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Ever Fixed

by Chris Dee

   Part 3: Three Pillars

 

The malevolence that resembled Alfred Pennyworth watched Nigma chatting with Ford Dormont and briefly tried on both of their forms, until Nigma pointed to the little girl Matt Hagen had already identified as his best way to approach Selina.  He’d learned the hard way that, up close, a target will spot the impersonation of people who are allowed to get close.  If he tried to approach Selina as Bruce, as Alfred or as Nigma, he’d be busted in a heartbeat.  Bruce was her lover, Alfred a housemate she saw daily, and she played poker with Nigma.  Even Batman she knew well enough to spot imperfections in the way Hagen saw him.  He would never get close enough to snap her neck—and that was too quick anyway.  What he had in mind for her required time as well as proximity.  Lots of time. 

So he returned to Alfred’s form for one more leg of the journey, and then spotting the Atlanteans up ahead, he changed to Lucius Fox for safety and ducked into what he thought was a guest toilet but turned out to be a little cubby hole off the ballroom.  There was a large flower arrangement that made the hate burn like cyclone of fire around his heart.  He reached out his hand until it enveloped the disgusting blossoms, pouring his hate into the clay, heating and pressurizing it even as he drew it into his center—hating—hating—heating and pressurizing and hating its disgusting virginal white obscenity stinking of Gaia Life—then he expelled it to sit as it had on its table, a brittle, blackened dead thing that would crumble to ash if he blew on it.  But he wouldn’t.  It was a scarier sight as it was. 

Inside him, the excruciating cyclone subsided to the level that was its basic resting pulse since the park, the Hate was always with him now—the fire always with him—searing yet life giving, pushing him on, the Hate.  The sacred fire.  Life-giving Hate: Whore of Babylon, Jezebel, Ivy, Cat.

The inferno turned down to a simmer as he shrunk to the shape of that girl with the viola.  Nothing better.  No one is afraid of a girl like that, least of all a bride.  A beautiful bride is always ready to smile at a wide-eyed girl—she would let him get close, and then he would have her.

 

I knew something was wrong almost as soon as we’d left the bedroom.  You can’t spend the nights I have on Gotham rooftops without developing a sense for it: being watched, being stalked… and being hunted. 

Lois had joined us by the time I finished with Jason, and being Lois she’d navigated my Superman fib like a champ.  Doris hugged me and went off to join Eddie and we took the backstairs to avoid the grand staircase and the Great Hall.  Two steps in it hit me—hot, nauseous dread—the backstairs were predictable.  And they were narrow—not vent narrow but in these dresses we had to go single file, creating a kill zone, which made them seem pharaoh’s tomb claustrophobically narrow.

“Oh God,” I breathed, which Anna naturally assumed was jitters.

“Easy girl, just think of Bruce.  He loves you, honey.  He’s got it worse than any man I’ve ever seen.”

All I heard was ‘think of Bruce’—Bruce who thinks of everything.  Bruce who would have had four dozen routes mapped out to get from the bedroom to the altar, none of which was a fucking kill zone.  Bruce who didn’t harass me with thirty reminders to plan a route downstairs because he trusts me—Fuck.  Fuck.  He trusted me because he had this silly idea that I was Catwoman and knew enough to move thirty feet through my own home without getting myself killed.

I was going to blow this. 

I was really going to blow this. 

Some part of my brain remembered our first year together, that first Hell Month when he said I was the love of his life and I—and I thought your once in a lifetime chance to screw it up for good—and I thought of that night after Cat-Tales when he kissed me and I felt the real man in there behind Batman, and how vulnerable he was and how dumb he was to be kissing Catwoman and how I had to protect him from a trainwreck like me—and—and—And I thought of Lois.  “You’ve got good old-fashioned wedding jitters.”

“Lois?” I said, though I could barely hear myself so I’m not sure she could hear me.  “When you said—”

At that moment, we’d reached the bottom of the stairs in this niche outside the dining room when Femi Molokhya came running up to me. 

“Well hello, sweetie,” Anna started to say, all smiles and crouching a little, when Femi’s arm sprouted into a grotesque claw and swatted her nearly up to the ceiling. 

In a blink, Femi had lunged into a six-foot Clayface leaning in and poised to strike, and I heard that distinct ‘mph-MMPH!’ from Lois that meant he’d slapped one of those mud gags on her.

His face arched forward until it was inches from mine—and I felt this weird déjà vu.  Dread and revulsion but something else—or someone else.

“I am going to rip your heart out and shove it down your throat,” Matt croaked in this horrible gravel.  “And while you choke on it, I’ll—”

There was a swffffTUNK and I was suddenly looking at Alfred’s chef knife lodged in the side of Clayface’s nose. 

-swffffTUNK-
-swffffTUNK-
-swffffTUNK-

And there were three more sticking out of his shoulder, chest and thigh.

-swffffTUNK-
-swffffTUNK-

And one in the forehead.

“You go now,” Pikhai said, somehow finding a phrase his wobbly English didn’t mangle, while Anna had recovered enough to crouch behind him.

Whatever Matt has left in the way of bones or organs under the mud, it didn’t like being stabbed.  He was mostly focused on Pikhai now, though he glanced my way enough that I could see the wheels turning: he was trying to figure out how much damage he could do in one good lunge and how much Pikhai could do in response. 

Luckily I had a weapon of my own to tip the balance.  An adapted waterpik tucked neatly into the bouquet.  It was meant to deliver a quick slash of pressurized liquid to get me out of whatever clay trap I’d fallen into so I could run, but Matt didn’t have to know that.  I pointed it like I was Dirty Harry and snarled Shimbala’s past-feeding-time-and-I’m-not-playing snarl.

“Didn’t anyone tell you what happens if you mess with a bride on her wedding day?”  I gave him the tilted head with the hungry eyes, when the leopards are deciding whether to go for the throat.

He took a step back (So far, so good. No heart being torn out of my chest) but there were three other people in the middle of this, and running wasn’t likely to save me let alone help any of them.  So it was reason or bust:

“Matthew, I know you were only in the park that night because of me,” I began. 

“You,” he croaked.  You never heard so much hate packed into a single syllable.  You could feel it like the blast of heat when you open an oven.  The sound prickled in my ears—I could feel it in the curves and canals, and could almost feel it boring into my brain. 

“You.”

It was in my nostrils like intensely bad breath, except not a smell but this sense of powerful, personal hatred.  It was in my mouth, coating my tongue—“You”—It made my eyes sting.  Twin intertwined passions: wanting me in pain and wanting to be the cause of that pain.

For all that, I didn’t budge in my Dirty Harry stance. 

It didn’t stop him. 

“You don’t even like her,” he said.  “And why should you?  Narcissist and fanatic with the mind of a bratty child, temper of a brain damaged pitbull.  Nobody’d care if she died that night.  But you—you had to drag me in.  ‘It’s what you do.’  Why?”

“She was hurting people.”

“WHAT DO YOU CARE?!” he roared.  “PEOPLE GET HURT EVERY DAY!  GODDESS CUNT STINKING OF GAIA FINALLY HURT THE WRONG ONE AND WAS GONNA BE FRIED BY MIDNIGHT—YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID GOOD RIDDANCE!  YOU SHOULD HAVE OPENED YOURSELF UP, CAT, AND ENJOYED THE MOMENT—FEEL IT!  DRINK IT IN!  FEEL THE WORTHLESS BITCH BURN!”

“…”

“…”

“… And scene,” I said finally.  He panted and snorted like a bull that had just charged and was almost—but not quite—ready to do it again.  I only had a few moments to make this work when I only had the slightest slippery grasp on what ‘this’ was.  “No, guess not,” I stalled.  “I haven’t seen a lot of your movies, Matthew, but I have seen you get your drama stud on a few times.  That wasn’t it.”

“‘The fuck are you talking about, whore?”

“That was Etrigan.  I’ve had him in my head, Matt; I had him in my head that night in fact.  I know those phrases.  Open up, taste her fear, drink it in—”

“Whore of Babylon, you are the sin-master and soul-murdered!”

“Matthew, you don’t care about Pammy any more than I do, if anything you cared less, but you came to the park that night because you knew that if you didn’t, I was going in alone.  We were never enemies, Matt, not that I was aware of, and I thought we were becoming friends.  And now we’re standing here poised to strike at one another because you came here to kill me.  Think about that—there’s no reason for this—it’s all Etrigan.”

“OF COURSE IT IS!  I TOOK A FIREBALL, WORTHLESS CAT!  BECAUSE ‘THAT’S WHAT YOU DO!’  I DIDN’T TAKE JUST A LITTLE FOR YOU, I STRETCHED OUT TO SHIELD HER TOO—BECAUSE YOU’RE ON THE WRONG SIDE!  LADY OF SLAUGHTER, SHE WHO MAULS, FIERCEST OF HUNTERS WHOSE EYES BLAZE WITH THE HEAT OF THE SUN, BREATHING THE DESERT UPON THE CITY THAT OFFENDS TO SWALLOW IT WHOLE!  THAT’S WHAT CAT-WOMAN IS MEANT TO BE!  NOT CARING IF SOME FILTHY DRUID SAP-PUKING WOOD NYMPH STRIKES DOWN A FEW MORE THAN SHE’S DUE!”

“Fine.  Screw reason; back to snarling,” I said.  “Take the gag off Lois and thank whatever god you pray to that you didn’t smudge the dress.”

He slurped away almost faster than you could see it—which might have seemed too easy, but I was betting he’d raised his voice enough that ungagging Lois was no longer necessary.  He certainly wasn’t loud enough to be heard in the chapel, but—yep—I turned and Clark and Wally were “stepping into the doorway” before all those clay embedded knives even hit the floor.  They were both in civvies and doing that ridiculous ‘looking casual’ stance all the heroes seem to do when they’re on the job and trying to hide it. 

(“Where was that light touch this morning?” you may ask.  Where was the metagene multiplier on subtlety and tact when I was in my bedroom with my boobs flattened?  The situational cluelessness of capes is a mystery beyond mortal understanding.)

What they’d actually done back there I couldn’t guess, but whatever Matt had seen, the stand-off had ended without Pikhai or Anna realizing Superman and Flash were at the party.  Now they were quietly backing out again, so for the moment we had containment.  No “wasn’t meant to be” headline and I was still breathing. 

“Clark, I need Jason Blood now,” I whispered.  “Bruce doesn’t need to know the specifics of what you saw, but tell him I’m onto something.”

I couldn’t say more.  Pikhai had come to collect the knives, and Anna was staying close enough that you couldn’t see light between them. 

I thanked him (Ra’s minion or not, he was the hero of the hour) and since he seemed pretty interested in the waterpik I let him have a look.  He gave a patronizing chuckle: half contempt for the weapon, half admiring my bluff, and then he said it was a pity about the knives. 

“Such fine cooking blades are rarely seen, but I cannot guess how they could be cleaned for touching food again after the goop of that foul thing.”

… He was a strange one.

Bruce would have been suspicious, I mean, a minion of Ra’s al Ghul just showing up like that, throwing knives to save the Detective’s feline concubine?  But to me it felt like… like the other side of what I experienced with Clark about the Stradivarius.  He wasn’t “normal” and that’s what it takes to fit into the crazy rhythm of the place.  Gotham in general, and Wayne Manor on one of its craziest days...

I put Lois in charge of comforting Anna by way of distracting her: repairing the hair, checking the dress for smears of clay, etc.  Lois is the world’s leading expert on putting yourself back together after the unimaginable, and Anna was just stunned enough that she went along without worrying about me.  That left me alone with Pikhai, and by the time Jason arrived I’d got his story.  Even through the wobbly English, everything he said confirmed what I’d worked out… 

“Jason, what you told me earlier about magic and intent, it works the other way too, doesn’t it?  Matt was ‘killed’ by Etrigan’s fireball that night in the park.  Literal hellfire, meant for me.  Etty’s intent that night was to kill—at the very least to kill Ivy, to draw it out and make it hurt, and if I happened to burn before making it to the lake, c'est la vie.”

“So it seems,” Jason said with that dismissive I-don’t-feel-guilty-and-I’m-sick-of-talking-about-this tone that I can respect as a cat, most of the time, but not now when he must know I wasn’t angling for an apology.

“Jason, Matt got infused with Etrigan’s evil that night, I’m certain of it.  ‘Open up, drink in their fear,’ I know those phrases.  You must know those phrases; it’s pure Etty.  Could the intent to kill powering that fireball have fused with Hagen’s clay and that’s what’s coming after me?  Still Etrigan’s wind-up and pitch, just using Matt Hagen’s body now in place of the fire?”

There was a pause, and Jason’s expression was that of a man checking if the milk had gone sour.

“Judging by the silence and a feeling of unsavory amusement, I would say yes.  It’s not something Etrigan intended, but he has known about it for some time and he seems to look on it as accidentally drawing an inside straight.”

“I see.”  There was nothing else to say, really.  Tangle with cats, you’re going to get scratched.  Play around with demons and sooner or later, somebody is getting licked with hellfire.  I was just unlucky that it was a clay man who absorbed the stuff rather than frying in it. 

At least now I knew what I was up against.  I sent for Bishop Geoff, and recited the three pillars of my day:

Getting married—this above all—Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Wayne. 

Stay alive—shapeshifter out to get me—but now at least I knew why. 

Beat the headline—whatever is behind it, whatever menace is lurking, somehow, someway—Sorry, Times, we are meant to be. 

 

The string quartet began their pre-ceremony program, prompting more guests to take their seats though a few continued to mingle.  Conversation shifted from the free range, open air pleasantries with whoever happened to be standing there to the serious business of where to settle for hushed exchanges on specifics once the ceremony began.

Ford Dormont was a skilled social tactician, though taking on Riddler and Game Theory may have been punching above his weight.  Still, a novel based on Bruce and Selina required better access than he was getting from red carpets and society gossip.  The pair of them were maddeningly elusive.  They were seen at events, appeared in the right circles: opera, horses, art, sports… but they always remained apart, never became regulars, never stuck

Doris was his in.  She’d been a part of Selina’s pre-bachelorette night at Après and gone to the real shindig on Jumby Island.  Anna Karalis might be useful filling in Selina’s past, and his Mayfair readers would be satisfied with that.  But Doris was the intimate friend of the present, and that’s where the crime was, here in Gotham, and that’s what he’d need for the novel he envisioned. 

At least that was his plan when he and Ash arrived.  Ash was happy to act as bait, seeking out Edward Nigma and drawing him out on famous puzzles from ancient Egypt to the Sanborn sculpture at Langley.  But then, rather than leading him to the row Ford had chosen too rapt in conversation to notice, Ash spotted a thread on Ford’s collar and drew his friend aside. 

“Ed’s your guy, not the girl,” he reported as he fussed with Ford’s collar.  “He was next to her at the opera a while back—next to Selina, in the Wayne box—set off a feeding frenzy of climbers using him to get close to her.  Also, Martin from the Times is late.  If you want to take over his seat, I’ll plop them next to you up there.”

“Oh dear,” Ford tittered.  “Late for a wedding on this scale?  The only time I had something like that happen, the fellow was stabbed.”  Ford salivated as he looked at the seat unofficially reserved for Martin Stanwick of Hermione’s Society Chit Chat, and at Liv Bantree who’d claimed the seat beside it and Trip Cochran in the row behind.  All those tidbits meant for Martin’s pages could now find their way to his. 

“Thank you, Ash.  Thank you very much.”

 

“You look very beautiful, Miss Selina.”

There is no level of insanity Alfred can’t make just a little more manageable.  “Whatever’s come barreling out of the future,” it seems to say, “whatever has risen from the dead or shimmered in from another dimension to wreak havoc, British butlers have seen worse.  We do not let it upend our calm, tarnish our dignity, or interfere with tea being served promptly at five.” 

He’d come in, “Begging your pardon, miss…” and seeing the dress for the first time, had to acknowledge it before getting down to business.  “There is news from the front hall, I’m afraid.”

I was afraid of something else entirely.

“Alfred, don’t make me use a tone,” I said, using a tone.  “I know Bruce couldn’t stop you from working today, and I do understand why, but you promised, once three guests had arrived you would go sit with Dick and Barbara like any other member of the family, which you are.  It’s important to Bruce—Hell, it’s important to me, but even if it wasn’t, I’m juggling so much crazy right now, Bruce losing it because you wouldn’t let the first mate pilot the ship for a few hours is—”

“Superman is here, miss.”

I knew that.  Alfred knew I knew that, so he couldn’t mean…

Mr. Kent is with Master Bruce in his study,” he added dryly.  “Yet Superman has just arrived.”

“Well that’s a typical film star, going to upstage me at my own wedding,” I muttered.  Superman is the A-lister among capes, right?  It was known he escorted me to that polo game a while back, got lots of press.  It’s not completely unreasonable that he could be a guest.  Of course I would know I didn’t invite him, but from Matt’s POV, Superman showing up uninvited wouldn’t throw me.  I would just assume…

“Have you told Bruce and Clark?” I asked.

“Master Dick is informing Mr. Kent as we speak,” Alfred said, and then paused that very particular pause when he’s got a caustic word for Bruce but is holding his tongue unless provoked.

“Out with it,” I ordered.

“Mr. Kent and I determined this morning that, at the thirty minute mark, Master Bruce should be shielded from any information which might disorient his focus.”

Of course.  The pair of them have had us married for years.  They consider us impossibly difficult problem children for not giving them this wedding years ago and— 

“Alfred, just out of curiosity, when is my cut-off time?”

“Two hours ago, miss.  The only reason I’ve apprised you of the matter is that your life is in danger.”

“…”

In other words, there was no telling how much was going on that I didn’t know about because it didn’t involve a possessed T-1000 aiming to rip my heart out.

“Miss?”

“Alfred, please ask ‘Superman’ to meet me upstairs in my suite, and try to feel him out if he’s got a message from Batman.”

“Miss?”

“Possessed or not, Hagen is a drama queen.  He sees soap opera in any situation.  And he’s baiting me, so let him think it’s working.  You’ve told me Superman is here, check, and I assumed he has a message from Batman.  You’re astute enough to have noticed, so when you show him up to the suite, let on.  I know Matt.  He won’t know if I’m dreading the message or hoping for it, but either way, he’s on his way to play a great scene.  His mind will be on that, how he’s going to play it and not whether I’m onto him and who is really baiting who.”

“Very good, miss.”

I waited until he was gone before stripping.  Jason helpfully zapped the exquisite 150-hours of hand-stitched couture corsetry, laces and buttons to function like 21st Century velcro for the next fifteen minutes and I dashed out in my specially-made bridal silk underwear to the astonished stares of Szczenae Orlan and Ahalkea. 

“Here!” I said, passing the dress to Orlan like a football.  “Guard this.  Guard it like the life of your king Orin of Atlantica, Pacifica and dominions beyond the reefs, and no matter what happens, no matter who you see, no matter what they say, DO NOT LET IT GET WET!”

I ran. 

I have run through the back halls of houses like Wayne Manor before, where being spotted by the likes of Richard Flay or Gladys-Ashton Larraby could have dire consequences that I wouldn’t easily escape.  I was in a respectable leather catsuit, not handstitched French underwear, but I had done it.  I dodged Endicotts and Corcorans, Bantrees and Yorks, Park Avenue Gardners and River Place Gardners, Nigmas and Dormonts…

And finally…

I reached…

My suite… 

It was a risk, but I took an extra second to move the Wanli vase from the urn stand outside the door and with it safely stashed in the bedroom, went into the suite to meet my doom.

“Superman, I see you found it okay.  Thank you for agreeing to meet like this.  Away from prying eyes, I mean.  Prying ears.  I think you have something for me—”

The trick baiting overpowered opponents is to keep them off-balance where they’re buried in a chain of reactions and not thinking through any one move.  Matt barely had time to process that I was in my underwear when I hit him with that line just begging the movie villain to throw off his disguise and make his move.

“Something for you—YES!” he said, savaging the last word as his arm turned into a long spike thrusting at my middle.  He hadn’t waited for me to step all the way into the room, so I simply ran out and down the hallway towards the kill zone.  Only had to dodge one clay-spear and had one nasty skid in the muddy spillage but I made it to the turn into the blue room where the waterfall shower was hooked up to a special reservoir of 3.5% saline approximating seawater for Szczenae Orlan and Ahalkea—which the bishop had just blessed and which Wally should have speed-connected to the sprinklers. 

I raced in, looked for the button, had to dodge another clay-spear and had a mud-snake coiling up my leg like an anaconda before I found it, but I did find it and I pushed it before the clay-snake could get in a position to squeeze.  I continued running—sort of—while Matt went from trying to maneuver his attack-snake for leverage to simply reshaping it into position. 

There was no banter now, just the demonic snarling I remembered from the hell hounds.  And he was squeezing all kinds of places that made it hard to run and hard to breathe, so I wasn’t going to chit-chat.  But I was still doing both—running and breathing—although Time was now the enemy.  Mine obviously, as his bulk caught up with the snake-appendage and I had his full mass trying to squeeze the life out of me—but also his, because every second I was dragging him across the kill floor getting more and more doused with holy water.  I waltzed him around the bedroom until he lost the cohesion to really squeeze me hard, and then I lunged into the bathroom as if this had all been nothing but a desperate bid to escape and in my desperation I’d chosen the wrong door.  Instead, I slammed us both at the shower and sliced off a piece of him in the waterfall stream—smashing the controls with one hand and freakishly protecting my hair with the other!  A final lunge pushed what was left of him into the famously over-sized Victorian bathtub, filled with water also blessed by the bishop and dousing the living hell out of him, literally.

“Hey C.W.,” I heard him say—I heard it very distinctly coming from the slice that came off in the shower, though it was now little more than a misshapen baseball bat lying in a mud puddle.  “Sorry… about ruining…”  came from the tub “your special…” from a blob on the sink  “…day.”  I’m not sure where the last word came from.

There was nothing after that.

I stood there, panting.

Waited for my vision to clear.

Had a hand on the sink to steady myself.

Panted a little more.

And stumbled out to the bedroom to see Alfred, Pikhai and the guardsmen all standing in the doorway.

“Well, he’s no longer evil,” I said, looking down at the globules of mud and slime on the floor and dripping down the wall.  “But he’s got no structural integrity.”  More panting before I could explain the holy water may have washed away whatever malevolence Etrigan infused into him, but it’s still water and he couldn’t hold himself together.

“What about the salt?” Pikhai asked.  “Salt draws out moisture, does it not?  Baking potatoes, do you not lay on a bed of rock salt to draw out moisture and make them greatly with flakiness.”

“Y-yes, that is the case—excuse me but who are you?” Alfred asked like Pikhai was a dog that had suddenly begun talking. 

I understood his confusion.  Pikhai isn’t what any of us expect in a Demon minion, and of course Alfred missed the earlier episode in the kitchen.  But it wasn’t the time for introductions.  He was right about the salt, and I sent the Orlan and Ahalkea to get Arthur’s gift: seven chests of the purest sea salt available to the king of Atlantis.  It was enough to fill the drained bathtub, and as soon as we got six globules of clay-mud in close proximity they quivered like that bit in the Terminator when the T-1000 is blown to bits—and just like in that scene, they pulled themselves together into one big blob! 

I was so excited I bounced and clapped like a high school cheerleader—I might have kissed Alfred’s cheek if I hadn’t realized Orlan, Ahalkea and Pikhai were all looking at my chest. 

“Yes, fine, I’m in my underwear,” I said.  “Eyes on the prize, gentlemen.  This man is not dead, which means I did not kill him—again.  Let’s get as much of him onto the salt as we can.  We don’t know what kind of shapeshifter-brain death clock is ticking.”

We were ferrying Clayface globules over in handfuls when Wally appeared in the door—in that judgmental The-Hero-has-Arrived pose I’d never actually seen from a Flash.

“Hi,” he said in the uptight cape tone that went with the pose—and I suddenly realized how it must look.  Bride in her underwear on her hands and knees, picking bits of goo off the floor, butler, ninja and two guards in various postures doing the same thing, arms cupped in front of them, running their contents into the bathroom.  “Selina, could I have a word in private?”

In all the times I’ve suffered that tone from a cape, I’ve never felt I deserved it like I did right then. 

“Clark’s heard bits and pieces,” he said as soon as we were safely out of earshot, “and he’s done a pretty spectacular job keeping Bruce occupied, figuring that was the best course given what he's heard.  But now he’s heard enough that— just— at what point was it going to occur to you that you had Flash and Superman, like, in the house?  Is it a Gotham thing, or is it just— Crazy woman, go put your clothes on and let the supers handle this!”

I… did not have a reasonable answer, so I went and dressed. 

It was a lot easier the second time.  Not because of Jason’s velcro voodoo on the lacing but because it’s the kind of thing I’d done before.  A heist gone sideways, a Bat encounter and a Bat pursuit, traditional avenues of escape east, west, up and down all iffy at best… But I had a Plan B whenever there was a black tie event in the vicinity (which in the neighborhoods I prowl is always)… Shedding Catwoman’s fur and disappearing into that parallel dimension of Gotham nightlife: the privileged class enjoying their privileges.  A spritz of hairspray (also used for beating thermal sensors—a multi-tasker!) and pinning my hair up (hairpins double as lockpicks, as everybody knows), touch up the eyeshadow (also used for dusting keypads to pick off the digits in a PIN) and lipstick (used to direct Batman’s attention to my lips, duh).  Add a pair of strappy Swarovski-beaded heels and an evening gown stashed in a vent, I could disappear into the gala fundraiser and be home without a hitch.

It felt so much more natural: not a bride being carefully prepared for the once-in-a-lifetime by a hand-picked, specially-clad team of attendants, but me on my own, hurriedly prepping for the final leg of a heist, pulse racing from a tussle and trying to make myself look presentably normal. 

I repinned my hair, replaced the flowers meant to suggest cat-ears without being ludicrously on-the-nose about it (and also to anchor the veil), touched up the make-up and heard the strings starting the Claire de Lune.  I just had time to check on Matt.

“C.W., C.W., I am so sorry,” I heard before I even saw he’d completely pulled himself together. 

Wally gave him a last once over, like he’d passed a final inspection, and he ushered Pikhai and the guardsmen out. 

“Alfred’s already down there.  You look great.  See ya,” he said, and winked.

“Thanks,” I whispered, but he’d already gone.  I made a mental note to upgrade my assessment of Flash as more than ‘nice guy’ and ‘Dick’s friend,’ and turned my attention to Matthew. 

We both stood for a minute. 

That first step after a mind control/fear toxin/ghostly possession episode where a friend tried to kill you/you’ve tried to kill a friend is always the same.  No matter how many times you’ve done it, it never gets easier.  Like after a death, you say “I’m sorry for your loss” and feel like an inept poser.  The words are empty, hollow, a stupid formula because you’re not as evolved as the real people who know the right thing to say. 

“I’m glad you’re not—” we both started to say, and he did this cute thing like he was starting to step towards me for a hug but then thought the better of it, considering.  So I initiated the hug.

“I’m so sorry, today of all days.  You look beautiful,” he babbled in what was probably his answer to a studio’s ‘Get me someone like Hugh Grant but American and more buff for the action scenes,’ but it was still all kinds of sweet.

“I’m sorry I got you quick-fired into pottery, shattered and possessed,” I answered, and he smiled.  “You also look quite nice,” I added, just for balance, but he wanted another round.

“No seriously, C.W. I tried to kill you on your wedding day, even hellfire in the clay, there’s no excuse for that.”

“Matthew, I dragged you onto a battlefield and filled your head with unspeakably dumb, wrong and obscene hero priorities which rogues like us are not meant for.  It was wrong, and I apologize.  As a bride minutes before the wedding, premiere moment of selfish entitlement by right and custom, I say we go out there and get ours.  Screw the rest of them, they’re on their own, at least until we cut the cake.”

He laughed; there would be no more apologies.  But he did turn serious when we’d had our laugh.

“In that case, I have a proposal,” he said.  “I was lurking as a henchman at the Iceberg for a while, trying to get the details on who was invited and all that, and then I was a caterer for a while and a socialite to get the layout of this place, and, you probably know how it is, while you’re snooping you hear things.  And I know you don’t have anyone to give you away.”

“What is it with you guys?” I asked.  “What do they tell you when you’re boys that you all want to—”

“Selina, do you not see a rogue has to give you away?  Wayne seems like a nice guy, but he’s certainly not one of us, and you’re Catwoman.  Remember Joker at the Pelacci-Marcuso wedding, even he talked about giving you away.  When even Joker can see it.”

“Exactly.  Matt, Joker has never said a true thing in his entire life.  If he says it’s raining, I’d question the drops on my head.  So let’s have no more about—”

“I’m just saying I’m here.  I am.  I’m a rogue and I owe you one, and if you happen to have a picture of your father, I could…”

“Matthew, that is so incredibly sweet, but I—”

“Please, C.W.  I really don’t want today’s standout memory of me to be ‘rip your heart out’ and all that.”

I lied earlier.  I have seen a fair number of his movies and it’s not easy to ignore a genuine film star standing in front you life-size, reproducing the earnest eyes and soft spoken “Please” from the final scene in Advocate for Love.

“I have a photo,” I told him.  “We’re going in through the alcove behind the ballroom.  Meet me downstairs.”

It was a sweet gesture, and if it wasn’t what I intended for my walk down the aisle, well, I guess for all my big talk about making my stand as a selfish bride, I didn’t like to be stubborn about it.  Matt wanted to make a gesture, and if it made him feel better…  I got the photo from my dressing table and ran down to the ballroom realizing I didn’t hear music.  The Claire de Lune must have ended while I was in the bedroom and—

I ran smack into Bruce as the first notes of the Nocturne began.

“Clark told me to wait here,” he said.

To be continued...

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