The Secret Places
Disclaimer: Sadly, they're only mine in action figure form.
Summary: "If Batman jumped off of a bridge…"
A/N: This took me far too long to write for the amount that actually made it on to the page. I'm hoping it turned out alright. Also this is set in the same universe as my other Batman/Riddler/Catwoman stories, though it's not necessary to have read them beforehand. Just keep in mind that this is AU.
Selina woke up far too early Saturday morning when the man in the apartment next to hers decided it was time to practice the bagpipes. She buried her head under the pillow, envisioning the various methods by which she could kill him with his instrument. A cat landed on her stomach, all four paws planted firmly in her flesh. She got up.
Eddie was standing in her kitchen, pouring coffee. In general, people in their circles didn't concern themselves with little things like security systems and common courtesy and Christ, what time was it, anyway?
He smiled at her over his shoulder as he reached for the sugar. She tensed. "What are you doing?"
"What?" His smile became a look of bewilderment. "Good morning to you, too."
She glared. "What are you doing to that coffee?"
"Adding sugar to it. It's a relatively common practice."
She stumbled over to him, rubbing sleep from her eyes with one hand and snatching the sugar boll from him with the other. "No. Give that to me. I will not allow you to ruin that coffee with sugar. It's imported. From Cameroon. Do you understand what that means?"
"I don't like black coffee." He matched her glare. "May I have my sugar back, please?"
"No! Why are you in my apartment?"
"Why are you awake?" he countered, making a grab for the sugar. She danced backward, holding it out of his reach.
"Define awake. I hate my neighbours. So much."
"You need a better apartment."
"I also need better men in my life. Are you going to drink that or does the lack of sugar make it unacceptable?"
He pushed it toward her. "Be my guest."
"And you have no right to talk about living arrangements."
He inclined his head. "True."
"I need to be fed. Are you cooking for me?"
"That's what I love about you, Selina. You're so positively charming in the morning. Why would I cook breakfast for you?"
"Because you're a nice person and you're in my apartment at God o'clock in the morning and you like the continued presence of sex in your life."
Smirking, he reached into the cupboard and handed her a cereal box. "Breakfast."
"The comeback is obvious." The little smile playing at the corners of his mouth was not endearing him to her. At all.
Rain beat a steady tattoo on the kitchen window (of course it was raining, she reflected bitterly) and Selina groaned. "I'm going to shower. And I'm taking this coffee with me." She left the box on the table, stumbling out of the room still rubbing her eyes.
By the time she got out of the shower she was awake and the rain had stopped, leaving the morning sky bright and almost cloudless, water shimmering off of the sidewalks and buildings in the winter sunlight outside of her window. Somewhere in the apartment, Eddie was whistling. It should not have come as a surprise when a human body dropped past her window and a spray of gunfire erupted in the street below. Clearly, such a tranquil scene could not be permitted to last. She finished dressing and strolled out into the living room.
"You really need to move," Eddie commented from where he was eating waffles at her kitchen table.
"Pot, meet kettle. Where are you right now, an old warehouse?"
"At least I don't have people knocking on my door asking for Knives and Butch. I really enjoyed that conversation, by the way. Very stimulating. And also, does your neighbour torture animals?"
"Bagpipes," she replied flatly. He stared at her.
"You're not serious?"
She stole a piece of his waffle. "You have no idea how much I wish I wasn't. What happened to not cooking breakfast for me?"
He pulled the plate away from her. "I didn't. These are my waffles and they do not want to be eaten by you."
"Technically, they're my waffles."
He paused, looked at her for a moment. "I'm actually pretty sure Bradley bought them. You can't be trusted to stock your fridge."
She turned away, pouring another cup of coffee. "I pay him back."
They wound up at Wayne Manner just as the sun was setting, around six-thirty after a day of following each other around on various errands. Bruce wasn't around, and after tracking down Alfred they were informed that he was down in the cave with some "associates". They had been planning to go to the Iceberg later, thus their costumes were in the trunk of the car. They changed, and headed with a little bit of cheery glee down behind the grandfather clock, followed all the way by Alfred's disapproving stare.
It was a well-known fact that the rest of the Bat-clan harboured rather negative feelings toward their leader's romantic situation but were too afraid to actually say anything. Selina and Eddie took advantage of this. Often. That night was no different, the two of them popping up in Batman's sanctuary right in the middle of the little powwow that Batman had going on with Nightwing, Batgirl and Robin. It was funny to them in the same way that Selina's last birthday present, a collar complete with two tags, one emblazoned with a bat symbol, the other a question mark, had been to Eddie and Bruce. One person's wrath was a small price to pay for the other two's entertainment.
"It's an absolute family reunion," Eddie murmured. Batman twitched, head turning and lips thinning when he saw them.
"Honey, we're home," Catwoman cooed, draping herself over the dark knight. Eddie stood back, looking amused. Bruce shook her off, grabbing her wrists.
"We're in the middle of a meeting," he growled.
"And we're not invited?"
"Selina…" There was a warning in his voice which she had become very good at ignoring over the years.
"Some reception we get, coming all the way out here to see you. Maybe we should just leave."
Eddie was watching them like a tennis match, like he was preparing to smooth things over already. Bruce blew out a silent breath, air gusting across her cheek. "Could you wait upstairs?"
"Phrased as a request. I do think we're training him," Eddie commented dryly.
Nightwing choked off a laugh. Batman glared. From behind them, Alfred cleared his throat. Everyone turned in unison – the butler had them well trained.
"You have a visitor, Master Bruce."
"Who is it?"
"Barbara Gordon, Sir."
Selina tilted her head, interested. Batman nodded.
"Inform her—"The soft hum of the elevator interrupted whatever he was about to say.
"Bruce? You can't possibly be doing anything here that I don't already know about." The woman whom Selina knew from some of Bruce's parties to be Commissioner Gordon's daughter wheeled herself into the little semi-circle. Selina's eyebrows climbed her forehead. Eddie didn't look at all surprised, nor from what she could tell were any of the others in the cave. Alfred seemed a bit flustered, perhaps, but Selina decided that no one was having the major fucking panic attack that they should've been. Gordon's eyes met Selina's.
"…Oh. Oh shit. Catwoman."
"Hi," Eddie did a little wave, beginning to get that ever so irritating smug expression. She paled visibly. He tapped his cane.
"Uh," said Nightwing brilliantly.
From above them, there was a thunderous wave of sound, reverberating around the stone walls of the cave like a hundred gunshots. Eddie was closest to the computer, and pulled up footage of the mansion. Various fires shone from the screen, the entire front wall of the house a wreck of blazing debris.
"Oh dear," Alfred murmured.
"You could put it that way," Robin responded, bemused and staring at the screen slack-jawed.
"We're under attack," Batman snarled.
"Really? Do you really think so?" Eddie's words came drenched in sarcasm. He switched to a camera feed focused on the grounds around the gates, but all was quiet.
"We need to get out of here," Batman stated brusquely.
They all piled into the Batmobile once Batman locked down the computers. Selina was squished in the back with five other people. It was not an experience she ever planned on having again. In the front, Batman and Riddler were doubtless enjoying their leg room. And head room. And… well, pretty much every sort of room that she did not have at that moment.
"Why attack part of the mansion, then run away?" Tim asked, apparently not as disturbed by the conditions of the back seat as she was.
"Taunting us, perhaps?" Alfred suggested.
"Maybe they were hiding, waiting for us to come out the back," Nightwing pondered.
Selina saw Eddie's fist clench on the centre consol. "Tag slipknot."
"Sure, like a tightening knot. That makes sense," Nightwing agreed, cheerfully oblivious to the other man's growing frustration. Bruce's hand covered Eddie's briefly – in sympathy or warning, Selina couldn't tell.
"There's a safe house on the far side of the city," Batman informed everyone. "Right now, anywhere that can be associated with Bruce Wayne is a risk. Once we're in the city we'll have to leave the car, split up."
"Where is it?" Nightwing asked.
"Riddler knows," Batman replied. Selina couldn't see his face, but she was sure he was bitter.
Nightwing didn't comment. Selina was fairly sure he was pouting. She didn't laugh at him, no matter how much she wanted to. The next ten minutes were uncomfortably quiet. By the time they all piled out of the Batmobile in a darkened back alley, Selina was ready to ditch the whole idea of heading for the safe house instead simply disappearing into the night. Well, disappearing to the nearest bar, at least, she adapted the idea as Bruce oh so brilliantly suggested that Riddler and Nightwing head off together, along with herself and Barbara Gordon. When Batman suggested something, you did it. Thus she found herself on the other side of five minutes of bickering watching Bruce and his group vanishing out of the alley.
"So this should be fun," Selina exclaimed with false enthusiasm. They left the alley, the Batmobile leaving by the other exit. She spotted Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Alfred on the other side of the street. They were headed up an office tower. Selina unsheathed her claws and inspected the side of the sky-scraper in front of them.
Nightwing began to scale the wall, mimicking the actions of the others. Eddie watched him for a moment, then turned to Selina.
"If Batman jumped off of a bridge…" Then, louder to Nightwing, "Come down from there."
The younger man paused. "Why? Batman's--"
Eddie cut him off. "Bridge. Jump."
He didn't get it. His silence made that fact painfully obvious. Selina chuckled under her breath.
Eddie sighed. Barbra glared at him. He turned back to Nightwing in order to avoid it. "Some of us don't enjoy risking our lives to look showy and intimidating and thus get no thrill at all out of leaping from rooftop to rooftop like some sort of deranged Tarzan. Especially not when there's a train that runs almost precisely where we
want to go."
"We can't take a train," Nightwing objected.
"And why not?"
"It... Because we're--"
Eddie smirked. "Convincing. Really. Shall we go?"
"Just because Batman is willing to trust you it doesn't mean that we're all ready to offer the same courtesy," Nightwing warned darkly.
After a few hastily thrown together disguises, which Nightwing made Selina promise to return the next night (she allowed him to think that she actually cared enough to do so), they took the train. Eddie considered it a victory, she could tell. He also considered it a victory when Batman commented that it would have been inefficient for them to have traveled the same way as his group had, as well as presenting an unnecessary risk to Barbra with Nightwin needing to carry her. Selina physically put herself between Eddie and Nightwing, forestalling an incident.
The atmosphere in the safe house – which was no more than a scummy one-bedroom on the east side—was that of barely controlled panic. Bruce, Tim and Eddie were set up at the table with a laptop, trying to figure out who could have deduced Batman's identity, and why they chose to attack and then vanish. Nightwing was pacing, disappearing often into the back room to make calls. Selina was left with Alfred, Barbara Gordon (who was looking particularly twitchy) and Batgirl, who remained standing guard at the front door like a highly intimidating little statue. She'd spent a few minutes with her debating the merits of a safe house which was sporting two broken windows, an empty TV stand and a mysterious stain in the carpet that everyone was avoiding by unspoken mutual agreement, but the younger girl's responses were short, fragmented sentences mainly consisting of constant reassurance that Batman knew what he was doing and it wasn't Catwoman's place to question him.
Alfred had made coffee. It was probably a bad idea if the way Eddie and Tim were growing more and more snappish and jittery was any indication. She was going through cup after cup for lack of anything better to do, feeling caged and trying to fight down her growing need to get out.
"Everything's going to be alright, Miss Gordon," Nightwing told the other woman on his next pass through the living room. The way his hands fisted at his sides and his words came out stilted and false-sounding made Selina think that he wanted to say more.
"I'm sure Batman can figure everything out," Gordon replied in the same falsely distant tone.
Selina walked away and into the kitchen, slamming down her coffee cup. The click of ceramic on the steel countertop cracked through her skull like a gunshot. She was caffeinated in that way where she was fairly sure she would pass out if her eyes focused on anything but the swirl pattern in the ceiling tile above her. She had also been very good about not asking Gordon the boatload of questions that her appearance prompted. She hadn't even demanded answers from Eddie, who got a happy little self-satisfied grin every time he looked at the commissioner's daughter.
"Any luck?" she asked the three at the table.
"What do you think?" Eddie snapped.
Her cell rang before anyone else could comment. She'd practically forgotten that she had the thing, and the shrill electronic ring seemed somehow ridiculous in their current circumstances. Bruce and Eddie got up in unison. Bruce to better listen in on her phone call, Eddie to get more coffee.
"This is a really bad time."
"Selina. Thank God. You okay?"
Her eyebrows shot up. "I'm fine, Slam. What's going on?"
He sounded surprised. "You don't know? Turn on the TV, its God damn breaking news. Wayne Manner got attacked by some batshit insane environmentalist group a couple of hours ago. I wanted to make sure you were alright."
She closed her eyes, resisting the urge to laugh hysterically. "An environmentalist group."
"Yeah. They didn't stick around to watch the fireworks but a group of them went down to City Hall to take credit about fifteen minutes after it happened. I guess the way they see it getting arrested just makes them into martyrs."
"They always do."
"Was Wayne home?" There was that slight edge in his voice, the one that only appeared when Bruce or Eddie came up. She didn't look at either of them.
"No. No, we were out. I—"She was going to break down laughing, and it wasn't going to go over well. "Listen, Slam. I wasn't kidding when I said it was a bad time. I'll call you in a few hours, okay? I promise."
"Yeah. You do that," he replied, a little bemused.
"Right. Bye." She placed the phone down on the coffee table.
"I think the Bat clan can come down from red alert," she said flatly, fighting to keep a straight face. "Though Bruce may have a few headaches to deal with in the morning."
"Tree huggers." Nightwing sounded a little disgusted, a little bit in shock. Barbara was typing into the laptop.
"its right here," she said, sounding rather stunned herself. "Warriors for a Better Earth set off explosions at the home of Bruce Wayne in response to the latest sky-scraper project of Wayne Enterprises which will call for the clearing of one acre of wetland."
"Check for possible connections with Poison Ivy," Batman said immediately.
Selina exchanged a glance with Eddie, then another with Nightwing. "I think you're okay, oh paranoid one."
He glared at her.
She was going to experience a psychotic break, she just knew it. Or at least she was once she'd dealt with Bruce's ridiculous need to link everything to a greater plan of evil. "Honestly. Even if Ivy was behind this (which I'm not saying she was) there's no reason to think that it was anything more than exactly what it appears to be."
He glared harder. She folded her hands, leaned back on the couch. "You know what they say about people who repeat the same action and expect a different result."
He glared once more for good measure. "I want that connection checked out," he told the room in general. He was still tense. If he was anyone but Batman he would have been pacing.
"Sit down, Bruce." Eddie was the only one who really got away with calling him Bruce when he was in the costume. She still hadn't figured out why that was. He sat, but it was on the very edge of the sofa, and he looked even less relaxed than when he had been standing, if that were possible. Selina sat down beside him. Eddie took the last place on her other side.
She smiled to herself. She was squished on the sofa between a clinically insane criminal mastermind and an eccentric billionaire who ran around in a cape calling himself Batman. Most people, she reflected, would not feel near as safe and content in her position. …Her bull whip, raiser sharp claws and years of hand-to-hand training didn't hurt either.
"So," Eddie spoke into the silence. "Barbara Gordon. I do believe you have a little explaining to do."