X X X

Bravura

"Listen to the rain, and the lullaby it sings to you."

X X X

"You going somewhere?"

She nearly jumps at the sound of his voice, and straightens up, smoothing down her hair as she turns and meets the smug look of Bruce Wayne in her doorway. He's got his hands braced against the doorjamb and, she has to admit, temporarily broke as he is, he looks quite dashing in a suit and tie; even if the tie's not tied properly.

He's probably fully aware of this fact, too, she reasons, and so she rolls her eyes. "Should I even bother asking how you found me?"

"You might, but it'd be a waste of time," he tells her, surprisingly good-natured.

Selina returns to folding her clothes and walks to the closet to pull a few more scarves. "You like the place?" She gestures to the living room space, including the heavy blanket she draped over the couch where Jen's blood still stains the fabric. Bleach isn't a miracle worker, but she doesn't intend to stay much longer, anyway.

Buck up, girl, she tells herself, and flashes Bruce a smile to distract herself. "It's not much, but it's more than you'll have if that little trick they tried at the exchange actually works."

Belatedly, she throws over her shoulder, "Sorry about that, by the way." It's difficult to summon up much remorse in her voice, the memory of Stryver in her apartment still fresh in her mind.

He arches an eyebrow and walks into the room, hand drifting across the edge of an end table and moving to stand a few feet from where she's packing. She wonders if he caught the hollow edge in her tone when she spoke.

"Very clever, I'll admit," he says carefully, and something in his voice makes Selina pause in her motions. "But it doesn't sound like your style."

She meets his gaze for a moment, dark brown eyes in a handsome face with waving brown hair to just above his shoulders. He's a rather dashing mark, and part of the reason Jen's buried in one of Gotham's many cemeteries now.

She bends down to grab one of her tool kits to pack, and winces at the sudden pain in her shoulder. Sucking in breath through her teeth, she presses a hand to where the bandage wraps snug around her underarm and over her shoulder blade.

"Hurt yourself?" Wayne asks, arching an eyebrow again.

Wouldn't you like to know, Selina thinks, but all she says is, "Just a scratch." She resumes her packing, wary of her shoulder wound. Her patience is wearing thin, and she doesn't want to stay in the apartment any longer than she has to, the space once shared by cat and mouse. Now there's just her, and she's running scared.

"Why are you here?" She says finally.

Wayne's gaze is scrutinizing, and it makes Selina uncomfortable. Even standing there with his hands in his suit pockets, he puts her on edge and she loathes being on edge, unless she's the one who puts herself there, unless she's the one in control.

She remembers the kiss she stole from him, and mentally shoves it away in disgust.

"You're still interested in the clean slate," he says, and she pauses, again, suddenly annoyed that he has the power to keep making her do that.

"There a question in there somewhere?" She says, feigning boredom as she zips up her suitcase and sets the lock on the zippers.

"My friend can get it for you," Wayne tells her. "No strings attached. All you have to do is lead him to someone."

Selina scoffs, and looks at Wayne, a hand on her hip. "That's a string," she reminds him pointedly.

"A far less dangerous one than those pulled by others," he counters enigmatically, but she's certain he knows exactly what he's saying.

Strings, like the one cut from her life after she fucked up twice. Her gaze drifts from Wayne and over her shoulder to the couch, her throat suddenly clenching behind her jaw. So many jobs and so many strings, she's honestly surprised she's made it this long in her life. This couldn't have been what her mother had in mind for her. And Jen. . .well, she was the first person she let in to her life, took under her wing, taught her the tricks of the trade. Jen was going to be her prodigy, the one good thing that Selina did - teach a young girl how to survive the meat grinder that was Gotham City - and in the end, Selina was the one who got her killed.

"Hey." His voice sounds surprisingly close to her, making her head whip around to face him. Wayne's standing inches away, his brow knit in - what? concern? it can't possibly be concern - and she can smell the faint scent of an expensive cologne.

She swipes at a tear - too late, as it rolls down her cheek - and refuses to meet his gaze. She crosses her arms over her chest, despite the pain it tweaks in her shoulder.

"Who does your friend want to meet?" She asks, though she already knows the answer.

There's a brief, tense beat of silence, in which she fears he might do something stupid like reach out and touch her or say something overly sentimental, but the moment passes and he steps back, sighing quietly as he does so.

"Bane," he tells her. "Take him to Bane, and you get your way out. I promise."

X X X

Blake is ten minutes out from the precinct when he feels his phone vibrate against the center console of the patrol car. He glances at Ross, who picks it up, answering the call for him. Out of the corner of his eye, Blake can see his partner's face grow grimmer by the second. Whoever's on the other side of the line, they've got nothing but bad news.

What else is new, Blake thinks darkly.

"No, we'll inform the family," Ross says quietly into the receiver. "We know his daughter." He flips the phone closed and puts it back in the console, and just stares ahead with a far-off look.

Blake's grip tightens around the steering wheel unconsciously, a biting mixture of anger and dread settling in the pit of his stomach. He narrows his eyes at the road before them, already knowing what his partner's going to tell him before he says the words aloud.

"They found Daggett," Ross tells him, needlessly.

"And Gallo," Blake mutters. He's not exactly sure what the man did to deserve being killed, but he knows it's criminal and that it's going to break Gwen's heart, no matter how little the two of them saw eye to eye on certain matters. A father's a father, no matter how imperfect he is.

Was, he corrects himself.

"Yeah, by the dumps in the Narrows," Ross sighs, running a hand over his short-cropped hair. "Definitely a message killing. . .Christ, man, everybody's dropping dead. This city's going back down the drain, and fast. What am I gonna tell Grace?"

"You tell her we'll be fine. We're not gonna lose this city," Blake tells him, resolute. His grip is white-knuckled on the wheel now, the nerves in his fingers stinging with protest. "Your boy's gonna be fine."

"Blake," his partner says, but he ignores him, eyes on the road.

His mind is shooting off in a dozen different directions: he wants to tell the Commissioner his suspicions, he wants to be there to tell Gwen in the least painful way possible that her father's been executed, he wants to help the Batman any way he can, he wants to strangle every person responsible for damaging Gotham, for killing Mark's older brother, for shooting down a little girl, for making people feel like they can't be safe in their own city.

He wants to do all of this, but all he can do at the moment, is drive.

"Blake!" Ross nearly shouts, and just like that, Blake's snapped out of his swirling thoughts of anger and bitterness, and glances over at the older man.

"Sorry," he says automatically, glancing at Ross for a moment. He releases his foot off the gas pedal, not realizing he'd been pushing fifty. He hangs a left, their precinct now in sight a few blocks ahead.

Ross gives him a wary look, one that almost evokes shame from Blake, and shakes his head. "I swear, John, you have to get that under control," he tells him. "It'll be the death of you."

His anger's been one of the few things that's kept him going all of these years, but Blake doesn't say that. Ross already knows this, and wants something better for him. He doesn't want to let his partner down, one of the few people on the force who believed in him when he came out of the academy an angry youth with a singular purpose: justice.

Blake's not sure the kind of anger he caries can be cured through optimism and hope, but he'll try - for Ross, for Riley, and for Gwen. But at the moment, he can't promise anything more than that.

When they pull into a vacant spot in front of the precinct, Blake kills the engine and just sits there for a moment. Ross is watching him closely, gauging his reaction, his temperament - but he's tucked away his anger safely for the moment, in a small metal box in his mind that only pain and fear can unleash again.

Outside, the sky is overcast, a precursor to a coming rainstorm.

"I'm a pretty angry son of a bitch, aren't I?" Blake says into the silence.

Ross shifts uncomfortably, averting his gaze to the dashboard. He sighs, and looks back at Blake. "Yeah, you are. But you're a good kid, and a damn good cop."

Blake finds himself smiling ruefully, and his partner cuffs him on the shoulder as he chuckles, the tension broken.

"I was hoping she'd rub off on you," Ross tells him. "She's a good influence, you know."

He doesn't have to ask who Ross is referring to, because Gwen is the first she in Blake's life that he's ever let even remotely close to knowing him. He hasn't had many romantic relationships in his lifetime (he can count them on one hand), and they all ended after awhile either because of his anger or the hours he kept, or for the simple fact that he couldn't connect long enough to let his guard down, a guard he's kept in place since he was a boy and was brought to the morgue to identify his father's body.

It's sad, now that he thinks about it, and he's not sure why he hasn't noticed that before.

They get out of the patrol car and enter the unfortunately bustling building, Ross splitting off to inform Daggett's wife and Blake with the intent of calling Gwen and asking her to meet him there. He's checking his phone automatically for any missed calls - either from the Commissioner, or the officers who called to inform them about Daggett and Gallo - when bright auburn hair catches his eye.

He sees her first, sitting at a desk a few over from his, talking to another cop he recognizes, Anders - a few years older than him, and very physically imposing, even when sitting. The man's jotting down notes on the desk as Gwen sits in the chair across from him, her shoulders slumped, hair hanging in long, loose waves down her back.

She looks incredibly small compared to Anders, and it triggers something in Blake, a certain kind of protectiveness.

He approaches them at a measured pace; Anders looks up, a question in his steel grey eyes. Blake rests a hand on Gwen's shoulder, despite the other cop's scrutiny.

To hell with him.

Gwen turns and looks up at Blake, her eyes red-rimmed and tear-stained, and that makes up his mind for him. He can see the relief in her eyes, behind the grief.

Looking to Anders, he says, "Can she take a break?" He doesn't need to be told they're taking her statement, and asking in the first place is really only a courtesy. Somebody already beat him to the punch in telling her about her father, and that nearly makes his anger rise to the surface again.

Anders glances between him and Gwen, and then reluctantly gives a curt nod of his head. "Sure, Blake," he tells him.

Blake nods, and Gwen gets up and follows him to one of the interrogation rooms in the back of the precinct. After closing the door behind them, he turns to find her watching him, brown eyes wide and shining with tears she's been holding back. All of his previous anger in the car fades completely away, and is replaced with the strong urge to say something - anything - to alleviate the hurt in her eyes.

"You know?" She says, her voice small and quiet.

Blake can feel himself tense up, and he nods, slowly. "I was going to call you when I got here," he tells her.

She looks up, taking a step towards him, her eyes focusing in understanding. "I wish you'd been the one to tell me," she says. She shakes her head, letting out an unsteady breath and running both hands through her hair. The auburn is a stark contrast to the white and steel of the interrogation room.

She begins to pace, and Blake just watches, unsure of what to do next. This is all new territory for him. He's informed countless family members of tragedy, but aside from the boys at St. Swithin's, he's never dealt with one he knew personally.

"I wish I'd figured it out earlier," she says, talking fast now. "I knew my father wasn't entirely on the level, but funding terrorists? How do you fix that? He said to follow the money, but where do I start when it's a multi-million dollar company?"

"Gwen, hey-"

"Follow the money, he said, like it's a scavenger hunt. Only, if I don't figure it out, something bad is going to happen. Worse than being told he was killed execution style and left to rot in a dumpster-"

Blake reaches for her hand in an attempt to make her stop pacing, and pulls her towards him so she is forced to meet his gaze. Her eyes are still shining, and he can tell by the stubborn set of her jaw that she's forcing herself not to break down, to logically reason out everything that's happened to her. But logic and reason only take a person so far.

"We have to fix this, John," she whispers, her lip trembling with the weight behind her words. "It was my dad's last wish."

The words pull at him, and he nods, solemn. And then he does something he hasn't done in at least a few years - he pulls her hand in his towards him and wraps an arm around her trembling shoulders, so her cheek is resting against his vest, her head tucked underneath his chin. He feels her body release some of its earlier tension as both of her hands go to wrap around his torso. Her entire form is pressed up against him and, though the contact has been foreign to him for a very long time, he welcomes the warmth it brings.

He realizes this simple act of holding her is calming her down, and that makes it all the better.

His other hand finds its way to cup the back of her head, fingers weaving in with her hair. Her hands are clutched against his back so tightly now, he's both afraid and unwilling to pull away from her just yet. He can't remember the last time he comforted somebody like this, just with the physical presence of being there, no words required.

He can't remember it ever making him feel quite like this, either; calm, still, present.

Her hands shift down his back to rest at his waist and he watches her every move as she pulls back to look up at him. He loosens his arms just enough to allow her to do so, still wrapped about her shoulders. Her face has always been an open book to him, and he doesn't miss the unspoken question in her eyes, in her barely-parted lips.

"John-"

The sharp rapping of a knock cuts her off, and Blake contemplates killing the person on the other side of the door. He'll have to settle for glaring.

Anders enters the room and, while Blake steps back to put a little more space between him and Gwen, he doesn't let go of her hand.

The cop exchanges a brief, questioning look with him, and then turns his attention to Gwen. "Are you ready to finish up, Ms. Gallo?"

He phrases it as a question, but Blake knows it's not a request; the precinct is itching to get to the bottom of the high profile murders. He looks at Gwen, whose eyes are already on him, and nods imperceptibly.

She straightens up and follows Anders out of the room, giving Blake's hand one last squeeze before leaving.

Blake watches as the door shuts closed behind her, taking with it the faint scent of her lotion and her bright auburn hair. He fists his hand, the one that was holding hers, and then drops it at his side. In the reflection of the two way mirror, he gives himself a long hard look, but even he's not fooling himself.

Better go call the Commissioner, he thinks to distract himself.

X X X

"Jesus, Gwen, I'm sorry," Mikey's voice crackles over the line.

She turns onto another street, headed for old town. Her phone sits in her lap, Mikey on speakerphone.

"Are you okay?" He asks hesitantly. "I know that's a rotten thing to ask, especially since I know the answer, but. . .you know."

Gwen closes her eyes for a second, her throat tightening a little. To be honest, she's too angry and afraid to properly mourn her father at the moment, having cried all her tears out at the precinct earlier, some of which fell in front of Blake. At the moment, she is focusing on one thing: the cat.

"I'll be okay," she answers finally, taking another right. Her eyes follow the street numbers as they count down on odds to where she hopes she'll find the cat - or rather, Selina Kyle. That's the woman's name. After describing to Anders her earlier encounter with the burglar, she'd made a few calls to her father's office, and was relieved to discover he kept tabs on all independently contracted associates.

"I know you will, Gwen," Mikey tells her. "You're a tough kid, that's why I like you so much, why you were so different from. . ."

He trails off unexpectedly, but Gwen knows what he was going to say. Why you were so different from your father, she thinks. Night and day would be putting it lightly, but there's one thing she and her father didn't disagree on: loyalty.

The last thing he ever did was warn her, and she's not going to waste it.

She sees the apartment complex come into view, street number matching the one she jotted down on a scratch piece of paper earlier. Pulling to the side, she parks and takes Mikey off speakerphone, pressing the phone up to her ear.

"Where are the boys this weekend? On campus?" She asks.

"Uh - well, yeah, they are," Mikey replies after a confused beat. "Didn't want to risk the drive with the bad weather they're forecasting."

Gwen nods to herself and then says, "You should go visit them. Use one of my parents' cars, you know where the keys are. Take a vacation."

"Gwen. . ." he begins, suspicious. "What is this? What's going on?"

"Just-" she starts, and rubs her forehead, a small headache beginning to bloom between her eyes; too many tears and not enough water. She tries to ignore how suddenly exhausted she feels, shoves it aside and tells herself to focus. "Just do it. Please? For me. I know Alden and Jake would love to see you. I'll call you in a few days."

He promises he'll leave, and Gwen takes a deep breath, knowing that's one less person she needs to worry about. With her mother gone and Mikey on his way out of town, there's only Blake left.

X X X

Selina's hand is reaching for her keys on the hallway table when the doorbell sounds, and she pauses, wary. She steps forward to look in the peephole and lets out a strangled sound when she sees who it is.

"Feel free to take this the wrong way," she says, as she swings open the door and gives Gwen a half hearted glare. "But do you have a death wish?"

Something in the girl's expression has her arching an eyebrow. It was surprisingly easy to startle her this morning, but there's a certain, distant look in her eyes that Selina recognizes all too well. It's that look that doesn't make her slam the door immediately in the girl's face, and instead she jerks her chin towards the inside of her apartment.

She watches Gwen step over the threshold with only mild trepidation and shuts the door behind her. Crossing her arms, Selina gives the girl a look, waiting. In the fading afternoon light of the apartment, she can make out the slight puffiness below her eyes.

"I thought you'd be gone by now," she says after a moment. Her voice is different, too, Selina notes. Quieter, not as stubborn, not like Jen's used to be.

"I'm working on it, but people keep popping by," Selina quips without humor. "You really are too smart for your own good."

A ghost of a smile traces over the girl's lips, but it doesn't reach her eyes. Not even close. "My dad, he. . .was very thorough, keeping track of who he worked with."

Irritation, that's Selina's first reaction, for getting into bed with businessmen who possess more than half a brain. And then she realizes why the girl looks off, sounds off. Past tense.

For some reason, it makes Selina looks away, unable to maintain eye contact. Something tightens in her chest, and she remembers the day she'd first met Jen - how she'd been naive enough to try and pickpocket a pickpocket.

"Tough break, kid," Selina gets out, looking at the girl. Gwen's brown doe eyes stare back and she swats down what little compassion is attempting to rise within her, and asks, "So, what're you doing here?"

The strict edge in her tone must snap her out of her reverie, because Gwen straightens up a little. Selina's seen the action all too many times, mostly from young kids on the street trying not to be the next mark of a conman. Tough kids in the making.

"I need your help," she says finally, her voice surprisingly solid.

Selina blinks, and cocks her head. "Help. . .aside from assaulting you on several occasions, what would ever possess you to ask me for help?"

"Because I need you to teach me what you know," Gwen answers, unfazed by the references to their past encounters. "How to steal, how to fight. How to survive."

For a moment, Selina's at a loss for words. She can't remember the last time somebody asked for her help and caught her truly by surprise all in one fell swoop. She supposes there's a first for everything, even after all she's been through in her thirty odd years of living.

No, she reminds herself. Not living; surviving, just like Gwen said.

Selina shakes her head, both to rid herself of that morose realization, and to set the silly little girl in front of her straight.

"You want revenge, honey," she says. "I get that. Believe me, I do. But you're gonna end up in your own grave if you go that route. Trust me."

Gwen's slowly shaking her head the moment Selina finishes speaking, her lips pressed together in a way that reminds her of Jen.

"Not revenge," she says, so seriously as if she's swearing on her own life. "Penance."

This piques Selina's interest, but only a little, and not nearly enough to consider the girl's request. She has plans to get the hell out of dodge tomorrow morning, and nothing is going to stop her, not even the ghost of Jen.

She turns on her heel and calls over her shoulder, "For who, darling? Yourself?"

She hears Gwen pad behind her, hesitant at first, and then she's standing in the doorway with one hand on the doorframe, in the same spot Wayne had been standing earlier. Selina shakes off the comparison.

"For my father," Gwen answers. "For everybody he's hurt."

Selina eyes the few suitcases she has packed, running over a last minute list in her mind as she shakes her head again, back turned to the girl.

"That's not your problem, sweetheart," Selina tells her. She turns to face Gwen, a hand on her hip.

The girl's looking like she's closed to crying again, but to her credit, she bites her lip and doesn't allow herself to do so.

"Of course it's my problem," she whispers, voice rough from the strain of holding back tears. "It was either going to be him or me pulling the strings."

Selina's eyes narrow, a pang of jealousy hitting her, unbidden, at the realization of what Gwen's saying. "That's what all good daddies do. Put their daughters first."

Gwen must catch change in tone of Selina's voice, because she tilts her head, mind honing in one where the sudden edge might have come from. But before she can say anything, another phrase or another question that'll make Selina second guess what she's going to do later that night, she cuts her off.

"Heart to heart's over, Gwen," she tells her, steeling herself. "I'm not a lost cause kind of girl. You know where the door is."

No place for bleeding hearts in Gotham.

X X X

Outside, the rain is thundering against the glass-paned windows of Wayne Manor. Bruce's eyes drift to study the rivulets as they trace in uneven paths down the glass, momentarily distracted. It was raining like this the day of his parents' funeral, and he remembers how Alfred had walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder; a gentle, comforting anchor to the present, an aid to keep from drowning in the white noise of his family's tragedy.

It occurs to him, belatedly, as Miranda's standing there before him, that the solace she wants to offer - while kind - is misguided. He could very easily spend his few hours before meeting Bane trying to forget the nearly insurmountable challenge that awaits him.

Bane is his equal, physically and mentally, but Bruce will push harder. Every man has something to lose, and with Alfred no longer at the mansion, his last weakness is gone for Bane to exploit.

"Bruce?"

He looks back at Miranda, her arms nestled around his waist, her hands pressed against his lower back. Making up his mind, he takes half a step back, and removes his hands from where they're wrapped around her shoulders.

His voice is quiet when he speaks, barely above a whisper. "I think you should leave, Miranda."

She doesn't register what he's saying at first, and then he sees an interesting mixture of confusion and irritation play across her features. She steps back slowly, pulling her soaking sweater tighter about her shoulders. He calls her a cab and she doesn't look back over her shoulder as she climbs in.

The wrought iron front door shuts closed behind him, the sound echoing down the empty halls of the manor. He turns away and heads for his father's study.