Title: Closest In Proximity

Author: DC Luder

Summary: Following the unexpected and unpredicted loss of one of his allies, Batman finds solace in another. Continued ending of Batman 644.

Rating: M for adult themes

Infringements: Batman and all related and recognizable characters belong to DC Comics not to DC Luder.

Author's Note: Based on the events that took place in Batman 644 in addition to quotes from the actual book itself. For those who haven't read it, you can see the scene of interest at: http://community. 2: Mainly, I wanted to make an ending for that book that was less depressing. Brief references made to the Hush and War Drums/Games/Crimes storylines. In my version of things, Leslie's wrong doings aren't common knowledge in the family yet and the nonsensical Infinite Crisis hasn't commenced yet.

V

"Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow."

Swedish Proverb

V

… We're both monsters now…

… I watched you spend your lifetime making yourself into one, but I guess I had to outdo you…

… I just wanted to do something – anything to end the madness…

… It never ends, Bruce…

My head jerked suddenly, the fog of half-sleep slowly vanishing. I looked out the windshield to see a brilliantly clear, sunny sky and sparkling ocean water in every direction.

It hadn't been a dream.

After tracking down and confronting Dr. Leslie Thompkins, I had spent the early morning hours making my way back from Africa to Gotham City, the controls set on auto-pilot. My reasoning had simply been that I was physically exhausted and could benefit from a few hours of rest. Alfred would have been proud of my self-awareness. A year earlier, I had done battle with some of my greatest foes, caught in the midst of a city wide gang war, of which had resulted in the GCPD's hatred of anyone in a mask, the loss of the Clocktower and more importantly, the death of a young woman named Stephanie Brown, guised as the Spoiler.

And for a brief time, as Robin…

Since then, I had driven away anyone willing enough to confront me, reverting back to solitude while working patrols and trying to put the city back together. This was only made more difficult as not only the police but the media decided that I was a risk to the city after Stephanie Brown was identified as not only being Spoiler, but as the former Robin as well. Although Black Mask had tortured the girl and Leslie Thompkins had denied life saving treatment, I was being held responsible for endangering the life of a child…

And not for the first time.

As I dozed, chin bowed down to my sternum, I couldn't help but think back to my confrontation with Leslie. Despite a lifetime of upholding the Hippocratic Oath, of promoting pacifism to not only me but the hundreds of bullet riddled thugs she tended to every year, she had taken a life. Stephanie, although severely wounded from her solo encounter with Black Mask, could have lived had Leslie given her the necessary treatment.

And yet Leslie had the nerve to look me in the eye, mere hours ago, and tell me her actions had been justified.

In an effort to regain focus, I checked the various LCD gauges. I was an hour and a half out of Gotham, soaring high at 28,000 feet at 250 knots. As the digital clock turned to 11:00 AM EST, I sat back in the pilot's seat, suddenly all too aware as to how sore my shoulders and neck had become. As I began to rotate my head, stretching the muscles of my neck, a small tone sounded indicating an incoming message.

"Good morning," Barbara's voice greeted me a mere second before her image appeared on the console's center screen, "Still globe trotting, I see." She looked ready for the day, hair combed back wearing a perfectly fitted sweater and with way too much cheer in her eyes considering what she had faced in her lifetime.

I, no doubt, looked like death warmed over.

"I'm about an hour out," I replied, taking the jet off of auto before accelerating to 300 knots. Anything to put more space between me and the woman who had betrayed everything she had advocated to me.

She nodded before asking, "Do I want to know how it went?"

Barbara was the only other soul that knew I had gone to hunt down Leslie Thompkins in the deserts of Africa. I had considered telling Alfred, but in light of how close he was to Leslie, I reasoned that it should be a conversation I had with him face to face. The only reason I had told Barbara in the first place was that I knew she could keep it quiet.

And she would understand why I had to go alone.

Barbara must have been taken aback from my silence, for she asked, "That bad?"

I sighed, setting the controls back to auto, "It was worse than I imagined," I looked directly into the tiny camera lens that was broadcasting my image to her temporary workspace. There was a small pang of guilt as the thought of her destroyed Clocktower came to mind. Of Tim returning to the life he had surrendered. Of Stephanie's lifeless body.

We all had lost so much…

Without further prompting, I continued, "She tried to justify letting Spoil… Letting Stephanie die as a way of bringing me back to my senses, to remind us all that it wasn't a game…" I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose, "She pulled a gun out… I… I lost it, Barbara, just the sight of seeing her with a revolver in her hands… She was going on about how she had erased herself from existence but all I could see was that gun…" I sighed and looked back up at her, "I nearly broke her wrist taking it away from her."

"She resisted?"

I shook my head, "She could barely stand."

"I still can't believe it… Her of all people…" Whether it was the fact that she didn't want to think about it or that she knew I didn't, she went silent for a moment before offering, "I'm here, Bruce, if you need me."

"Thank you, Barbara," I gave a half nod before she closed the connection.

Shortly after noon, I navigated the jet through the secluded entrance from which I had departed a little over twelve hours ago. After landing and shutting down the engines, I sat silently in the cockpit, belted in, listening to the shrieks echoing in the cave.

Home, sweet home.

I heard a faint sound and looked to my left to see Alfred standing stoically.

How could I possibly tell him what Leslie had done?

After depressing the door release button, I unbelted and stood before making the short jump from the jet to the cold stone floor.

He greeted me instantly, "I was beginning to worry, sir. Ms. Gordon telephoned last night of your quick transatlantic jaunt. And I must say my curiosity has been overwhelming."

"It was nothing important," I growled, briskly walking passed him towards the steps leading to the main tier of the cave.

Over the years, I had developed several methods in order to avoid directly answering Alfred's questions. Logging patrols, working in the laboratory, taking a shower, even feigning sleep. None of them had ever truly worked, as whenever he had a question worth asking, he generally found a way to get an answer out of me.

Not this time, old friend…

Before entering the costume vault, I peeled off my mask and cape in a sudden urge to be rid of the guise. As I pulled off the confining tunic, I heard Alfred's footsteps approaching, "Is it safe to assume that you are not in need of medical attention."

"I'm fine."

He looked over my form carefully, no doubt second guessing my words. I couldn't blame him of course, as most of my out of country activities involved some of my greatest foes, most notably Ra's al Guhl. And it was rare that I ever returned to Gotham without a score of injuries.

Alfred paused before saying, "Of course you are. Well then, if your unscathed form is in need of nourishment, I shall be upstairs."

When I turned to look at him, he was already gone.

I changed into sweat pants and a robe before taking a seat at the computer bay. Battling exhaustion, I spent nearly five hours watching news footage, updating logs and curtly ending the conversations that Barbara tried to start. Fatigue finally caught up with me a little after six as I ran my hands through my hair shakily, fighting the urge to yawn. The stiffness from the flight to and from Africa had intensified after the time spent sitting in the chair. Deciding a break was in order, I climbed the stairs up to the Manor and then up to my bedroom. I could get a few hours sleep before taking on the task of telling Alfred. And heading out for patrols…

After passing through my bedroom door, I crossed the room and closed the blackout drapes. I dropped my robe and collapsed onto my bed, not even bothering with the covers. I had expected sleep to come easy but when I closed my eyes, I was back in Africa, standing in the dank, humid tent, staring down at Leslie's tear-stricken face.

… But we both know better, Bruce…

… Truth is I wanted to end it all – all the secret warriors in hoods and capes, the endless violence…

… I could no longer be a party to such madness…

Images from the past crept out from my subconscious. Leslie's frail form leading me to Stephanie's bedside. The free clinic in the wake of the earthquake, home to hundreds of wounded and dying. Waking up to her face numerous times, to see relief lightening her concern laden features. Dick, barely a teenager, bloodied and bruised, laying in a gurney in Leslie's clinic following a futile fight with Two-Face.

When she took my shock riddled eight year old body into her warm embrace.

I rolled onto my back and stared up at the darkened ceiling. With a sigh, I glanced over at the alarm clock, growling to see it was only six-thirty. At this rate, sleep was fast becoming a fruitless battle. Nevertheless, I used a breathing exercise to slow my vitals, finally feeling relaxed enough to attempt sleep again.

That was until there was a knock at my bedroom door.

It opened quietly, letting in faint light from the corridor and the smell of roast beef from the dinner tray in Alfred's arms. He approached, setting the tray on the end table, "Master Bruce there was a call for you from your secretary, wishing you a speedy recovery from your recent influenza bout that I conjured up this morning."

Reluctantly, I sat up against the pillows, the savory aroma of the food doing nothing for my appetite. But if I didn't eat it, it would only give Alfred all the more reason to poison the next meal he made for me. After turning the bedside lamp on, he set the tray beside me before waiting quietly.

I looked up at him, "Thank you, Alfred."

I sipped from the glass of water, eyeing Alfred as he stood stoically.

"Sir…" he began, but his voice seemed to fail him. He took a long breath before continuing, "There was also a call from Dr. Thompkins."

I ignored him and began to slice the roast beef.

"She said that you had visited her at the Doctors Without Borders facility…"

I could barely swallow my food upon hearing her name.

"She… She told me about… She explained how young Miss Steph….Sir, it can't be true."

I looked up, surprised to see his eyes were glassy and his face drawn back with apprehension. I had seen him in such a state a mere handful of times before in my life, of which had always been worrisome since he generally acted as the pillar for all of us to lean upon.

"Sir, please… tell me it isn't… Bruce?"

Leaving the rest of the food on my plate, I rose and announced that I was heading out for patrols early. As I reached to the stairway, I turned and had expected Alfred to be right on my heels, ready to force an explanation as to why I hadn't told him earlier. But to my surprise, he was no where in sight.

I suited up quickly, doing my best to bury the guilt that was rising in my gut. Alfred had been my family since I was a child, and lying to him had always been a burdening task. To handle it, I often justified it as being in his best interest.

Then I would be lying to not only him, but myself as well.

As I stepped out of the costume vault, Alfred stood in the center of the main tier, his eyes still glassy, but also brimmed with red.

"Sir… I must know."

I adjusted my belt, looking anywhere but his face, "What, Alfred? What do you want to know?" My voice came out in a loud growl that caused several of the above resting bats to scatter, shrieking as they flew deeper into the cave.

Unlike the winged creatures, Alfred held his ground, "What will you do? About what Dr. Thom---."

I snapped, interrupting him, "I don't want to hear her name, Alfred."

When I turned to leave, he followed me, "Sir, if I may, you can not expect to relinquish three decades---."

I spun around suddenly and for the first time in as long as I could remember, I saw fear in his eyes. "I can, Alfred. I have. Whatever has happened in the past doesn't change the fact that she murdered that child. Whatever she meant to me doesn't change the fact that if she surfaces into the public again that I won't hesitate to bring her in."

Before he could manage a reply, I turned abruptly and stepped into the Batmobile, starting the engine before closing the door. I sped the fourteen miles to the city, doing my best to keep myself focused on the work ahead rather than the frightened look in Alfred's teary eyes. Heavy street traffic made patrols on foot the only viable option, that and it allowed me to release the pent up energy. I worked in a spiral, starting on the outskirts and making my way into the center of the city, where the most damage was suffered. Patrols were laden with bringing down looters, carjackers and run of the mill thugs.

… It never ends, Bruce...

As the time reached three in the morning, I found myself losing focus. I misfired a grapple, nearly putting it into a rooftop electric generator. I went overkill on a gun toting thug who had been chasing down a young girl coming off shift at a late night restaurant. I broke a fourteen year old drug dealer's wrist when I had meant to only twist it the point of straining it. Worst of all, I failed to realize I was slowly making my way towards Crime Alley until it was too late. And when the soft glow of the free clinic's sign came into my view, my guts churned.

I about faced, made my way towards Gotham Harbor, pleased to be confronted with salty winds and the smell of the day's catch. Of late, there hadn't been too much activity on the shoreline, and I allowed myself a brief break to regroup. If I hadn't, I felt that I was going to lose control of something much worse than my aim.

I needed to let it out of my system, I told myself as I looked down at the lifeless pier. I needed to accept the fact that she was out of my life for good. After my harsh words to Alfred, talking with him was out of the question. We both had been close to Leslie, but he had been in the midst of an awkward courting for years that had finally blossomed to a meaningful relationship. They had been through so much, alone and together, that it made it difficult for Alfred to be rational, especially in dealing with the consequences of her actions.

At least that was my reasoning to avoid confronting the topic with him again.

Having already been informed of the situation, it made no sense to talk with Barbara. It was a miracle that she maintained any association with me, not to mention an inclination of a relationship with me, after she was forced to destroy the Clocktower to keep me from killing Black Mask. Even as the building crashed down around us, I had throttled his bony neck until the floor gave way, determined to make him pay for what he had done to Stephanie. The city. Me. I was forced to rescue Barbara and let him go, the right course of action but it had ended with Stephanie's killer running free.

No, I corrected myself, Leslie was Stephanie's killer…

As I stood from my viewpoint on top of the city shipyard office building, I realized that it was as if I had gone back in time, reverting to a one man's war on crime. With Tim and Cassandra in Bludhaven, only I remained to tour the city streets. To pick up the pieces of a shattered Gotham in the repercussion of yet another tragic event. Making my way back to the Batmobile, I realized that I would have to face this alone as well.

No, there was someone.

Someone whom I had trusted my life to numerous times. Both of my lives

Also someone who had no reason to ever talk to me ever again.

The clock readout on the Batmobile's console said that the ride back to Bristol took twenty minutes, belying the feeling of eternity. I tried to log in my activities, but nothing of importance came to mind. In fact, I had trouble remembering most of the night's patrol at all.

Giving up, I rose and entered the costume vault, stripping as I had done so earlier. This time, I neglected the robe and sweat pants and donned a pair of jeans, a dark fitted sweater and an old black leather jacket. Instead of settling in front of the computer once more or heading upstairs to attempt sleep or to even find Alfred and talk to him, I walked towards the cave's garage. My eyes glanced quickly over the various older Batmobile models, draped with canvas sheets. Most of them were still in working order but rarely left their parking spots. I paused at a small metal cabinet that was secured to the granite wall. I unlocked it with a four digit code and opened it, selecting a key off of the bottom row.

A slate blue late model sedan that had seen better days.

And more stakeout and undercover operations than I could count.

The ride back into Gotham seemed to take mere minutes. My mind disconnected from my hands, I found myself steering the car towards an off ramp that turned east. Despite the late hour and reputation of the area, my windows were down and the doors were unlocked. I found an all night parking lot three blocks away from my destination. I sat in the driver's seat in the idle car for nearly fifteen minutes before finally killing the ignition and stepping out.

Although I walked briskly to the entrance of the apartment building, when I reached the door my eyes fixed onto the call box as I debated whether or not I should turn back. After pulling back the sleeve of my leather jacket, I looked at the face of my watch: 4:32. While I pressed the call button, I realized that it had been foolish to go there with dawn being just over an hour away. Even if I had come in the middle of the afternoon, there wasn't a chance in hell that I would be let in.

Suddenly, I turned, and began making my way back down the sidewalk. Just as I was about to step off the curb to cross the street, I heard a faint, "Who is it?" from the call box.

I paused, looked back briefly, then began to make my way through the crosswalk.

The next time the voice spoke it was loud and clear, originating from the small terrace on the fourth floor, "Bruce?

Turning back this time, my eyes were drawn up to Selina, wrapping a calf-length silk robe over her form, staring down at me with more confusion than surprise. I had no idea what to say or do, so I simply stood there.

She looked me over quickly before asking, "What's going on?"

Torn between running away from her and running towards her, I walked back and stood under her, "Can I come up?

Selina paused, looked down at me for a silent moment before she spoke, "Of course, just a second…" she disappeared back into her apartment and a moment later, I heard the lock on the front door automatically disengage. I had passed through the small lobby and had turned towards the elevator when the doors of the left hand car opened up. Selina stepped out of the car after pressing the hold button and walked towards me. Up close, her face showed more concern than confusion.

Pausing in front of me, she asked, "Are you all right?"

There was no sense in lying to her, "No."

She offered a smirk before saying, "Surprise, surprise…" as she stepped back into the elevator just as the doors began to close.

It was my last chance to leave.

But I had no where else to go.

Over a year ago, we had made an attempt at a relationship of sorts, still behind the masks. As I grew to trust her, I had finally revealed my identity to her, in doing so, strengthening the bond we shared. It had seemed surreal at first, finally sharing my life with hers, but it had felt right, safe even. But as I was foiled by numerous enemies, and allies, I had lost the ability to trust anyone. Even her.

She told me that for once, I should forget about being a detective…

She told me that we were who we were, and that was why our relationship worked…

She told me that someday, I would come to trust that and until then…

I approached the door then walked in beside her. The ride was long enough that the silence between us felt heavy and awkward. Her perfume was overpowering my senses and to distract myself, I stared intently at the emergency exit sign. When the car stopped and the doors opened up, Selina stepped out first, leading us directly to her door across the corridor. She had left it unlocked and opened the door before looking back at me, "Coming?"

"Yes," I said softly before following her through the entrance, looking back as she shut and locked the door.

When Selina turned to face me, she smiled, "If I was a gracious hostess, I would make you breakfast at this ungodly hour. But since I'm physically incapable of being gracious until after ten in the morning, you're settling for instant coffee."

I had no desire for the unpalatable drink, but I thanked her anyway. Trailing her into the kitchen, I took to standing beside the refrigerator as she poured water into two mugs. I watched silently as she then set them in the microwave and turned it on for two minutes. When she retrieved a jar of coffee grounds from the cupboard, she looked up at me, "Please tell me you didn't come here to stare at me all night. I would have dolled up a bit if that was the case..."

I shook my head.

As she retrieved two spoons from a drawer, she asked, "Well, dare I ask what you did come here for?"

She stepped towards me and motioned me back. As I stepped away, I started "I… I wanted to thank you…" I paused as she found a small carton of creamer, "For everything you've done… Last year… even before that when we…"

As she closed the door, Selina interrupted me by asking, "Since when do you know the proper use for the words 'thank you'?" Although my face was stern, hers was smiling. "But I suppose late is better than never."

After the timer sounded, I watched on as she retrieved the mugs, added a few spoonfuls of coffee before mixing. She left one black and added sugar and cream to the other. I finally forced myself to walk towards her to get my coffee. On the rooftops all those years ago, we had practically choreographed a dance as to who chased who and who attacked when.

Who kicked who and who clawed when…

After sipping her mug, she moved to stand in front of me, leaning back against the island counter, "I know you didn't come all the way down here to thank me, Bruce."

"Why's that?"

"A hunch."

"Based on what?" I asked her.

She looked over my body before answering, "If that was it, you would have come in a very different outfit. And the vein at your temple wouldn't be sticking out."

Despite the fact that the liquid was scalding and the coffee was bitter, I drained half of the mug to put off responding. After setting the mug down on the spotless counter top, I locked eyes with Selina. She was one of the few people who had the ability to stare at me in the eye without backing down. An admirable trait of which she often used to set me off more than once. And at that moment, standing in her kitchen with the taste of instant coffee on my tongue, she was certainly putting my off kilter.

I spoke, "You're right. There's something you should know, and I wanted you to hear this from me…"

"Should I sit down for this?" The humor in her voice seemed to be forced; she knew something was wrong. My lack of response caused her to add, "I'll take that as a yes."

Silently, I followed her into a dark room and listened as she crossed the hardwood floor to turn the light on. A gray, long-haired cat and a black short hair were curled up beside each other on the leather couch. Selina picked both of them up and set them in an adjacent armchair. The gray didn't seem to notice, but the smaller black one was not only aware of his new bed, but also of my presence. I watched as he yawned, blinked slowly and then stared at me in disgust.

Selina sat on the couch and patted the cushion beside her after picking up a small plush doll.

Helena...

Like most of us, Selina had faced many changes in the last year. Aside from starting life anew under the name of Irena Dubrovna, she had given birth. I still recalled snealking into the nursery for the first time to see her setting Helena into her crib. I had come to question her about a new feline face in the East End. She had been angry at first, saying that I was no one to judge her for putting a sidekick at risk, especially since she wasn't much older than we had been when we first slipped on masks. But despite her words, I had trouble looking away from the slumbering infant, watching as her chest rose and feel perfectly...

My eyes suddenly glanced down the hallway with a mind of their own but Selina was fortunately preoccupied with her coffee.

Trying to regain focus, I reclined beside her on the couch keeping a good two feet between us, then I repeated myself, "As I was saying, I wanted you to hear this from me because you are close to Leslie---."

Selina set her mug down on an end table, "Did something happen to her? At the clinic in Africa?"

"No… no…" I took a moment before continuing, suddenly curious as to how she knew Leslie had left the country, "At the… There was evidence that… medication was withheld in Stephanie Brown's treatment. It was present in the inventory at the clinic but it hadn't been administered… I also came across a tape with digital remnant of her medical records, sent to me anonymously. But I deducted that Leslie…"

"That Leslie let her die?" she interrupted.

"Selina, I went to see her, last night… I found the camp she's working at, waited for her at her tent. I accused her, knowing that I didn't want it to be true---."

She interrupted me again, "What did she say?"

I took a breath, "She admitted to it." Selina's jaw dropped and although I gave her a chance to respond, but she said nothing. I continued, "She was actually expecting me to show up… As if she wanted me to confront her."

"Why would she… Stephanie was a child…"

"… Which is exactly why Leslie let her die. She said that she saved her from a life of violence and sacrifice. Used her death to send a message to all of us."

Selina drew her legs up to her chest, setting her feet flat on the couch, "It doesn't make sense, Bruce. It's… impossible to think she could be capable of something like that… After all she's done…"

Like offering a shoulder for an eight year old boy to cry on as his parents were loaded into a coroner's van…

We sat in an excruciating silence for far too long. Finally she asked, "What are you going to do? About her?"

I shook my head slowly, "I don't know. I've submitted the evidence, but I doubt anything will come of it. They'd much rather pin Stephanie's murder on a killer at large instead of on a well respected doctor that they could catch…" I stood suddenly and faced the windows, "Or on me for that matter..."

The silk curtains did little to blot out the lights of the East End, nor the faint beginnings of dawn on the city skyline. For no reason at all, I said, "I should have brought her back with me."

Selina stood as well and walked around the far side of the couch to stand beside me, quietly speaking, "I know how important Leslie's been in my life and that's only a fraction of what she means to---."

I corrected her abruptly, "Meant," I glanced at her, my voice barely above a whisper, "What she meant to me…"

Selina set her fingers on my wrist and I turned to face her completely. As her incisors took her lower lip captive, it became evident that she wanted to say something more, to somehow lighten the encumbering pain I was bearing. But the soft look in her eye said that she knew that no words were worthy of such a task.

"All I'm saying is that you shouldn't face this alone." I was about to say that I was fine but she interjected, "I know, you're fine. You don't need my help," she paused, "If that's true, Bruce, then why did you bother to come here?"

I had no answer for her. Realizing this, I said, "I'm… I should be going."

"Bruce---."

I flicked my wrist, gently breaking the contact before heading towards the door with long, purposeful strides. I was so determined to get out of that apartment that I had failed to realize that she had caught up with me. When I reached for the doorknob, I heard her, "Bruce, don't do this…" as her hand firmly grabbed mine.

… I just wanted to do something – anything to end the madness…

I faced Selina, forcing my cold glare at her in light of not knowing what else to do.

… I could no longer be a party to such madness…

Her other arm wrapped around my neck, acting as an anchor as she moved closer.

… It never ends, Bruce…

The stern look on my face was quickly overcome with surprise as Selina's lips locked onto mine. I subconsciously took her into my arms, nearly lifting her off of the floor. The additional weight forced me to step back, pressing my shoulders into the door. Months of frustration and suffering ebbed away as my breaths became shorter and my pulse throbbed faster. As my head grew light, I pulled away, drawing in oxygen hungrily.

"Selina, I…" I lost my words when I looked down at her. A slight flush had spread across her cheeks and I had to resist the urge to touch her face. She stepped back slightly, her face belying the emotion in her eyes. Her arm slowly fell from my neck, her eyes following her own hand as it grazed across my chest.

I glanced around her small apartment, catching a glimpse of a wall clock boasting the time to be quarter after five. Twenty-fours had passed since I had grasped Leslie's frail wrist, listened to her harsh words and walked out of her life forever. The realization left me silent and fighting against an uprising of memories. I could still feel her pristine white doctor's coat from the first time she had embraced me took me into her arms all those years ago. Following the deaths of my parents, she had unintentionally grown from the role of comforter to a maternal figure, one that I had sworn to protect with my very life.

Before the city had gone to hell a year earlier, Leslie had been held against her will to treat an injured young woman who had been kidnapped. A teenager, barely a woman but heavy with child. The nurses at the free clinic had identified the attackers as body guards of L'Shea, an uprising pop star. Although peculiar that the girl would have been targeted by such wealthy and well known figures, it turned out that the she was the daughter of the singer, abandoned as her mother's career flourished.

Hell broke loose when I finally hunted them down, leaving L'Shea, Leslie and I trapped after an explosion. While working on unearthing an escape route, we were also faced with an ultimatum: to save the life of the baby or the girl who was carrying it. As the mother of the dying teen and grandmother of the infant inside, L'Shea asked us to save the baby's life. Leslie and I had performed a Cesarean section, saving the baby and handing him off to L'Shea. She was to escape through the small crawl space to tell emergency personnel where we were. After her breathing gave out, I performed CPR on the young girl until I could barely breathe on my own, determined that help would come in time. Finally, Leslie had set a hand on my shoulder, telling me to stop.

In that dark, dusty crevice, she had pushed my cowl back, pleading to me, "You are not responsible for everyone in this city. Please, you've got to learn to let go."

It was that very moment that stuck out in my mind just then. Leslie had gone above and beyond to save the life of a stranger's infant but had let Stephanie, one of our own, die.

"Bruce?" Selina's voice brought me back to the present.

"I'm sorry… I can't stay." My left hand was gripping the doorknob while my right held on to her side.

She let her hand drop from my chest and brushed my hand away, "No, you can. But you won't." She turned on her heel and returned to the den, her robe flowing as she moved.

She told me that for once, I should forget about being a detective…

I wasted no time in following her, not even taking the care to quiet my footfalls on the hardwood floor. When I passed through the entranceway, she was no where in sight but I did see the black cat's tail as he trotted down a dark corridor. I managed to avert my eyes from the nursery door anin order to follow the feline into Selina's bedroom. I found her kneeling in front of a dresser, rummaging through the bottom drawer.

When I paused in the doorway, she stood suddenly and turned to face me, hiding whatever she had found in the drawer behind her back. Although I had no distinct answer to her question, I did my best, "I came down here because there are few people that I can afford to know about what Leslie did."

"That's hardly a compliment."

"It's not meant to be one," I replied curtly.

She told me that we were who we were, and that was why our relationship worked…

Losing the battle with curiosity, I stepped closer and flashed a quick look at what she was hiding. Reluctantly, she revealed her cache, a pair of flannel pajama pants. A pair I hadn't seen since Selina and I had first dated nearly a decade ago.

Selina carefully folded them before explaining, "If you were going to leave, you would have been long gone by now."

"Another hunch?" I asked.

"You could say that."

She told me that someday, I would come to trust that and until then…

I opened my mouth to speak but she interrupted me, handing over the pants, "Whatever it is you want to say… Don't."

"Selina, I'm not sta---."

"Yes, you are. It's five-thirty in the morning, who knows when you last slept, and we are no where near finished with this Leslie thing."

She was right. Again.

Without a word, I left the room and headed to the bathroom, taking cauion to remain quiet. After splashing cold water on my face, I looked at the mirror, my reflection distorted from fatigue. I wondered to myself whether or not I should have still left but her words echoed in my head.

If I had wanted to leave, I would have.

As ordered, I changed in privacy despite the fact that modesty was no longer an issue between us. I sat on the edge of the tub, untying my worn leather shoes and thinking how entirely odd this should have been. But it wasn't. For the first time in far too long, something just felt right. Finally, I stepped back into the hallway, my clothes haphazardly folded in my arms with my cell phone resting on top.

I looked ot my right jsut in time to see her closing the second bedroom door. She had changed as well, from the silk robe to a pair of cotton shorts and a dark long sleeved shirt. While I looked her new apparel over, I noticed her eyes as they gazed over my form. When our eyes met, she turned and headed down the hall, leaving me to follow her.

When we passed her bedroom door, she stopped and I kept walking on towards the den. She cleared her throat and I stopped mid-stride to look back. I said, "I'm going to take the couch."

Smirking, she replied, "Are you ready to do battle with the cats?" As if directed, I heard a sharp hiss and growl from the den, followed by the patter of paws on the floor as the gray and black cats quarreled with one another. When I started walking back towards her, she nodded, "That's what I thought."

The lights were already out in the room and the heavy drapes pulled across the windows hid the early morning sun well. She had turned the covers down while I had changed and picked up the spare bits of laundry that had been on the floor moments ago. Had I been in there that long, I wondered to myself. She slipped under the covers on the right side and watched on as I sat on the left. Again, it should have been awkward, sharing a bed with her.

And again, it wasn't.

As I reclined, I left the blankets under me, unsure as to whether or not I should be that close to Selina after the erratic kiss we shared at the door. Selina muttered something and I asked her what she had said.

"I said 'What are you, a teenager?'."

"What?"

"Get under the blankets, Bruce." I looked over at her and even in the darkened room I could see her eyes glowing in triumph.

After I did as I was told, slipping under the down comforter, I laid on my back, eyes closed. As a long silence fell, I listened carefully to Selina's breathing and was surprised to find that it was more even than mine. In all of our encounters over the years, I had always been amazed at how easily she could control herself while I found myself barely hanging on. While being stitched back together after one of my earlier encounters with Catwoman, I had vented on the very same concept, how I had difficulty maintaining myself in a confrontation that should have been effortlessly easy to handle.

While he dabbed blood from my sutured wounds, Alfred had smirked knowingly and when I asked him what was so amusing, he had sighed before applying sterile bandages. "Master Bruce, I feel that this Catwoman is perhaps more threatening than your other foes for one reason."

"What's that?" I had asked.

As he picked up the medical bay, he glanced up at me briefly, "She has you figured out, sir. Simple as that."

Quietly, she shifted closer to me and I subconsciously let out a deep breath, pretending her perfume wasn't overwhelming my senses.

Selina whispered, "You're not asleep."

"Another hunch?" I asked after a minute. I opened my eyes and looked at her.

She nodded, "You'd be snoring if you were asleep." The comforter ruffled as she shifted to lie on her side, closing the space between us to mere inches. I nodded slightly before glancing over at her. Our eyes locked briefly before I looked back towards the ceiling.

After ten minutes of silence, I glanced over again, surprised to see that she was still awake. Her eyes, however, did not meet mine as they were watching my chest rise and fall. I shifted slightly and she looked up to my face, "Why did you come here, Bruce?"

"I told you already, I---."

She shook her head, "No, I want the truth this time."

I moved on my side in order to face her. I thought I had told her the truth earlier, but as I looked at her, waiting for my reply, I realized I hadn't. I had lied to both of us.

"I… thought I could handle this by myself… I had told Barbara, but she would have figured it out on her own soon enough," I paused briefly before continuing, "I didn't know what to tell Alfred…"

"He doesn't know?"

"No, he does… now. Leslie called him and told him everything…"

She spoke softly, "Perhaps it was better, hearing it from her…"

I shook my head, interrupting her, "I should have said something to him. And then when he tried to confront me about it, I left for patrols. I could barely look him in the eye…"

Her hand snaked its way over and grasped onto mine, gently squeezing my fingers.

After a moment, I squeezed back.

"When I got back from patrols, I couldn't concentrate on anything. Hell, even during patrols I couldn't focus…" I sighed deeply, before admitting, "I nearly put a teenage thug through a brick wall."

"Ouch."

I sighed, "I guess what I'm trying to say is that, what I said before was true. There are few people that I can afford to know about Leslie…"

Selina sighed quietly, "But there are even fewer people you can afford to know how much it's affected you." I frowned and remained silent, to which she responded, "Sorry."

As she began to withdraw her hand from mine, I said, "No. You're right. Again."

As Selina opened her mouth to reply, I rolled onto my side in order to face her, finding myself just as surprised as she was. She started, "Bruce, I---," but I didn't let her finish. With only a fraction of the haste I had shown earlier, I kissed her, my arms snaking around her on their own accord. She murmured something and I broke away from her.

"I'm sorry, I… don't know what…"

She shook her head, "No, no… It's just that," my eyes didn't leave her face as she continued, "Sexual advances in the midst of emotionally strained moments is my thing. Get your own."

In any other instance, I would have not taken her joke lightly.

I wouldn't have had her in my arms.

I wouldn't have kissed her again…

A throaty sound rose in her throat as her incisors took a hold of my lower lip and somewhere in my mind it registered as a purr. Without another sound, she rolled onto her back, pulling me with her as her arms snaked around my waist. When I hesitated, remaining on my side, she bit my lip harder as she rolled back to face me, slipping a leg in between mine.

This time, when she rolled onto her back, I came with her, bearing my weight on my forearms as I laid them on either side of her torso. I felt her lips on my throat, nibbling at the flesh covering my pulsing artery. She murmured, "We should handle stress like this more often."

My lips pressed against her ear lobe, "You're right."

"Again," she added.

"Again," I agreed.

She kissed me quickly on the lips, then as an afterthought, pressed her lips against mine again, this time with no indication of removing them. I felt Selina shift underneath me, removing the leg that had been firmly pressed against my groin, allowing me to lie between her legs.

As I felt manicured nails tracing their way from my ribs to my hips, I put most of my weight on one arm in order to trace a similar path down Selina's side.

She smiled up at me and shook her head, "Again, stealing my move." A pair of strong yet nimble hands latched onto the waistband of my flannel pants and boxers before promptly tugging them down. I looked down at her briefly before grabbing onto her cotton shorts and panties and pulling them down.

"Copy bat," she snickered.

I silenced her laughter and stole her breath away in one swift move.

As she wrapped her legs with mine, I heard the faint chime of my cell phone. It rang the complete six times before hanging up. At the moment I could have cared less as to who was brave enough to call me that early in the morning on my private phone. Not thirty seconds later, as Selina was biting my ear lobe, the phone sounded again, this time emitting a specific ring tone that I had programmed for one person.

"Alfred…" I whispered as the phone uttered another sixth and final ring.

Selina moaned, "Please tell me you did not just say the name I think you did while we're---."

I cut her off, "No, that's Alfred. I didn't tell him I was leaving this morning." I began to move away from her, but Selina tightened her hold on me with her legs before digging her nails into the muscles of my shoulders. "Selina, if I don't answer, he'll kill me."

Her right hand made its way to my throat before pressing a sharp nail to my jugular, "And what do you think I'll do to you if you get out of this bed?"

The phone sounded again.

Selina glared up at me.

I paused, waiting for the phone to go silent once more before replying, "Well, you are closest in proximity."

V