t know what it meant.  For you, for me, the future, my self-respect as woman, as a thief, the… niche I’d carved out for myself—I invented myself, I created this—mmmphln.”

Her babble was cut off by a warm kiss before it could build to a rant, and the kiss was cut off by the clack of batcuffs before it could build to something more.

“Hey,” she spat.

“You wanted to see them, see how fast you can get out.  Go-oh,” he said casually, and then secured the cuffs as she slipped them back into his belt.

“What was that for?” she asked.

“I wanted to break your rhythm; that’s the most effective way.  Selina, you were not ‘a mess.’  You were alive.  I’m alive.  Life is change, and change is… messy.  Look, do you remember at Xanadu, right before I… introduced myself, do you remember what you said?”

“No,” she admitted with a shy smile.  “To be perfectly honest, I remember the bungalow and you’d found the ticklish spot behind my knee, ‘It’s almost two hours to dinner’ and ‘what should we do.’  The beach, ‘we could walk to the lighthouse,’ and we started down a path… And intellectually I know you asked how I became Catwoman and I said something catty like it seemed like a good idea at the time.  And we went back and forth a bit.  But if we’re being honest, all I really remember is we started down a path and I had this out-of-body experience where I loved you, and there you were.  A hand that didn’t have a glove on, fingers intertwined with mine.  I don’t remember what I said, I don’t remember what I thought between starting down that path and ‘My name is Bruce.’”

“There was a fork in the path,” he reminded her.  “You rejected the idea of an easy answer, that your choice or mine to put on a mask could be summed up in a sentence ‘like a listing in the TV Guide.’  And when I told you in a sentence why Batman…”

“I went back to the fork and headed down the took the other path,” she said, smiling.  “Some forced analogy about the stream and the rock bed.  You said I was wise.”

“You were right.  You rejected the simplicity that you’re comparing yourself to now, and you were right.  I was more than what those two gunshots made me, and you’re more than the desire to steal an expensive bauble to feel the love you had from your parents.  And that’s why we work.  Because we’re not locked into those two sentences.  Because we’re alive, and life is change.  Selina, we don’t love each other less than some simplified reflections in the Post.  They exist because we exist, and we exist because we’re more than that.”

Selina wiped a tear.

“Okay, first, you’re the one who’s wise,” she said quickly, as if trying to outrun her tears, “And you should probably write the vows, because I can’t begin to… wow.  Just… wow.  And second…”  She pointed to the sky behind him and the gleaming Bat-Signal on the clouds.  “Whoever is behind that, cause them pain.”

Batman looked at it, and back at her.

“Are we good?” he asked hurriedly.

“We’re good, we’re good,” she said, shooing him.  “Punch them very hard.  I’m probably going to do Cartiers for old times sake!” she added as he fired a line.

“Better that than the bachelorette with Harley and Ivy,” he murmured as he swung away.

To be continued...

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