The collar of Bruce Wayne's suit was too tight. Probably because it was an old suit, one he hadn't worn since his seventeenth birthday almost a year ago. Huffing, he loosened his tie and pulled at the suit, cursing the whole event. Charity auctions were not his idea of a fun-filled afternoon. He hadn't even wanted to come, but Alfred had insisted. Something about "doing the duties that come with your last name, Master Wayne," and "making appearances. We wouldn't want people to talk, now would we?" Bruce didn't care if people talked. And besides, he was the billionaire orphan whose parents had been murdered in front of him; gossip was inevitable.
The auction itself was boring, just like he'd expected. Blake Manor was swarmed with press, all fawning on them for their good deeds. Technically, the auction was to raise money for defunded after school programs in the Narrows, but everyone there knew that it was just a publicity stunt. The whole thing was goddamn media circus and after just an hour, Bruce was already feeling stifled and claustrophobic.
"Feeling alright, Mr. Wayne?" one of the staff asked when Bruce tried to slip out the back. He'd never liked crowds, not to mention paparazzi, and the nauseating mix of both was making it hard to breathe.
"Just looking to get some air," Bruce replied, pinning on the sincere smile that had gotten him out of prying questions for five years. The man nodded curtly and Bruce swept past him, down a long hallway and up a staircase, praying for a door that led outside. Despite getting out of the crowd, it was still too hot, and the stagnant air turned the hallway into a tomb.
Give me the money! The masked man ordered, pointing a gun at his father. It was black, shiny and heavy, with a long muzzle. A silencer. Bruce froze in place, thirteen again and too scared to move.
Easy there, his father said in the even, cool tone he reserved for stubborn clients and bullheaded board members. Take it. For what felt like the millionth time, Bruce watched the gun swivel to point at his mother.
Pearls. The order was barked and his mother obeyed without question. The gunman snatched at the necklace with greedy fingers and one of the three strands snapped, spilling pearls onto the dirty street. They bounced once, twice, three times, pounding against the pavement and then there was a muffled popping and blood – blood everywhere. So much blood, staining elegant dresses and suit jackets, pooling on the wet pavement and painting white pearls red.
Then a voice, a girl's voice, speaking to him softly. Hey, it said, cutting through the ringing in his ears. Urgent, but not unkind. Hey, you need to snap out of it. You're having a panic attack. Hey!" A panic attack. Bruce was no stranger to those, but he hadn't had one in months. Almost six months, to be exact. Alfred had actually commented on it a few days before, noting it as good progress… Wake up.
Cool hands gripped the sides of his face, blessed relief from the humidity of the night – the hall. The sudden cold snapped Bruce out of his own mind and he blinked rapidly, allowing reality to filter back in. He was on his knees, unaware of falling, and he quickly swiped at the tears that had collected on his lower lashes before they could dampen his cheeks. That had been bad. Bruce hadn't had an attack like that in long, long time. Five years ago, when it was still fresh, he'd suffered from night terrors, reliving the event over and over. Sometimes, like today, the nightmares filtered into his waking hours. Grief counselors and therapists, a whole legion of them, had predictably diagnosed him with PTSD and promised that his mind would heal in time. With time, and several sleep medications and anti-psychotics that Bruce never took.
Never, not once, had anyone been able to get through to him when it got this bad. The doctors said that it was like trying to wake a sleepwalker: Dangerous and nearly impossible. He'd always been told that the best thing to do was to simply ride it out. Bruce decided he preferred being snapped out of it.
"Thank you – " Bruce started before he realized that he was alone. "Hello?" For a moment he thought that he'd imagined the whole thing, that the girl's voice was an invention to help him cope. But no, when he touched his fingers to his cheeks, they were definitely cooler than the rest of his face. Proof – if insubstantial – that there had been someone there with him.
Bruce stood shakily and set off down the hallway at random, hoping that he wasn't going the wrong way. There was a flash of movement at the end of the hall and Bruce called out again, to no reply.
"What…" he said, poking his head into the only cracked door he could find. "What are you doing?" A single figure stoof in the corner, silhouetted by light that Bruce realized too late that was coming from the inside of a safe. A safe that was open and – now – empty. It took him too long to understand. A thief? Here?
"You're not supposed to be here." Bruce recognized her voice, but he couldn't see her face, it was too obscured by shadows. The safe closed, plunging the room into complete darkness, and before Bruce could react, something shoved him aside, nearly knocking him over.
"Hey!" he protested, whirling around to see a flash of blondish hair turning the corner. "Come back!" He didn't even know what was in the safe, or how she'd even gotten into it, but there was no doubt that whatever she had stolen, it was priceless. The Blakes were the second-wealthiest family in the city, and anything they had to lock away must have been worth millions. "You!" Bruce rounded the corner and started running, trying to close the distance. The girl had the same idea and took off, flying over the carpeting without making a sound. Bruce swore under his breath and ran faster, ripping off the stupid tie that suddenly felt like it was strangling him. Why would she rob the Blakes now? It was the middle of the day, and there were paparazzi everywhere. She would be seen for sure!
Bruce willed her to turn, even for a moment. He wanted to see her face, but she never gave him the opportunity, rounding corners too fast for him to see anything but the back of her head and the backpack filled with whatever she'd stolen. It didn't look like very much.
"Heads up!" Bruce was given a second's notice before an ancient vase was hurled through the air, aimed for his face. He skidded to a stop, catching it just before it shattered and possibly broke his nose. "Bye now." Bruce let out a warning cry as the girl threw open a window and hopped through it. They were three stories up. There was no way she could land a fall like that, not without shattering her legs.
"Stop!" Bruce shouted once more, uselessly, sticking his head through the window just in time to see the girl shinny down a drainage pipe and jump to the ground like it was nothing. Bruce only caught a glimpse of a smile and the tangled mess of dirty blonde hair before she was off and running again, slipping through the fence with ease.
He'd been wrong before, Bruce thought as he pulled his head inside and slammed the window shut. Charity auctions, this one at least, were far from boring.
Selina shouldn't have gotten involved. She was already inside when she found the guy on his knees, looking like the world was about to end. She should've just kept going – he was trapped inside his own head, it was obvious. He wasn't going to cause her any problems.
But she stopped. Selina Kyle, the queen of keeping her nose out of other people's business, stopped. He was her age, and clearly a blueblood, gauging from the way he was dressed. Why was he even up here? With all of the press and attention focused on the auction downstairs, Selina had banked on the third floor being empty. Just her luck that it wasn't.
"Hey," she said, kneeling beside him. His eyes were huge, his pupils blown wide. His breath was coming in short gasps and his hands were shaking. "You need to snap out of it. You're having a panic attack." She'd seen the symptoms often enough. The boy didn't respond, but the boy's breathing evened slightly. He could hear her. "Hey!" she said, more intently, pressing her hands to the sides of his face. "Wake up." Selina watched as the boy's pupils shrank and his breathing returned to normal, and finally realized who it was she was treating. It was amazing that she hadn't realized sooner. Bruce Wayne. The goddamn prince of Gotham, of course it had to be him.
Confident that he would be okay and hating herself for stopping to help, Selina stood and made her way down the hall, keeping close to the walls in case there were any more catatonic billionaires lying in wait. She should have stuck to her plan, Selina berated herself. This was an easy job, one of the easiest she'd done in a long time. The Blake's security was focused on keeping trespassers from stealing anything from downstairs and they'd left the rest of the mansion open and vulnerable. She'd had to memorize the guards' patrol patterns, of course, but that was no problem. Finding a spot to scale the walls with no camera access was tougher, but still manageable. And now that she was in, it should've been cake. It would've been too, if she had just kept to the script.
Bruce Wayne was not in the script.
"Stupid," she chided, finding the door she was looking for and quickly picking the lock. Now she had to worry about a traumatized blueblood catching up to her on top of everything else. "Stupid stupid stupid." Selina found the safe easily, unoriginally hidden behind a picture frame, taking pains to unlock it quietly and efficiently. Her timetables had moved up and she needed to go. Now.
"What are you doing?" Selina had pushed the last of it into her backpack when the voice came from the doorway. She bit down a curse and softly stepped back into the shadows so he couldn't see her.
"You're not supposed to be here," she said angrily, unable to keep the accusatory bite out of her voice. But whether she was blaming him for the episode that had given her pause, or herself for pausing at all, Selina had no idea. She inhaled sharply through her nose and ran, nearly knocking the billionaire over in her haste to get out the door. She didn't stop to see if he'd fallen, too intent on her escape route.
Selina followed the map she'd memorized, twisting around corners and sprinting through the unnecessarily-long halls. But despite her lead, Wayne was gaining. And yelling, which would most certainly alert security. Selina had to get out.
"Heads up!" she warned, snatching a vase off of a random pedestal and hurling it at his head, careful not to show her face. Again, she didn't wait to see if it met its mark but shot forward, urgency making her heart beat faster. Even so, she couldn't help saying goodbye as she threw open a window and jumped to freedom. For one terrifying, exhilarating moment she was in free-fall, before her hand caught the drain pipe that she had scouted out a few days before. Selina let gravity do the rest, sliding down and jumping safely back down.
"Stop!" Selina heard the shout from the window and shook her head. She never should have stopped. It was a rookie move and she had been at this for too long to be making mistakes like that. Thieves couldn't afford audiences.
Getting back to her side of the city was easy, but time consuming. She couldn't go straight home in case Wayne had alerted the authorities, so Selina made her way across the city at random, sometimes on foot, sometimes catching public transportation. She hated heat runs. They were boring and, very often, unnecessary. But she had made enough stupid moves today; she wasn't going to allow herself to be followed.
"Yo Papi!" Selina called into the dimly-lit bar when she finally decided to head back.
"Hey, Sel," the man at the bar said, waving at her with a dirty dishcloth. "I'll tell the boss you're here." Papi vanished into the back only to reappear a second later, beckoning Selina into the room behind the bar.
"Ah, Selina," the familiar voice came from the back of the room. Gerald's voice. "You, my dear, are late. Was there trouble?" He gestured for her to sit.
"Just being careful," Selina said guardedly, unslinging her backpack and sliding into a chair. "You're always telling me to take fewer risks."
"That's because I can't afford to lose you, darling girl." Selina knew that Gerard liked her, but that didn't count for much. He was exceptionally well-mannered, especially for a mobster, but Selina had seen how quickly his polite façade could dissolve into violence. "Everything went smoothly I assume?"
"Always does," Selina lied, pinning a smile to her face. She wanted to get paid and go home. It had been a long day. "Here's everything you ordered." Selina unzipped her bag and pulled out a single flash drive, pushing it across the table.
"Selina you are a miracle worker." Gerald said, clapping his hands together with delight. "I've had people trying to work this job for weeks."
"Then you know to come to me first next time."
"You're the best, but you are expensive, love." Gerald said, shaking his head. "And worth every penny. Here," he said, passing her an envelope. Selina swept it into her bag. "Everything's been done to your exact specifications, as per usual." Selina nodded and stood, taking that as her cue to leave. "It's been a pleasure."
"Likewise," Selina said. "Next time you want something done right, you know where to find me."
"Oh such cloak and dagger," Gerard said. "I do adore that." Selina fought the urge to roll her eyes. Sometimes he was a little much for her.
"Don't you want to know what was on the drive?" Papi asked, walking her out. "Nope," Selina said shortly, striding out the door. She'd been paid to get a flash-drive and that's what she got. She'd also been seen, which was something that had never happened before and she hoped never would again.
"Hey Lina." A small boy sidled up beside her, keeping pace as she made her way back to her apartment. "You got anything for me today?"
"Tommy, you should not be out this late," Selina scolded lightly. "If they find you missing again there's going to be hell to pay."
"I'll be back before breakfast," Tommy replied, rolling his eyes. Selina smiled despite herself. Tommy was one of the dozens of kids left orphaned by gang violence, all living in St. Bart's Orphanage and at eleven he already had a knack for finding trouble. "Come on, I know you scored today. Why else would you be coming out of Gerard's bar?"
"You and I need to have a talk about boundaries," she said lightly. "Fine," Selina relented. "Here." She fished a crumpled twenty out of her bag and handed it to him. Tommy snatched it with greedy fingers. "And if I hear about you spending that on anything but candy and junk food, we're going to have problems, you hear me?"
"Gotcha," Tommy said, giving her a sharp salute before running down the street, whooping and hollering. Selina knew that she shouldn't be giving him handouts. There wasn't enough to go around as it was, and no one else was going to give him – or any of the St Bart's kids – freebies. They should get used to it now. Gotham wasn't a forgiving city, and if you couldn't survive on your own, there wasn't much anyone could do for you. And besides, the kids were starting to rely on her, Tommy especially. Selina tried to help when she could, but she worried that they wouldn't be able to hold their own without her. There was no such thing as job permanence in Selina's line of work, and in this city, people disappeared every day.
Selina shook her head, trying to banish those thoughts as she let herself into her apartment. She was fine. Everything was fine. She was just shaken because of what had happened at the Blakes. Making sure to lock the door behind her, Selina dropped her bag onto the table and flopped onto the couch, turning on the television. She was exhausted. Letting her eyes close, Selina let the newscaster's soft voices wash over her.
Despite living in a real apartment for over a year, Selina still couldn't sleep in silence. It made her twitchy and paranoid, an old habit she'd picked up from a childhood of sleeping under roadways and in noisy homeless camps. Silence was deadly, Selina had learned the hard way. When everything was quiet, it meant something terrible had happened.
"And in breaking news, the Blake family has reported a home invasion and robbery today in their family manor on White Hill. There are no leads yet as to what was stolen, or the identity of the thief, but we do know that the Blakes have employed their personal security and a team of private detectives to recover what was taken." Selina groaned, pulling a pillow over her eyes. Fantastic. Now she had a team of private detectives on her ass, and because of her stupid bleeding heart they could have her description. Hopefully her neighbors would know enough to keep their mouths shut if the cops came snooping around, looking for an nineteen-year-old thief who'd been suckered into saving a billionaire from a panic attack. Selina swore into the pillow. All she could do now was wait, and hope to God that Bruce Wayne didn't tell anyone that he'd seen her.