a Catwoman Continuation
5. A RABBIT-HEARTED GIRL
— Florence + the Machine —
The looking glass, so shiny and new, how quickly the glamour fades
I start spinning, slipping out of time, was that the wrong pill to take?
Raise it up, you made a deal, and now it seems you have to offer up
But will it ever be enough, it's not enough, raise it up
Here I am, a rabbit-hearted girl, frozen in the headlights
It seems I've made the final sacrifice
—St. Moritz, April 2016—
The steam that rolled over Selina's reflection softened her like a golden era starlet under a vaseline-coated lens. But glamour was quick to fade, laying bare a face thinned-out and drained of color. Mirrors with heated surfaces. An attention to detail consistent with a mind suffering from a compulsion for functional luxury at its most inconvenient. Waterlogged was never a look Selina wore well.
Annoyance sparked life into her eyes. She let it kindle.
She lifted her arms to wring out her hair, side-eyeing the doubled-over profile that loomed large on frosted glass. The walled partition spoke of deep-seated issues with the practicalities of shared space. But the medium was a contradiction of intimacy. His blurred silhouette, bent over a churning faucet, laid across her body.
Bruce might not be watching her now, but the stare that had driven her into the bathroom was still heavy on her mind. He hadn't said a word after he'd turned her slip of the tongue into an ultimatum. Though she'd balked at his finality, for once she hadn't the will to argue her price.
That lapse alone was reason enough to run.
Selina shut her eyes and blasted a hairdryer. The heat was scorching steel, concrete, marble; the noise was a fusion of foreign tongues and traffic jams. Anonymity against an attractive backdrop. Why were her toughest fights always for the basics?
When she flicked off the dryer, all was cool and quiet again. For the moment her skin was her own.
Sure she was alone, she moved to the other side of the partition. Selina pushed aside her reflection to have a look through the extensive rows of white bottles lining his medicine cabinet.
She was smart about the pills she chose to mix but didn't give herself time to reconsider before she tossed them back. For two weeks, she'd kept out of his stash. She'd get her release out of him one way or another.
Batting the mirror closed, she watched her throat churn as she swallowed her weak will. A moment passed full of silence, empty of staying hands.
Trading a towel for her robe, Selina reversed her hasty retreat to the bathroom. The bed she'd left Bruce lying in was made up like they'd never tangled the sheets, which were now turned down on the side she preferred. The clothes she'd dragged from his squandered body no longer scattered like breadcrumbs into the hall.
Indignation set her off. She'd been halfway out the door and he the one coaxing her back in with the promise of ledgers wiped clean. If he thought he could pocket her marker and disappear on her again –
"Bruce." Selina was on the stairs before she caught herself.
Silk pajamas rustled as he turned to look down on her. "I'm here." He betrayed no hint of a smirk under his beard, but that didn't stop Selina from seeing one.
"Listen," she said in a tone far from the way she'd called his name. "I've got plans, you've got a city to haunt – let's not waste anybody's time here. How exactly am I supposed to help you?"
Bruce leaned back against the banister. "I'm sure you've got a fair amount of that put together by now." Off her lifted brow, his furrowed. "You didn't read it."
So he had meant for her to swallow his journal whole. Her turn to smirk. "Busy gal."
A long scrutiny of her face was Bruce's reply. The paper-thin quality of the skin that hung beneath his eyes mirrored her own. "We both need sleep," he said, dropping her gaze at last to climb to the top step.
Selina pressed her mouth into a thin line. Separate beds. Game over due to forfeit.
"We'll talk in the morning."
"I was going to leave in the morning," she told him, because it was beyond irritating the way he assigned meaning to her every tick. Because doing the same wasn't half as amusing on her end. Because it was true. "Just how long do you mean to trespass on my generous nature?"
"I left that up to you," he said in that cryptic way of his. He climbed out of sight.
Rolling her eyes upward brought on the spins. She steadied herself against the banister. "Mr. Wayne?" she called out.
He returned to crouch, with difficulty, on the edge of the trapdoor. His look of expectation was the same as the one he'd worn the first time he'd asked for her help. She'd been in a hell of mood then, too. Pissed off at her own desperation, but not blind to his intrigue and the chance to have some fun.
"I'm sorry I took all your money."
The line was supposed to have come out ironic to prompt his reply of 'No, you're not', so she could angle her shoulders for a view, mewl, 'Bet you are,' and know she wasn't the only one going to bed unsatisfied.
But her tongue had became too thick for tart replies.
Three pills she'd taken. The one that kicked in fast and hard haloed Bruce and made her squint against that stare he settled on her again. She sent it right back, giving up the struggle not to slump. As if to say, Take it in, Wayne. This is what you've done to me.
He seemed ready to accept the guilt, surprise, surprise. "Apologies really don't suit you," said the guy blocking the light at the end of the tunnel he'd dropped her in.
Her answer was a laugh, disembodied.
She left Bruce at that. Turned around and teetered away. He could work out the warning in her abrupt departure himself. No need to waste words on her mercenary understanding of 'sorry' as a concept – debt and obligation and guilt and attachment – and the shame that she could never leave behind walls closing in.
Lights out in the bedroom, Selina clawed the sheets toward the floor to undo his supposed kindness. She rolled onto the empty mattress.
If he could be clear, she would be cold.
For the Robinsons and anyone who'd ever made her sorry, she'd fought and cussed and spat – she hadn't helped until she'd detached. She could play the professional when she needed to. She could get this over with.
Selina's eyelids twitched as she sank into an easy way out.
—Gotham City, March 2016—
Night had long fallen over the city when Selina got out of a stolen Escalade and stepped onto the littered sidewalk. Through a haze of snowfall, she met the black stare of a solitary figure crouched on the glass canopy above her head.
"Keep it close, honey," she said, lobbing the keys at him. They'd barely made a sound against his glove before he was tossing them back. She caught them and paused to pout. "The service around here has really gone downhill."
"Meet me at the nesting docks."
The voice he chose made her point out the abandoned street with a slow pivot.
A flap of his cape, and the Batman was gone. Off to prepare for war.
Commitment to a con was something Selina appreciated. What Bruce had just revealed about his nature went deeper, cut to the core of a person whose sense of self was forged by fractures. That was something Selina understood.
Didn't stop her from sighing. For someone who shrouded himself in darkness, he was just so obvious about everything. What was the point of owning his neuroses if he wasn't going to have any fun with them? And tonight of all nights. Better late than never.
The lobby of the Grand Hotel Gotham looked like New Year's Eve after a milder sort of apocalypse. Some hoodlum had left a vintage bottle of Dom Perignon to chill in now tepid waters. Selina rescued it from profanation.
Behind the gold-plated front desk, a familiar punk with an AK-47 strapped on his back had security footage running on a large monitor. The feed to the east entrance was blank, no doubt courtesy of the Batman. A cork bounced off that screen with a bang.
When wide-eyed Luis wheeled around to see her slinking up in her catsuit, he whipped back to look behind him.
Chuckling, Selina leaned over and pulled his face against the desk she hopped up to lounge on. She bent her knee so her razor-heel was next to his nose.
"You wouldn't believe the night I've had," she lamented. "I had to talk to some pretty low people. And even they didn't care one little bit where you were." She twisted the serrated blade to catch the light. "So lie to me again, and who's gonna miss you?"
"Jen's here," Luis was eager to sputter. "I was just about to give the signal for them to come down."
"So give the signal." Selina traded his head for her bottle of champagne.
Luis watched her take a swig out of the corner of his eye as he flickered the lights. She spat out the taste and dumped the rest of the bottle out on red carpeting. Like everything the least bit enjoyable in Gotham, the booze had gone flat.
The main staircase filled with hushed teenagers and twenty-somethings. A blonde head pushed through the despondent crowd, rushing toward the front desk. Raising her mask along with her eyebrows, Selina got down to accept a forceful hug. Jen was near tears, but it was still the first time in weeks she was happy to see Selina.
"Thank God you found me in time." Jen pulled back a little. "Who told you? Detective Blake?"
"I heard a rumor." No wonder they all looked so remorseful. The threat of nuclear annihilation did that.
"There's only a few hours left, but Luis says he can get us inside the sewers."
Two more repentant guns for Bane came in the front entrance, announcing clear streets. Holding onto one another, the crowd began filing down the stairs and through rotating doors.
Jen had their same calm. "We'll be safe down there. Like a bomb shelter."
Selina wondered how many of these kids had finished high school and, like Jen, were deluding themselves. But all she said was, "I'm sure they will be," and waited for Luis to pass. She took Jen's hands. "I'm getting us out of the city."
"'Us,'" Jen repeated with caution, her fingers clinging hard. "How – Wait." She started pulling Selina toward the crowd. "You can tell us all together."
Standing firm, Selina replied, "There are forty people over there."
"We've got limos big enough for everybody."
Perfect targets for exacting terrorists and on-edge soldiers alike. She was not about to have that on her head, too.
"About the only good reason to bring them along would be to draw fire," Selina said, quick as ripping off a band-aid. She moved to block Jen's quivering lip from the smaller crew waiting for her in the lobby. "I came for you."
Waterworks erupted in an instant. "You – " The contempt on Jen's face twisted the flow of her tears.
"Listen – I made a deal for myself. I'm already pushing my luck bringing you."
"Bullshit! You just don't want the 'inconvenience,' right?"
"Go ahead and hate me," was all Selina had for that point. She took hold of Jen's elbow and tugged her along to the east exit. "But do it while I'm saving your life."
"I'm not leaving them," Jen said, raising her voice. "Luis!"
The look Selina shot over her shoulder was enough to stop him in his tracks. His resigned expression told her that he knew, as sure as Jen did, that getting to the sewers was nothing more than a desperate cry for hope.
"Luis wants you to live, princess," Selina snapped, pushing Jen through the glass double doors. She fell to the icy sidewalk and stayed there. Crossed her arms and looked so much like her sister it hurt. Selina told her to get up. She refused.
"You owe me," Selina hissed. Their deal when Jen had begged to stay with her in the city – "What I said, when I said it, remember?"
"I owe you, you feel sorry for me – none of it means anything! You couldn't wait to leave, just like you left Holly – " Jen didn't even take a breath when Selina tried to cut her off. "And Holly left and so did Gran." Gran died, that wasn't her fault. If Jen died, it would be Selina's. She repeated her command, but Jen wasn't finished. "I am not leaving them because they'd never leave me!"
Selina reached down and picked her up by her hair. "Get the fuck up, Jen!"
Jen howled like a wounded animal, flailed, and slapped Selina so hard her mask fell back into place. Selina didn't flinch. Jen was slow to back away. Behind her in the dark distance, light flared.
From high up on the Wayne Memorial Bridge, fire in the shape of a bat lit up over Gotham.
Selina stayed on Jen's heels as they rounded the corner for a better view. The lack of subtly was a strategy questionable at best. But hell if it wouldn't strike like lightning to the heart of anyone who'd ever whispered his legend in the dark.
Through his shock, Luis motioned for his electrified crew to keep packing into the three limos lining the curb. Inside, they crowded windows to stare up at the burning symbol, their mouths hanging open in awe a breath away from fear. That Gotham City look of hope.
All the adoration that had blown away in the Storm flooded Jen's raised eyes. "Is he really back?"
"He'll save them," Selina lied, taking her by the shoulders. "Let me save you."
"I'm not afraid." Jen winced when she said it. But she bit off her next words with more conviction than Selina would have thought she had in her – "I'd rather die with a family than live alone like you."
A variation on a theme that still made her spit, "You're being melodramatic."
"You're in a cat costume."
Selina's heart tightened. Her grip loosened. "Goddamn you," she said and glared as Jen threw herself into a limousine full of victims calling her name.
Jen was crying again when she stood up high in the open roof, aided by the pile of arms clinging to her. Selina refused to raise even one to return her wave. Jen kissed her own forehead goodbye with two fingers. Selina turned her back.
From the day she'd opened her baby blue eyes and taken the city into her big soft heart, Jen Robinson had been a cause as lost as Gotham.
Selina's receding footfalls left no mark on its last starless night.
—St. Moritz, April 2016—
The room was as dark as ever when Selina opened her eyes. Sit up, she told her body even as it curled in tighter. Her abdomen pushed against the mattress, each shallow breath taking her back to the oppressive silence of those long, cold winter nights. A city of millions petrified of giving away any sign of life.
With a violent jerk, she rolled herself to the edge of the bed. A button in the nightstand swept back thick curtains. The muted light was enough for her to read the tiny gold hands on the clock. She'd slipped out of time by eighteen hours.
Selina steadied herself before getting to her feet, rubbing her aching neck. She stood at the wall-length window and raised her hand to the semi-opaque film that covered it. Another product of Bruce's paranoia, no doubt, since the window was built flush against the cliff-face. Her fingers flexed with the desire to peel off the thin barrier. Three small scratch marks were all she left. Not her problem.
In the bathroom, the vanity was her ally again. Selina took her time concealing and accentuating. She brushed her hair straight until it shone. She paired a fitted shirt and a structured jacket with tailored jeans. The clack of her heels against tile and wood was as reassuring as deep breaths.
Half as many strides as stairs, and Selina was closer to daylight than she had been in days. From the rack by the front door, her coat and scarf hung over her ready suitcase.
The decoy cabin's single bedroom was as empty and tidy as Selina expected. Grabbing his tattered hiking pack, she dumped the contents out on the thin mattress. A plastic bag contained a German energy bar wrapper and a receipt from a gas station in the port city of Bremen, corroborating his story that he'd come by ship and then by car. A note rife with insults in near-illiterate Cyrillic passed ownership of the Jeep to Bruce, who seemed to be something of a card shark. Had he raked in his final earnings with a broad victor's laugh? She doubted it.
Leaving the rest of the pile unexplored, Selina forced herself back down through his trap door.
At the other end of the underground cabin, blue-gray light reflected on glass-covered walls and shone up into the hall. Intermittent interruptions to the light evoked wings.
Two weeks of nothing but that room and his ghost. She'd never let anyone make her world so small.
When Bruce hauled himself up from his cave, Selina was in the kitchen rounding up spices. Anything to improve what would be her last sad tin of canned tuna, or so help her. She seasoned a bowl and watched Bruce mix chalk protein in water. He was bracing himself on the counter, favoring his bad knee and side.
Disappointment came like déjà vu, the robe and beard taking her back to when they'd met. What a waste, she thought again. And bit her lip under a snort.
He shifted to stand straighter, regarding her with caution.
Condolence added to her amusement. "You look like something the cat dragged in."
The brim of his glass hovered near his turned-down mouth. "That's…" His eyebrow cocked. "Extremely accurate," Bruce concluded and gulped down the entire glass. The orange supplement had the consistency of her tuna. He poured himself another.
"Okay." Selina put her bowl in the sink. "This is the worst client dinner I've ever had. And I've been poisoned."
He stated, "I'm a client now," and came toward her. She backed no further into the counter, even as he reached over her to the cabinet above.
"My little pet name for people who blackmail me into working for them." She didn't turn her head from the silk sleeve that brushed her nose, not betraying the least bit of interest in his clean, strong scent.
Bruce took his time to unscrew the lid from the heavy plastic container and set it down. "It's not blackmail." His body was a brief weight on hers before he moved away. "Think of it as a thank you."
"Gordon told me you didn't accept thanks."
Bruce leaned against the corner inches away, looking at her from under raised eyebrows. "From you, I'll take what I can get."
"Attractive," she said with forced sarcasm. "But I'm afraid I only accept one charity case per quarter."
"Saving my life was charity now," he said, and bit into something that looked like actual chalk.
'One,' Selina mouthed and put down the finger she'd held up. "Company policy."
"Well, it's a good thing I took back my accounts." He popped another pellet. If he choked on it, she wouldn't have minded. The mess she'd made of his finances should have taken him a lot longer than half a day to clear up. His shrug was as minimalist as it was annoying. "I had to occupy myself somehow. While you slept like the dead."
"But awoke like the living." She ended a small flourish with red nails touching her neck. "You should try it."
"I'll keep to my own vices." He washed down his dry chalk with his wet chalk.
Selina followed the bob of his Adam's apple to the mark on his throat where she'd nicked him with the rapier. "Don't they make pills for crippling masochism?"
He didn't rise to her jab. "You're disappointed." Bruce tipped his glass into the sink, glancing her way. "You'd hoped…"
"To be fucked into oblivion?" Selina waited for him to drag his eyes from her lips. She swept her eyes downward. "Now that you mention it."
His clamped jaw worked. He was probably running his tongue along the top of his coated mouth. Even if she provoked a move out of him, he wouldn't be able to taste her. Bruce should have thought of that.
Selina backed away smirking. Like her mother always said, 'Never trust a man whose first priority isn't under your skirt.'
Jaw still tight, Bruce tracked her exit. "And in the morning?"
"Champagne." She hung in the archway, her jacket gaping open to a deep scoop-neck. "'No hard feelings.' 'Until we meet again.'"
Bruce took his aloof lean up a notch, crossing his ankles and bracing his hands on either counter. "Last time we were together your line was, 'Come with me.'" His second reference to that dawn.
He wasn't going to see it faze her. "Please. You wouldn't survive an act that selfish."
"Then why ask?"
"I like having someone around to open doors for me," was her ready reply.
But something about his tone struck her a moment later as too casual, his words too quick. He might have lain awake nights, wondering, taking himself to task for being unable to roll over and forget. And now he was here with her against his will, chafing at his own skin.
Her sympathy was harsh. "Or maybe I was hoping for something more," Selina said, and went into the hall. It was a relief, for a change, not to be the one dismissed.
—Gotham City, March 2016—
Nothing unusual about docks lined with crates, but Selina, desperate for distraction, took a peek. Inside one were hundreds of files stolen from banks throughout the city. Another had a jumble of hard drives. An unnecessary cause given that the ground under her feet was about to be blown off the map – but so much more the way all this was supposed to have gone down.
When the Batman showed up, Selina was taking a savage delight in the crack of broken ice. She lobbed a king's ransom mortgage on an orphanage as far out into the Gotham River as she could.
In that growl of his, he asked her, "What about these?" and indicated the files she'd set aside.
Those deserved their debts, but Selina wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of calling her Robin Hood again. Even with nothing but his chin open to her gaze, she could tell Bruce was thinking it. Selina kicked the pile. The city's inequities stopped being her problem with a splash. They wouldn't be anyone's problem much longer.
She pushed past Bruce to get them both moving. "Clock's a-ticking, handsome. Where's my out?"
He fell into step with her, matching her pace as he led her down trash-clogged alleyways that stank like a toilet. The docks hadn't changed much in five months.
She was about to crack wise about how she would miss romantic strolls through the gutter on snowy Gotham mornings. He distracted her by pressing a button that opened a rusted metal container like the lid off a parting gift.
Inside was the most beautiful beast of a motorcycle she'd ever had the pleasure of ogling on the eleven o'clock news.
"You shouldn't have," Selina purred. He didn't contradict her presumption, so she put a little extra oomph in her walk for him. Least she could do.
A lesser man would have needed to clear his throat. "The Midtown tunnel's blocked by debris, but the cannons give you enough firepower to make a path for people."
Those dark eyes on her, Selina stretched a leg over his machine and settled herself on top of its molded contours.
"Wait until the fighting begins."
"You're gonna wage a war to save your stuck-up girlfriend?" To hell with pride. She leaned over to take the controls. Dead men told no tales.
The Batman ignored her jealous outburst as sure his alter ego had. Attention on the motorcycle, he said, "To start it, throttle – "
She revved the engine to cut him off. "I got it." Raising her head, she was gratified to see his lowered in acknowledgement.
"We've got forty-five minutes to save this city," he said, stepping out of her path.
Selina rolled his cycle to a halt. "No," she said and sat up. "I've got forty-five minutes to get clear of the blast radius." She enunciated her warning: "Because you don't stand a chance against these guys."
Unflappable, the Batman looked down on her. "With your help I might."
Selina gritted her teeth. Deal or no deal, she should have known he'd pull something like this. Her words came out fast, leaving no room for negotiation – "I'll open that tunnel, then I'm gone."
From behind his mask, he tried to see through her own. "There's more to you than that." Had anyone else ever heard the Batman and Bruce Wayne sound so much like one?
Regret, churning and full, threatened to overwhelm her most hollow self. It took all her strength of self-preservation to hold his stare. "Sorry to keep letting you down."
He stood beside her in silence, as if waiting for her to realize that she didn't have to. As if for him she could make a choice that would matter.
She leaned into Bruce. "Come with me." No one else had ever heard Selina sound so imploring. "Save yourself. You don't owe these people any more." All the emotions this man had made her feel in spite of herself – hope, want, regret, outrage – bled her voice raw. "You've given them everything."
"Not everything. Not yet." Said on a breath as long as the one she was holding.
Bruce turned and the Batman vanished into the coming dawn.
Gears ground the container door shut. Another dismissal, the second time he'd given up on her. And nothing in this hell on earth could make her stay to watch his death in encore. Selina raked her goggles over stung eyes. She took off like shot with what she was owed and nothing more, gunning the engines as if she could ever put enough distance between herself and the cost.
—St. Moritz, April 2016—
Selina swore she could feel the indents from her ass checks in the leather chair. Calling herself pathetic was flattery at this point. The rut she'd gotten into was much more self-loathing.
Bruce had left his screens open, either to entice her curiosity or to let her know she didn't need to snoop. Neither alternative was all that interesting. She clicked through his files, unsurprised to see that he'd been trying to dig up dirt on the companies he'd made his donations to. So far, everything he'd sifted through lacked a flair for theatrical terrorism.
Hearing his knee cracking on the slope, Selina baited, "You mentioned an hallucinogen?"
"They call themselves the League of Shadows," was Bruce's defense. "Bane was a distraction. Talia al Ghul was the real threat, more dangerous because she was concealed." Bruce came to stand next to her chair. "But you're right. I could use the right kind of mind to go through all this."
That pitch had sounded better in writing. "You want a personal secretary, take out an ad – 'Wanted: One female, brunette, with stars in her big, blue eyes, and a loose interpretation of international privacy laws.'" Selina got up and held the spinning chair. "As for me, you'd better have something a hell of lot more stylish."
Bruce tucked the tails of his robe and took a seat. "Does wiping a two thousand year-old cloak-and-dagger conspiracy off the face of the earth strike you as stylish?"
Rolling her eyes, Selina walked around the desk to the far wall. "Hate to be the uncooperative one – I'm sure Blake will jump at the chance to be your new toy soldier, if he hasn't already – but you should've known better than to think economics would be a game I'd be interested in playing."
"So you did read my journal." Bruce folded his hands in his lap.
Her smile was as sweet as arsenic. "Only the last page. Ending sucked."
"It wasn't the end." He didn't have even the decency to look ashamed of himself, just rotated back toward the screens. "As it turned out."
"The Batman died. Bruce Wayne died." Selina put her hands on the glass to push against the endless, shrieking mouth of his cavern. "You're a lucky son of a bitch, but all you want is to sit in the dark and raise demons."
"The League of Shadows is flesh and blood. You should know."
Selina turned on him. "Yeah, for the guy with the strict 'no guns, no killing' policy you sure do have the luxury of dead enemies."
The monitors concealed Bruce's thoughts on that.
"I don't," she asserted, coming back toward him. "Mine are everywhere, and they've all got unfinished business. Am I gonna let that stop me from getting a life?"
"Your enemies didn't try to destroy a city of millions on three occasions decades apart."
"Three?" Selina echoed, startled.
Bruce cocked his head. "I thought you didn't want to know."
"You're right." Selina waved it off and perched herself on the edge of the clear plastic desk. "I say all the more reason to avoid them."
"I tried that. Members of the League require a strict hierarchy to act. Without leadership, they should have crumbled. But there were too many structures in place." Bruce started to glaze over, one of his hands rubbing the wound at his side. "Gotham cannot afford for me to miss another opportunity to dismantle their façade of institutionalized – "
Selina spun him into her eye-line, the point of her boot against his inner thigh. "I get it, you've got reasons. They might even be good ones. But that doesn't change the fact that this isn't my fight. Find someone else."
"No one in Gotham can know I survived. I won't risk it."
She could be just as blunt. "You had Fox wait with the reactor, you told Gordon to hide in the truck. Blake was the one cop you wouldn't let join your cannon fodder brigade." Selina leaned into Bruce. "But me you expected on the frontline."
"I couldn't trust them not to get themselves killed."
Selina ran her fingers through Bruce's hair. "Oh, you trusted me. Sounds better than, 'That backstabbing bitch is expendable,' I suppose."
He reached out to pull her face so close she had to steady herself with her forearms digging into his shoulders. "I told you when I forgave you." His mouth was rough brushing against hers, his mint-fresh breath a brief victory. "If anyone could have gotten out from under Bane's thumb, it was you."
"Bruce," she said, her voice lowering in pity as she put her weight on his knees. "You really think I didn't try?"
"Not hard enough, apparently," he said, his thumb rubbing gentle circles on her cheek. "Just like you tried to leave, but you came back for me. Because deep down you knew it was the right thing to do."
Nothing to do but shake off his delusion. "You still don't know a thing about me."
—Gotham City, March 2016—
The city was left to abandon in the morning twilight. Gotham had taken shelter. Selina alone rushed toward the skyline.
Not her fault. She pushed herself to speeds that made icy winds into a punishment that screamed through the cracks in her goggles. In the blur of sight and sound – not her fault, not her fault. She was small in the narrow space between penthouses and skyscrapers.
An adjustment as minute as a flinch turned the cycle away from the financial district and toward residential streets. She was forced to slow on roads that couldn't stand the abuse. Across from a warehouse, modest brownstones took shape as her ears rang in their silence. Ahead, the Midtown tunnel was stacked four layers thick with cars better suited to lining soccer fields.
Selina brought the cycle to a stop, the tunnel direct in her line of fire. She idled the engine as she sat up, but her hands still gripped the controls. Eager for action, movement. Escape. Seconds dragged. Minutes tortured.
She didn't want to wait.
The one part of their deal that required any amount of trust, and it was getting to be too much for her. Shame grabbed her by the throat, where fear was already lodged.
The walls around Selina were never tighter. Twice she'd stuck her neck out and tried to do the right thing, the smart thing, and twice she'd been rejected in favor of the righteous thing. The only two people in a city of twelve million she'd let affect her life – and they would rather die in hope than live with her in reality.
Gotham had been reduced to survival or suicide because of righteous things. The Siege and the Storm, and the Dent Act that had made it all so appealing.
Selina had been righteous. She was still alive to regret it only because she had also been selfish.
That was who she was. That was why she'd chosen to be a con artist and criminal. He'd dismissed her redeeming qualities, so what in the hell was he after? His claim to see 'more' where there was only want – a manipulation or a product of his desperation. Either way.
They were just words. As ineffectual as the ones she'd used to try to make him believe that, if anyone in Gotham City deserved to live, it was Bruce. They were all in his debt, none more than Selina.
Well before the fighting began, she was already looking back.
Her tuned goggles amplified the brute force of treads booming over pavement. She quit breathing to better hear the whirl of his plane's engines. She steeled herself for the inevitable assault – but cheers came instead, followed by the clash of weaponless bodies.
He'd raised an army with a symbol.
Selina cut the feed. Precision lenses back over her eyes, she got into position. One blast from the cannons, and the Siege of Gotham was broken.
The gaping hole she'd made was wide enough for three limos, side-by-side, and deep enough for all the bigger choices she could have made.
In homes, curtains pulled back like staring eyes.
He'd sent her to save them, these people lucky enough to be the vicinity. He didn't expect the able-bodied among them to sacrifice their sure escape to join his doomed crusade.
What was the difference between the ones who were marked for salvation, the Miranda Tates of this world, and her? Selina had been asking herself that question since she'd learned how. Accident or design? Opportunity of birth. Clean hands and slates.
She thought of Jen, huddled without the sun. Thought of people like Mark and Father Reilly, who would never get what they were owed but deserved so much more. People like Horace, who'd been cast out into the cold to endure its realities. Like Blake, with his neighborhood watches and food drives, with his single-minded devotion that kept the rabid masses acting enough like human beings.
She thought of Bruce Wayne and what had made him the Batman. The money, the muscle, the Messiah complex.
All Selina had was the anger, the hot ache in her marrow. The anger that made her good, he'd insisted. For Selina, it was the anger that made her act.
She thought of her frozen city, of all the times she'd watched it burn and felt righteous.
Behind her, the neighborhood had spilled onto South Street. But they kept their distance, still more afraid of false hope than they were of the blast. She choked the throttle. They watched her turn her back on the tunnel, silent as a funeral.
That suited her just fine. She wasn't in this for heroic mention, nor was she in the grip of delusion.
Thirty years worth of scores to settle with Gotham before Selina Kyle could cash in her salvation.
—St. Moritz, April 2016—
Bruce was trying to figure out what kind of lies she was telling as Selina got up from his lap. "I said I'd help you one last time. What do I have to do?"
He remained still, apart from his eyes roving over her lashes, her cheeks, her nose. Settling on her lips. Bruce stood up to kiss her like a man used to saying goodbye.
Her arms were wound around his neck when he reached between them to bring up a file. She let them slide away. Bruce paused his rapid search on the Wayne Enterprises employee dossier of one Miranda Salomé Tate. For a murderous sociopath, she really was quite photogenic.
The dead faux philanthropist's head shot he dragged into a program already open to the living cat burglar's mug shot. One click and Miranda Tate's face was Selina Kyle's.
When Bruce looked back at her, he was braced for a slap.
Selina pushed him instead, pinning him to his chair. "Well, well, a selfish act," she cooed, then shoved off of him. "Now I've seen everything."
Pulling up a blur of relevant documents, Bruce explained, "Miranda Tate was a cipher created for Gotham by a Rykin Data prototype. You can become her as easily as you can disappear afterward."
"And spend the rest of what would be a very short life dodging assassins?" Her laugh was disbelieving. "You have thirty seconds to make me a better offer."
Over steepled fingers, he said, "I can make it worth your risk."
"Really, Bruce." Her lip curled. "Money?"
His hands fell open on a note of exasperation. "I don't know what you want."
"You know exactly what I want," she said, gripping onto what was left of her vow to play him cool. "You gave it to me yourself."
He regarded her as if he were sorting through a dozen more convincing cards to put down against her. A gut-sinking prospect.
"I shouldn't have asked." He discarded the program. "I'll think of something else."
She was suspicious in an instant, but her desperate relief was too great to care. "That's more like it. I was almost impressed." To avoid the exhaustion lines etching his face, Selina brushed her fingertips through his beard. The plan was to leave on the dawn of a new day and it was dusk now. Could she stand to stay for twelve more hours? Did she even want to?
"No hard feelings," he murmured, a step ahead of her as usual.
"Until we meet again." Selina drew at his lips for a moment before she had to leave him.
On her way out, she cast her eyes over his pajamas, his monitors, his bats.
He looked up from the holy war he'd already returned to. The one for which he thought no sacrifice would ever be enough.
"It doesn't matter why I came back for you." Neither did her disappointment matter. The world – Selina's world – was better because Bruce was still in it. She couldn't say the same for any other man. "Try as hard as you like, you can't make me sorry I did."
Bruce answered Selina's thin smile. But the grimace behind his made hers falter when she turned away.
—Gotham City, March 2016—
Selina was a minute away from useful but coming in reckless fast. She ratcheted up the binocular function on her goggles. Uniforms and longcoats blurred as Gotham's finest brawled with terrorists outside City Hall. Her search for a glimpse of a black cape in the melee was interrupted by a burgundy tunic.
Vindication stronger than shock rippled through Selina. The wolf bitch had removed her sheep's clothing.
Miranda Tate – whoever she was – climbed into one of three camouflage tumblers exiting the fray. Beside her, Barsard was picked off by the GCPD, but she didn't even flinch. The convoy unleashed indiscriminate fire, sending people flying like so much debris.
To avoid adding to the carnage, Selina forced the cycle into an alley so narrow tires rubbed concrete. Emerged, she saw Deputy Commissioner Foley, who'd made a career hidden behind the Dent Act, standing his ground in full regalia. Bullets from his sidearm peppered the windows of the lead tumbler even as that once perfect damsel-in-distress mowed him down.
Selina imagined she'd done that and worse to Bruce.
The sight of Foley's body in shredded dress blues galvanized what was left of the Gotham PD. She left them to their battle as she rode the cycle straight up the stairs to City Hall.
Through broken doors, she watched, in close-up, a thickset hand level a shotgun to a cowl.
Bruce stared down a double-barrel.
Selina fired both missiles.
Faced with his own reckoning, the masked zealot never knew what hit him. The force of the cannons lifted him off his feet and slid Bane's smoking, lifeless flesh against the far wall.
Shaken after casting off such a heavy burden, Selina gasped, "About that whole 'no guns' thing?" She lifted her goggles to find Bruce open-mouthed and stunned. "I'm not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do." The quip was supposed to snap him into action.
Yet, even as she climbed off his cycle, his raised eyes continued to stare into her as if she were a hot burst of sunlight – as if she were his hope renewed for all the faith he'd put into his good people of Gotham.
Selina had been born to this city a debt and she'd left it a prize. Never had she been a gift. Not to anyone.
She came with a price. Ignoring the obvious agony it caused, Bruce let her raise him up. Blood from his side dripped at her feet. She backed away to confirm that Bane wasn't getting up. Her best self by far had saved Bruce's life with seconds to spare. A good person would have gotten to him sooner.
"We need to force that convey east to the entrance of the reactor," he forced out, untangling himself.
Selina hovered next to him, too anxious to touch him again or even to speak.
"I need you on the ground. I'll be on the air. Go."
Selina went. No protest. The battle wasn't finished. They weren't finished, not yet. She'd seen in his stare how much more there was to give.
—St. Moritz, April 2016—
Framed in the archway, a flute of champagne had been placed on the counter for her. Beside it was the gift she'd intended to leave him.
She slid her hand under the book, carried all the way from Gotham City. Tucked in the pages was a slip of thick white paper. She held it between her fingers as she skimmed to find the passage he'd wanted her to read.
Her eyes closed for a moment before she could force herself to feel the full impact of each word: 'Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning him-self to let it eat him away.'
On the back of the paper, Bruce had written, 'Sorry to keep letting you down,' in clear, even letters.
With the pen he'd used, Selina crossed those words out with a double line. She added another for good measure, then another and another because she never wanted to see them again. Her straight lines became jagged hatch marks that grew until black ink spread corner to corner. She stopped only when the weight of her hand started to tear the paper.
The other side remained untarnished and clean and white. In flourished cursive, Selina wrote three words that had stuck with her through all her years of false starts.
Taking the champagne flute, she toasted her own renewal. She refilled the glass and rotated it as she set it down. Against the stem of his bubbling flute, she propped her message. A cry for help met with a challenge, sealed with an enticement.
Her red lip stain and 'Recalled to Life' would be visible from the hall.
Out of the dark she climbed and walked, squinting, into the light. She reached in her purse for her sunglasses and secured A Tale of Two Cities in their place so she could load her suitcase.
She looked back at the squat, shadowed cabin. Last place on earth anyone would expect to find even broke, eccentric Bruce Wayne, never mind Batman, Defender of Gotham. He'd be sheltered, at least. That would have to do for now.
Selina followed the sunset down the mountain. Spring had come while she'd been underground. Waters freed from ice reflected blue and red. She raised her chin with the changing winds. Her skin breathed.
— Florence + the Machine —
We raise it up, this offering, we raise it up
This is a gift, it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is the knife?
Midas is king and he holds me so tight and turns me to gold in the sunlight
Raise it up, raise it up, raise it up, raise it up
And in the spring I shed my skin and it blows away with the changing wind
The waters turn from blue to red as towards the sky I offer it
For extras related to this chapter, visit thatcraftykid-spectrum dot tumblr dot com and click the 5. A RABBIT-HEARTED GIRL tag.
Disclaimer: "You're not my original work. You're practice." All rights to Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros. Studios, and DC Comics. No infringement intended.
The big change here is that I wanted to write a Bruce who isn't immediately driven by a desire to see Alfred's dream of him "making it" come true. In the prison when he rediscovers his fear he isn't afraid for himself and he doesn't regret the life he might have had. Instead, he fears his city being destroyed because no one is there to save it. It makes sense to me that after he survives, his first goal is to set up a more permanent means of protecting his city. Bruce recruits John and Selina to be there if and when he's killed in his quest to end the League for good. Good thing for him, Selina doesn't suffer martyrs kindly.
I'm excited to hear what you guys think!
Thanks to my amazing, wonderful, awesome new beta Nyah! This chapter went through, seriously, like five completely different drafts, and her patience and suggestions were hugely helpful.
I am so, so, so sorry to have left this for so long! I wanted to have had the fifth chapter up before I left for my grant, but then packing was hectic and our orientation was super busy and then I got to my university and immediately started teaching and then I figured I should probably learn the language so I could convince my building manager to set me up with internet...
Again, so sorry!