CREATURES OF HABIT
© DC Comics
Selina Kyle was disturbed by the night’s encounter. Oh, not by her failure to steal the wealth of books and manuscripts that had been within her grasp. She was happy just to have the Eliot manuscript, which she now set in a place of honor on a display stand on the shelf of a bookcase in the den of her Gotham City penthouse apartment.
No, she thought as she walked over to curl into a large, cushioned chair facing the bookcase to admire her new prize. No, as far as she was concerned, she had fulfilled her mission. What was disturbing was Batman’s observation on her behavior.
“You’ve always been predictable, Selina.”
As the Joker sought out novelties and chaos; as the Riddler persisted in taunting Batman with clues to his plans disguised as riddles; as Two-Face based his crimes on his strange obsession with duality, so was Catwoman overly fond of items with cat-related motifs.
The only difference between them and her, of course, was that they were all quite insane.
So, yes, she allowed, in that way perhaps she was predictable. In some small measure. Selina absently stroked the silky fur of Cassie, the Persian that hopped up on her lap, lost in thought. Why did she confine her activities to such objets d’cat? Could it be that, like that ridiculous little Riddler, she had some sort of warped, subconscious ulterior motive?
“Nonsense,” she hissed. The Persian perked up its ears and blinked at her. A tortoise shell tabby and an orange tom leapt up to join the cat on her lap.
Criminals like Riddler and Two-Face acted as they did because they wanted Batman to catch them. They were psychotics and sociopaths whose obsessive behaviors were literal cries for capture and help. They were the ones who kept the padded cells of the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane full and its psychiatric staff working overtime.
But Selina Kyle? She didn’t fit that description. She had been arrested any number of times in the course of her criminal career. On those few occasions the authorities had been able to hold her, she had undergone psychiatric evaluations, each one resulting in her being judged sane.
There was no denying that Batman had known exactly where to find her tonight. Nor was there any denying the feelings that gripped her when he was near. She had always tried telling herself that her feelings for the Dark Knight were that of respect for a worthy adversary. But she was being honest with herself now, thoroughly analytical. And if the absolute truth were to be known, even to herself, she had to admit there was more to her emotions than respect.
Selina Kyle took pride in needing no man to make her life complete. In her former existence, before there was Catwoman to sustain her and make her whole, she had lived an empty life being used by any man who could pay the price for her services. But that was long ago and now she would as soon kill a man before she allowed him to touch her.
So it was certainly not a matter of need.
But want. Now that was an entirely different matter.
Could Batman be the one to make her forget the dirty, unwholesome touches of the strange men of her past?
Selina became aware of the low, pleasured rumble of feline contentment. But the cats stretched out on and about her were all asleep, silent.
The purrs were her own.
Selina sprang to her feet, startling and scattering the cats, more deeply troubled now than when she began dissecting her emotional state. She couldn’t believe what she was thinking. Since their very first encounter, Catwoman had always sought to triumph over Batman. To dominate him as she would dominate all men.
But now she was no longer sure. Now she didn’t know if she wanted to win out over him... or win him over.
This was going to require some very long, hard thought.
* * *
“Tell me, sir,” Alfred Pennyworth said. “Might I spend another hour in the kitchen preparing some other dish you can allow to grow cold while you ponder the mysteries of the universe?”
Bruce Wayne sat staring out the dining room window, chin resting on steepled fingertips, brow furrowed in deep ridges of thought. “No, Alfred,” he replied absently, eyes fixed on something beyond the dark of night outside the glass. “No, thank you. This is just fine.”
Alfred sighed softly to himself, his professional demeanor preventing him from too ostentatious a show of his displeasure. Mr. Wayne was, after all, the master of the house. And though Alfred had been hired long ago as the butler of the household by Wayne’s parents, and in spite of the fact that he had literally raised young Bruce from the time of Dr. and Mrs. Wayne’s deaths, the elderly British gentleman’s gentleman always insisted on maintaining the proper level of decorum.
Which was not, he admitted with no small amount of pride (but only to himself), the easiest of tasks.
Because how many men in his position were servant, confidante, friend, and provider of first aid to the Batman?
Alfred stepped to the table and removed the plate of cold, untouched food from in front of Wayne. “Am I to assume, sir, that something is troubling you?”
Bruce Wayne made a sound deep in his throat which Alfred interpreted as assent.
“Might I suggest speaking of it as a method of alleviating your concerns?”
Wayne looked at Alfred at last. “I’m sorry, Alfred. Did you say something?”
“Yes, sir,” the manservant said patiently. “I was asking if you might like to talk out your problem vis a vis, Catwoman.”
“Catwoman,” Wayne repeated. “Selina. I suppose I should be grateful no one was killed tonight. Considering the murderous crime spree she’s been on lately, that’s some consolation.”
“She is proving most vexing, yes, sir. But then, Miss Kyle is always a problem when she embarks on a rampage.”
“The woman’s insane, Alfred.”
“Yes, sir,” the butler replied dryly. “I accept the diagnosis from a man who wears leotards and a mask whilst leaping about the rooftops of the city in the dead of night.”
Wayne suppressed a smile at Alfred’s response. Sometimes, he thought, his old butler must have invented the fine art of sarcasm. “Point taken, friend, but you’ll have to admit that there’s a considerable difference between my motives and Selina’s.”
“Quite, sir. Flip sides of the same coin, as it were.”
Wayne had come to expect this reaction from Alfred. The older man was as close to family as he had known since the murder of his parents by a mugger when he was a youngster. He had always been there for Bruce Wayne when he needed him, to talk or be comforted, when he limped home in the dark of night and the aftermath of his self-appointed crusade against evil. But Alfred Pennyworth would never approve of the way he spent his nights. He would support Bruce as best he could, he would mend his wounds when the crusade turned bloody, but how was he to approve of any activity that saw Wayne putting his life on the line night after night?
What was he to do but hate any activity that threatened the young man he loved as dearly as his own flesh and blood? Even if that was an admission Alfred would never vocalize, not even under the threat of the most heinous torture. Because that, of course, would be a breech of the decorum he so valued.
“Whatever my reasons, Catwoman’s a criminal and a killer, and it’s up to me to stop her.”
“If you say so, sir. Although, sometimes I must wonder...” But Alfred’s voice trailed off and he shook his head as he started to turn with the dish in hand to leave the room.
“Wonder what?” Wayne asked.
Alfred stood with his back to Bruce Wayne for a long moment before turning back to his employer with a look of concern spread across his normally closed expression. “About Miss Kyle, sir. It would seem to me that she appears to prey on your mind far more than do other foes whenever you and she encounter one another.”
“Meaning, sir, that you might wish to consider investigating your emotional state where Catwoman is concerned.”
Wayne laughed, or at least made a sound as close to a laugh as he could muster in light of Alfred’s words. “What are you saying, Alfred? That I’ve got feelings for the woman that are interfering with my work?”
“I merely think you have a tendency to... shall we say, obsess over Miss Kyle and her activities. Her crimes are terrible, to be sure, but no more, and certainly often less, than the acts of others, such as the Joker. Or Two-Face.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Alfred. Naturally, I’m going to think about her when she’s active. But I think about every criminal I go up against.”
Alfred nodded and his features settled back into their usual neutral repose. “If you say so, sir,” he said, but he allowed a hint of skepticism to creep into his voice. He wasn’t hiding anything from Bruce Wayne.
“I do,” Wayne asserted. But he heard his old friend’s doubt and it bothered him more than he was willing to admit. He was too tired to argue, though. And he had too much to think about.
Mostly about Catwoman.
“Will there be anything else, sir?” Alfred asked.
“No, thank you.”
“Than I shall clean up in the kitchen and be retiring.”
“Good night, Alfred,” Bruce Wayne said softly, turning his gaze back to the black stare of the window . Alfred was almost out of the dining room when Wayne called out to him, “Before you turn in, Alfred, could you fix me something to eat?”
Alfred looked down at the plate of cold food in his hand and shook his head.
“Certainly, sir,” he replied. “How silly of me not to have thought of that myself.”