Title: Guilty Pleasures
Author: DC Luder
Summary: Everyone has something they enjoy, something they find pleasure in despite the guilt that accompanies it. Bludhaven's Selina Kyle's birthday challenge… and Pi/e challenge for good measure.
Rating: T for mild adult themes
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: Seeing how I wrote another birthday story for Bruce, it's only fair that I write another one for Selina this year. Small nod to my most favorite comedian Lewis Black, see if you can spot it. Continuity wise… let's pretend this is after Helena is adopted and before the madness of Batman RIP/Inc madness.
A/N 2: I know I am uber behind on Come What May, but now that the writing bug has bitten, I do intend to get it posted by the end of the week. Unitl then, enjoy the Bat-Cat crack below.
"Whatever with the past has gone, the best is always yet to come."
My guiltiest of guilty pleasures was Kahlua cream pie with chocolate tinted meringue.
I had first sampled it nearly fifteen years earlier at one of Gotham's most exclusive restaurants, La Puerta Azul. Their world-renowned chefs produced stunning Mexican dishes that were as colorful as they were flavorful. The stunning establishment featured lavish decorations, sporadic waterfalls and live music that had many patrons on the dance floor after a few of their house special margaritas.
Naturally, Bruce had been the one to take me, sparing no expense in securing the best seat on the elevated tier. I distinctly recalled that I had worn a black and red high-low strapless dress, the plunging neckline bordered with crystals. The ruffled chiffon skirt was mid thigh in the front, angling down into a train that barely reached my heels. At the time, I hadn't been able to afford designer clothes, but as I recalled, the elite of Gotham had stared in awe rather than in disgust at my knockoff.
The wait staff had been more than helpful, quickly bringing out an hors d'ouerves plate of queso flameado, camarones a la parrilla and pork flautas. The food had sizzled our palate, a heat that had only been quenched with the blended Suprema margaritas that we shared with a pair of straws, a juvenile act but one worthwhile. I had noticed that he had helped with the first large glass, but when the refill of the sweet and sour drink had arrived, he had backed down. Over the years, the recipe had never changed, still containing secret amounts of Herradura 1870 Seleccion Suprema, Grand Marnier Cuvee de Centenaire and Triple Sec.
Even though I had been back to the restaurant many times over the years, no visit had ever been as enjoyable as the first. Whether it was the animated atmosphere, the alcohol in my blood or the simple fact that I was sharing a table with Gotham's most eligible bachelor, it had been a night to remember. As we had dined from our respected plates of arroz con pollo, I had hung on to every word Bruce had said, finding myself positively giddy for the first time in as long as I could remember.
Slipping my stocking clad foot out of one of my Valentino stilettos, I had decided that the conversation was over. He had managed to fight off a stammer as I had traced my toe up his shin and knee, stopping mid-sentence when my foot came to rest on his thigh. Gulping audibly, he had to force himself to smirk, losing the fight to maintain his suave demeanor.
I had then purred, "Care for a dance?"
Bruce had paused, then replied as his hand gently cupped my heel, sliding under to grasp my calf, "Might need to put your shoe back on."
Flexing my own, I had inquired, "Can't stand on your toes?"
He had guided his fingertips back up, gently tickling the digits, "You could… but it might be hard to keep up…"
Although I couldn't recall the name of the band, I remembered the upbeat rhythm of jazz-rock. I remembered the way we had floated around, moving fast enough to bring a flush to my face and his. In between songs, I had leaned forward and kissed him, tequila having long since numbed my tongue. He had never denied me, accepting my lips with a smile on his and his arm drawing around my back to pull my closer.
After far too long, we had retreated to our table to find a carafe of ice water and a dessert menu waiting for us. Grabbing my purse, I had excused myself to the ladies' room and told him to order for me. Returning, my long hair tamed and my nose powdered, I had found him sipping a cup of coffee while looking sternly at seemingly nothing. When Bruce had spotted me, he had stood, waiting for me to be seated before joining me.
At my place setting was a slice of meringue pie, a graham cracker crust with what appeared to be chocolate mousse in the middle. Following the first bite of the Kahlua crème pie, I had blatantly accused Bruce of getting me drunk in order to take advantage of me. He had quipped that he was just as drunk, quickly demonstrating as much by accidentally missing the saucer with his coffee cup, spilling it on the table.
Alfred had picked us up in one of my favorites of the Wayne garage, a silver Bentley. Having grown accustomed to ignoring his charge's shenanigans, he had diligently kept his eyes on the road as Bruce and I kissed languidly in the back seat. When we had pulled up to my building, Bruce had promised Alfred he'd be right back down, ushering me up in the elevator to see that I made it to my penthouse in one piece.
I still recalled that as we had ascended, I had kicked my shoes off, wrapping my arms around Bruce's neck before stepping onto his toes. I had kissed him while asking, "Do you have to go… right back down?"
"Afraid so," he had replied before pressing his lips back to mine, "Early morning tomorrow… the members of the Wayne Foundation board tend to frown if I show up late… especially if I'm hungover." The gentleman that he was, Bruce had walked me to my door, bidding good night with a long kiss, our bodies pressed close.
It was a shame that the wonderful nights with Bruce had been vastly outnumbered by those he had stood me up on…
Fifteen years later, Kahlua crème pie remained one of my all time favorites, that night in its entirety standing out as one the best in our long and chaotic history. Other restaurants offered the dessert but it was never the same, either too heavy on the chocolate or too light on the liqueur. Bruce and I had only been back a handful of times, and in a somewhat conscious effort to recreate that night, we always ordered the same thing, right down to dessert. We had only gone once since he had told me the truth, and I had chided that he didn't have to pretend to drink anymore.
He had smiled at that. A real smile.
There were dozens of recipes online and I had been tempted for far too long to sit down and try to make it myself. I was fairly handy in a kitchen but I didn't want to sour the treat in my mind if something had gone awry. Like most guilty pleasures, it was something I could forget about for some time, but it only took a commercial for Kahlua or the mention of a chocolate crème pie to spark old, savory memories.
Given that I stood five-seven and wavered between one-hundred twenty-five and one-hundred twenty-nine pounds, I rarely indulged in it. Also, a single slice of the calorie laden treat defeated the hour and a half on the elliptical, twenty minutes of free weights and forty minutes of strength training and yoga I endured each day. Every mile, every set of reps and every crunch was done to keep myself in peek physical condition, something that seemed to be more difficult following my first and only born child.
Even when I had been pregnant with Helena, I had kept myself as fit as possible, focusing more on yoga, swimming and light strength training. I ate the recommended number of calories each day and the suggested amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Despite strong cravings for the most bizarre items, I had found the will power to stay the course.
Will power had always been a strength of mine, something that had faltered shortly after she had briefly entered my life…
Like most women, I indulged in small joys of culinary delight I order to sate the stronger wants. A steaming mocha macchiato has always been a safe treat, especially when prepared by the small bakery on the corner of Brady and Exeter. On Sunday mornings, if at all possible, I would trek there when a young barista named Molly was on duty. Even though the coffee itself was only four dollars, I always tipped her an equal amount for her additional effort and the leaf she designed with the milk.
The first sip was always divine bringing a smile to my lips.
The last one would force me to sigh, the realization that it was gone leaving a frown on my face.
I also had a weakness for flavored popcorn. Over the years, I had managed to develop a particular taste for a small specialty shop in Cincinnati that had dozens of flavors for their kernels, ranging from apple pie to white cheddar peppercorn and everything in between. At least once a month, my credit card statement showed an online order for three half-pound bags of black and white biscotti, chocolate and almonds and my all-time favorite, cinnamon cream.
Partaking in a few cups of coffee or small handfuls of flavorful popcorn was certainly easier to justify than Kahlua crème pie…
Even if it was my birthday.
Having turned my alarm off the previous night, I had intended on sleeping in on my special day, a little gift to myself. I had no plans in place for except for finally making good on an appointment at the Manna Dew Spa for a few hours of me time. The triple digit bill for the day would cover a facial, haircut, mani-pedis, a much needed massage and some time in the sauna. A price I was willing to pay.
Every so often on my birthday, Bruce would call and ask to take me out to dinner and I would gladly accept. I had expected that the time we shared after he had revealed his identity to me to be awkward, but in fact it had only been more enjoyable. We had taken a chance in growing closer to one another and although it had ended badly, in the long run it had actually been for the best. We had needed to relearn each others' limits in order to move forward, in order to move closer.
Since he hadn't called in the days leading up to March fourteenth, I had assumed he was too busy maintaining order in Gotham to make plans. No matter what, I knew he would send flowers or drop by unannounced for a quick visit before returning to patrols. Although we were closer than we had been in years, there were no ties, no rules, no requirements. We both lurked in the dark and when our paths crossed at the right time, we always found a way to make the most of it.
Excluding whatever efforts he made, I anticipated my birthday passing smoothly and quietly. A spa day, a light lunch at my favorite Boulangerie , an afternoon of shopping on Fifth Avenue in Midtown and possibly a nap. A simple, enjoyable and blissful day celebrating me.
Thankfully, the four cats I shared my penthouse with allowed me to sleep in until a little after eight. Their playful game of chase had abruptly changed course, racing into my bedroom, circling the chaise before bounding over my horizontal form on the bed. The female Burmese, Tabby and the Calico managed to leap over top of me, but the male Maine Coon bringing up the rear had not been as agile. With his claws out, he had used my hip as a launch pad in order to gain ground after his spayed harem.
By the time I had jumped up, he and the others were already taking off down the hardwood floors of the corridor.
Glancing at the clock, I collapsed back into the pillows, "Good morning to you, too, children."
After a fruitless thirty minutes of trying to return to sleep, I forced myself to sit upright although much more slowly than before. With the penthouse always a keen sixty-eight degrees, I crossed the room to retrieve the lightweight robe laying over the back of the chaise. Following the sound of playful growls and padded footfalls, I found the quartet of felines had broken into pairs. The older Calico and Burmese had decided to call it quits and were laying the sides, each dominating a cushion of the sofa. The Maine Coon and Tabby were out of sight, the distance of their cacophony putting them in the dining area.
It was verified with the sound of something shattering, specifically the crystal vase that held the brand new bouquet of pink roses and calla lilies.
Another gift to myself, from myself.
As I slowly walked into the room, the guilty parties had already scampered off, their feline instincts telling them that they weren't supposed to be on the table to begin with. The Maine Coon would beg forgiveness but the Tabby would spend the rest of the day hiding behind furniture or sneaking into the safety of my closet.
Sighing, I retreated to the utility closet, fetching the broom and dust pan along with the vacuum cleaner and a few small towels, "Happy birthday to me."
Mess cleaned, I carried the surviving flowers into the kitchen, setting them on the black tiled counter while I prepared a heavy glass vase for them to recuperate in. I took the time to situate them before placing the vase on the small island counter. Wide awake after my efforts, I decided to have a quick and easy breakfast, preparing egg whites, cinnamon and raisin toast and a bowl of yogurt with sliced strawberries. Seated beside my beautiful flowers, I ate in silence, planning out the remainder of my day between bites.
The Maine Coon, a cat that had lived with me for less than a year, padded into the kitchen, his tail vertical as he mewed softly. I ignored him as a means of punishment, leading him to rub his face back and forth over my bare legs. When I finally looked down at his big green eyes, he responded by sitting up on his haunches, putting his massive front feet against the lowest rung of my stool.
"Suck up," I smirked before dabbing my finger in the yogurt and reaching down to offer it to him. After he lapped it up, I added, "And where is your cohort?"
He meowed, his pupils adjusting as he begged for more.
I patted my lap and he rocked back briefly before making the leap, his size making the three foot jump effortless. He rubbed his face against my chin as he sat down, his violin string whiskers tickling my chin. Accepting his sincere apology, I finally stroked his long fur, reaching out to retrieve him another dollop of yogurt.
As expected, I didn't see the Tabby for the rest of the morning. Since it was my birthday, I fast forwarded through my exercise regimen, cutting it back to forty minutes of yoga and breathing exercises. The self-exiled cat finally decided that my calm state of mind made it safe for her to come out. She sauntered over, her tail twitching with each stride. When she finally looked up at me, we locked eyes briefly, waiting to see who would make the first move.
Seeing how she was initially a stray that I had opened my door to, I was pleased when she stepped closer, nudging my knee as I sat cross-legged on the floor. I stroked her scruff and when she had enough, she proceed to walk away.
Peaceful on the inside, I prepared to be the same on the outside. I took a long shower, pinning my hair up to keep it from getting wet. Since I would be in a warm terry cloth robe at the spa, I decided to dress for the hours that would follow. Choosing style over comfort, I pulled out a pale honey colored Donna Karan crushed Georgette shirt and its accompanying fitted Nubuck skirt of a slightly darker hue. As always, selecting shoes posed to be a problem simply because of the sheer number available. After much debate, I settled on a pair of light tan Jimmy Choo almond-toe boots, the stiletto heel putting me at an even five-ten.
Neglecting makeup, I quickly brushed my hair out before resetting it with clips. With summer on the horizon, I was mentally preparing myself to chop off the shoulder-length locks once more, drastically altering my appearance. It was always sad to see the hair piling on the floor as the scissors snipped away, but I truly loved the way it made me look.
Before heading out for my day at half past ten, I grabbed my cell phone, checked the cats for water and food and locked up. As I strode towards the elevator doors, I looked at the display of my mobile, smiling to see a few birthday text messages from the small and close set of friends I had collected over the years. As I rode down in the car, I checked my e-mail on the device, seeing a few more warm wishes waiting.
No missed calls though.
Nothing from Bruce.
No, I reminded myself, it's my day.
And it was.
Three hours at the spa, a relaxing lunch at La Maison Blanche and three hours perusing Neiman Marcus had made for a perfect birthday. My cell phone had chimed a number of times and I had accepted wishes gracefully. By the time I returned to my penthouse, I was less a few thousand dollars but couldn't wipe the smile off my face if I had to.
My heels clicking on the floor, only the Calico and Burmese came forth, both very interested in following the crinkle of the shopping bags and tissue paper. Proceeding into the closet, I set the bags down before removing my boots. Given that I still had not received word on any evening plans, I proceeded to strip out of my ensemble, trading it for cotton shorts and a long-sleeved fitted tee shirt the color of charcoal. Comfortable, I retrieved the new garments, admiring them before finding appropriate places for them amidst my wardrobe.
Leaving the bags for the cats to fight over, I made my way to the kitchen, staring into the refrigerator aimlessly. It was nearly six and although I wasn't exactly hungry, I had worked up a thirst. Bypassing the Brita pitcher of water, I smirked as my fingers latched onto the foil covered top of one of the wine bottles chilling. A bottle of 2003 Trimbach Riesling to be exact. Uncorking it and pouring myself a healthy glass, I reminded myself that it was my birthday.
And I would drink the whole damn thing if I wanted to.
With the penthouse far too silent, I turned the satellite radio on, its music reaching every room on the intercom system. Standing in the middle of my living room, wine glass in one hand and remote in the other, I skimmed through a few dozen channels before John Mellancamp's "Little Pink Houses" came on. Leaving it on the classic rock station, I tossed the remote onto the couch and shimmied out of the room, singing softly to myself as I headed back to the kitchen.
One and three-quarter bottles and a few dozen of the best rock songs of the seventies and eighties later, I was laying on my chaise in the bedroom, wondering if a birthday could get any better. As I rose to my feet for one last refill, I spotted the Maine Coon perched on a credenza near the glass terrace doors. I was about to call out to him when I realized that he was actually staring at something aside from a reflection.
He hadn't called. He hadn't sent flowers. But he had found the time to drop by.
My hair loose, my shirt wrinkled and my exfoliated face clean of makeup, I sauntered towards the double doors as if I had been decked out in designer clothing from head to toe. He stood motionless, a faint silhouette against the city skyline being the only suggestion of his presence. Without flipping the terrace lights on, I unlocked the doors and pulled the left one back before stepping out on to icy cold stone floor.
Good thing the Riesling was there to keep me warm, I mused as I smiled up at him.
Since I was barefoot, he loomed over me, the boots and his powerful presence making it seem as if there was more than a seven inch difference between our heights. I left a foot between us as I crossed my arms over my chest, resting my empty wine glass against my arm. After a moment of silence, a chilly breeze washed over us, rustling his cape and causing a shiver to travel down my spine.
And also, to waft warm, familiar aromas towards me.
When realization washed over my face, he spoke, dropping the gravel from his voice, "I didn't forget."
Shaking my head, "I didn't say you did."
Another moment lapsed before he noted with a stoic look on his cowled face "It's twenty-nine degrees. Wind chill at this height makes it just around nineteen. Dew point is-."
Cutting him off, I lowered my arms and about faced, "Concrete doesn't have a dew point."
Once inside, I spotted the white paper bags he had concealed behind his cape, along with a smaller bag in his right hand. Fighting a smile, I led the way to the kitchen, "Dare I ask how you managed to carry take out up to my terrace?"
His footsteps should have been loud on the floor but they were nearly silent, "Trade secret."
"I bet," I responded while stepping into the tiled room, setting my wine glass on the counter. As he paused, I took the bags from him, trying to hide my awe that not only had he crossed my path at the right time, he had come bearing edible gifts. Unloading the carry out trays, I spotted arroz con pollo, queso flameado, camarones a la parrilla and pork flautas.
"No margaritas?" I chided.
Without an ounce of humor in his voice, he pointed out, "They don't travel as well."
"That and it would technically be violating an open container law, right?"
Under the warm lighting of my kitchen and despite his will, he had been unable to conceal the fraction of a smirk that pulled at the corner of his mouth. Changing the subject, he nodded to the flowers on the counter, "A gift?"
"Yes," I answered as I opened a container of the glazed chicken, rice and asparagus.
He hesitated before gruffing, "Very nice."
Without looking back at him, I said. "I gave them to myself, don't be jealous."
I finally peered over my shoulder at him, feeling unease settle over me since he hadn't removed so much as a glove. Looking back at the food containers, I forced myself to ask, "Shall I serve up two plates or one?"
His reply came too quickly, "One."
Even though it was a day about me, I couldn't help but cringe at his response.
It would have been nice to spend even an hour or two with him.
It would have been a great way to end my special day.
It would have-."
"Might as well share one," he added.
When I looked back a second time, he was just pulling back the cowl, faint pressure lines on his cheeks, nose and brow, his short black hair flattened on the top of his head. With the mask hanging between his shoulders, Bruce allowed his face to relax, his eyes to soften. Leaving the food, I approached him, "What's a girl gotta do to get the rest of that suit off of you."
"Technically, it's your birthday… therefore you should be the one who-."
I cut him off, "After you."
He cleared his throat, suddenly looking awkward bare faced in the Batsuit. Returning to plating the food, I told him there were spare clothes in my closet and to beware of the cats that were lurking within.
With the food adequately arranged, I poured two glasses of wine, thinking that even if he didn't imbibe, I would. Carrying everything into the den, I set the plate and glasses on the coffee table before turning the volume down on the stereo system. Sitting alone, I sipped wine and warded off curious felines that had also picked up the scent. I barely heard Bruce return as Van Halen's "Panama" softly rocked over the speakers, looking up just as he came into my line of view.
The spare set of clothes he kept at my penthouse were meant for an emergency disguise, not for style. He was dressed nearly as casual as I was in a pair of stonewashed jeans and a faded blue tee-shirt, his bare feet impossibly quiet on the hardwood floors.
And a smile. A real one.
He sat down heavily beside me, the faintest hint of his cologne reaching my nostrils. He hadn't shaved in at least twelve hours five the amount of stubble that clouded his jaw. Whether it was the effort he had put into ascending my building or the slight tension he had about sharing a couch with me, the veins on his arms and hands stood out more than usual.
Bruce hesitated before reaching for the wine glass that had been waiting for him. He cleared his throat while raising his glass towards mine, "To you. Many happy returns."
I shook my head, "No… to guilty pleasures."
He smirked, chimed his glass with mine and then took a ginger sip before returning it to the table. As he leaned back into the overstuffed couch, Bruce seemed to relax a fraction more, faux frowning while he suggested, "I do hope you mean me and not the crème pie."
"What crème pie?" I played innocent while setting my glass down next to his.
"Exactly. They didn't have any."
My brow rose on its own, silently demanding that he tell me the truth, the sooner the better.
He sighed, reaching to the plate in order to select a queso flameado, taking a bite and swallowing before responding, "They only had churros."
My glare intensified. I was torn between racing to the kitchen to see if he was joking or simply strangling the truth out of him, knowing the latter would have been more time and energy efficient. Thankfully, he recognized my distress and finally admitted, "I was kidding."
Sighing with relief, I reached for my wine and took another sip before pointing out to him, "If there's one thing you need to learn about women, never, ever joke about their guilty pleasures. Especially of the dessert variety."
"Duly noted," he remarked.
After we ate, I asked him if he wanted to stay for dessert and he admitted that he had picked up the last slice of Kahlua crème cake that they had. As the look started to wash over him, the one that meant he was mentally ready to head back out, I set the near empty plate on the end table, not even caring that the Calico was waiting and ready to scavenge from it. Climbing onto Bruce, I kissed him, the like flavors on our palates mixing unnoticed. While my hands locked around the base of his skull, his found their way to my hips before slipping to the small of my back.
When he finally pulled away, I smiled down at him, "It's my birthday."
"So I've noticed," he replied in a low growl.
It was my birthday.
And I indulged in as many guilty pleasures as I wanted to.