A/N- I hope everyone is having a great summer so far! Thank you as always for your amazing support. Lyrics are from "So Far Away" by Red.
Remember when you found me drowning
You pulled me from the deepest end
I promised that I'll never leave you
Now I'm drowning again
It's killing me with every breath
Witnessing the life I lived
Only you know who I am
I'm reaching out my hand
I want to feel it, when I mean it, when I say it, can you hear me at all?
And I feel so far away, far away from everything
Outside wondering when I got lost
I threw my arms up in the air, why do I disappear?
How can you love be so close when I'm so far away?
Selina tried to focus only on the sound of her own breathing, in and out, in and out, hoping it would drown out her maddeningly chaotic thoughts entirely, then widening her focus to include the sound of her tennis shoes hitting the gravel path and sending small white rocks flying up behind her as she ran up the steep hill, the Italian heat beating mercilessly down on her pale shoulders and nose from the cloudless morning sunrise with such punishing resilience that she could practically feel her skin turning red.
She knew literally running away from him wasn't the most mature reaction to a marriage proposal, but she didn't know what else to do. Even remembering his proposal made her shudder with revulsion, remembering how she had thought she was finally strong enough to talk about her past, finally face what had happened to her when she was sixteen, finally let someone really know everything about her, but telling Bruce everything had just turned her into a weak, simpering child, a child like that girl who'd been tied up and beaten on that hotel room floor, who was crying and helpless and needed protecting.
Selina shook her head, closing her eyes for a moment, remembering how Bruce had held her in the kitchen and how she had cried. Since that horrible night when she was young, definitely since becoming The Cat, Selina had never cried like that. And now she had let him see it. Her weakness. She had never felt so ugly and unlovable and weak than she did in that moment, crying into his arms like some little victim. And so of course, Bruce being Bruce, had seen her as a helpless woman who needed the gallant assistance of the Dark Knight, and so he'd done the only thing he could think of in this particular situation to save Selina.
At first she'd thought he was joking, but Bruce didn't joke much, and never about their relationship, and as Selina reached the top of the hill, bending over and clutching her knees, so dehydrated she wanted to puke, she remembered how he'd looked at her that night with so much earnest expectation that it made her want to go back in time and punch him in his earnestly expectant face.
But she hadn't. That night she'd just panicked, looking at him like he was nuts for such a long, horrible silence that Bruce had quelled slightly under her gaze, his voice unsure when he finally spoke. "Selina…please say something."
There was nothing to say. She couldn't find any words, torn between feeling so sorry for him for loving her enough to be crazy enough to propose that it made her stomach twist with sympathetic misery and so fucking angry with him for doing this now or ever that she wanted to break a bottle over his head. But there was no time to articulate the reasoning between either of those reactions to his proposal currently bouncing back and forth in her brain, so Selina went back to what had once been her bread and butter. Pretending. She forced a smile onto her face and kissed him, deciding that whatever she could to stave off his questions for now was the best solution until she could figure out what the hell was going on in her own head.
She thought Bruce was buying it at first when he kissed her back, his hands tightening on her shoulders. Selina, who had never felt less sexual in her life, was trying to work up the energy to screw him into submission so they wouldn't have to talk about this crazy proposal bullshit anymore tonight, but when the kiss ended, Bruce surprised her by suggesting they just go to bed and talk when they woke up in the morning.
She had blinked with surprise and agreed, Bruce kissing her cheek and leaving her there in the kitchen and alone with her crazily careening thoughts until she finally came up to their bedroom to find him in bed asleep. Selina sat on the edge of her side of the bed watching the horizon until the sun finally rose, her mind racing but seemingly unable to settle satisfactorily on any one thought. The next morning, they hadn't talked about the proposal or anything they'd talked about the previous night, Selina not wanting to and Bruce apparently not wanting to bring the proposal up again. The day passed into another night where they went to bed beside each other in silence, and then the next morning, Bruce seemed to find enough nerve to revisit the topic of his implied question she still hadn't answered. He came up behind her while she was cutting up an orange for breakfast, placing his hands on either side of her waist on the counter, kissing her neck, Selina stiffening against him. Ever since he had proposed, she had found herself wanting to stay as far away from him as possible, especially when it came to anything sexual, and Bruce had stayed away until now.
"Selina…" he'd spoken quietly, mumbling against the skin of her neck.
Her grip on the handle of the knife had tightened, and she'd momentarily considered putting the blade to his throat, but thought better of it, slamming it down on the counter before shrugging out of his arms and stepping away from him. "Bruce…I just…don't, okay? Just don't."
"Don't what?" Bruce demanded.
"I'm going for a run."
And that had led her here, to the top of the cliff outside their back door.
She had never even bothered contemplating marriage in her life before as The Cat, not once, and then even when she and Bruce had come to Europe together and started…whatever all of this was between them—she still wasn't exactly sure how to classify it—marriage had still never occurred to her as more than just a fleeting, funny thought, like "…oh, playing Bruce Wayne's wife, what a laugh…"
He had never mentioned wanting to get married, or caring about anything so traditional or domestic. But then, she supposed, thinking about it now at the end of her run, as she stood at the top of the hill, looking out at the spectacular Italian sunrise, it did make a certain kind of sense.
His parents had been married. He'd been happy when he was a child, and his childhood had been completely traditional. Selina thought back to the picture of his mother and father she'd seen in Wayne Manor. His mother had looked so perfect, like something out of a magazine, or from Mad Men, smiling beside Bruce's handsome father. They hadn't even looked like real people, more like the people that came in the photo frame, if the photo hadn't been torn down the middle. Selina realized she had never asked Bruce about how it had felt to have most of his worldly possessions destroyed in that fire at Wayne Manor, most everything barely salvaged. She had read about the fire in the Gotham Newspaper with passing interest at the time, but hadn't really thought about it again since. She never asked Bruce about it, or going farther back, about how it felt to lose his parents at such a young age. Selina suddenly realized she had never asked him much about his past life at all.
She felt a pain in her side, most likely only a stitch from running too far, too fast, but as Selina clutched it, her hands covering the scar on her stomach from her healed knife wound courtesy of Aleksandra, it was almost as though the pain in her side was a physical manifestation of a sudden stab of guilt as she thought of that torn photo of his parents, next to the picture of Rachel Dawes on his dresser, all specters of people Bruce had lost, who'd died horribly, just three of the countless deaths that surely haunted him but of which he rarely mentioned. She remembered something Bruce had said to her once, in Paris, one of the only times he'd even seemed fleetingly angry with her. You're not the only person who's ever known pain.
Selina sighed heavily, redoing her now-sweaty ponytail, looking out over the swaying trees of the Italian vineyard behind their home, listening to the wind and the birds and trying to force herself to examine why she was so angry with him. She never thought about anything before she met Bruce. She just did things. That was how she had always operated. A creature of instinct who wasn't troubled by regrets or the judgment of moralistic thinkers like her sister or Batman or any of the other people who tried to make her feel guilty for the way she lived. Her way had always been the only way to stay alive.
She had needed to fence something for cash; she took it from people who had too much anyway. Someone hurt her; she fought back with claws out. She needed money; she found the person who was willing to pay the highest price for her work, no matter how unsavory their character. What did she care who they were or what they did with her work once her part of the job was done? She had always worked alone, so burning bridges and walking away uncaring had become as natural to her as breathing.
But marriage, the idea of aligning herself to another person forever, was the antithesis of every single aspect of her nature. Bruce had to know that by now. He had to know her well enough to know that she was terrified.
He wasn't a fool. It was easier to pretend that he was. To write him off, and pretend he didn't really know her. She liked to think that he didn't understand her sometimes, because it felt safe. But she knew that wasn't true. It hadn't been true for a long time. Maybe it had never been true. Maybe she'd never really fooled him, not completely. Something about the way he'd looked at her, even from their first meeting, that night in his Manor, Bruce playing the part of the invalid because it was easy, and Selina playing the smirking temptress because she knew it well, even then, she'd had the disconcerting feeling that he saw through her.
So if he knew her, truly knew her, why was he doing this to her? Why was he forcing her into something he knew she didn't want? Something she would never want? A normal life, a happy family, things Selina knew she could never give him, things he had expressly told her he didn't want from her…why was Bruce asking for them now by proposing, by trying to fit them into that picture frame of the perfect, smiling couple they could never be? They weren't his parents. They weren't a picture in a magazine. They weren't the photo that came in the frame. And he knew that. He'd said that to her, over and over, that he didn't want that from her.
So then don't do this to me. Don't try to make something I'm not. I'll never be your perfect little wife, and I'd feel like a joke if I tried. I'm too fucked up to be anyone's wife, and you should know that by now, especially after everything I told you about my past. You told me you didn't want a nice, normal girl. So don't try to make me into one now. Selina thought miserably, tears burning her eyes.
Suddenly, she heard steps crunching up the path behind her. She turned around, shading her eyes from the sun, blinking rapidly to hide her tears. Just as she feared, it was Bruce, wearing a t-shirt and shorts and running shoes, breathing hard as he reached the beginning of the steep summit of the hill, running a hand through his hair.
Selina took a deep breath. "Bruce…please, just leave me alone."
He stopped walking, looking up at her, unable to mask the hurt in his dark eyes. But his jaw was set stubbornly as well, and she could tell that there was anger underneath the hurt. "No."
She raised her eyebrows, all of her quiet revelations fading away and her feelings of fury towards him returning at the sight of his hangdog expression. Like she was the one who had caused all of this shit. Somehow Bruce could always make her the bad guy. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Fine. But next time I won't ask so nicely."
"You think I'm scared of you hurting me?" He laughed quietly. "If there's one thing I'm used to, Selina…"
"Oh, cry me a fucking river." She rolled her eyes. "What are you even doing up here? This is a pretty big hill. Wouldn't want you to strain something. Some more. Again."
"You don't have to do all of this. You don't have to run away and avoid me. I really hoped we were past that by now." Bruce sighed. "After everything we've been through, I would have thought you'd know that you can just tell me the truth. You can just say it."
"You don't want to marry me."
She looked at him for a long moment, trying to speak but her voice dying in her throat.
"I mean, that's what this is about, right?" Bruce continued, his voice strained. "That's why you ran away this morning. Well, this is me telling you there's no need for all of that. You don't want to marry me, fine. But at least be brave enough to say that to my face. Don't just run away from me like a scared little girl. You're better than that."
She ran her tongue over her lips, shaking her head. "I hate it when you do that."
"Tell me what I am." She put her hands on her hips, taking in a deep breath. "Tell me what a great person I am. You know what I just realized this morning? I barely know anything about you. I've never asked you about your parents, or Rachel, or your past, or any of it. That's fucked up, Bruce. It's been long enough. I should know everything about you. But I've never asked. And either you like me not knowing anything and were just hoping I would never ask—which means you're just as crazy and fucked up as me—or you just don't care that the woman you've been screwing for the past six months knows absolutely nothing about you, which basically means you're a robot."
Bruce looked down at the ground for a moment, before walking up the rest of the path towards her, suddenly looking up at her with businesslike efficiency in his hazel eyes that gave Selina a strange feeling in her stomach when he spoke to her with an unfamiliar tone of detachment. "So what have you decided? Which am I?"
Selina swallowed hard, refusing to be intimidated by this new odd approximation of her boyfriend. "Between a basket case or a zombie, you mean?"
"You want my honest opinion?"
"I think you like keeping me at a distance. You like me being the crazy one, and you being the good guy, the perfect noble hero who saves me and puts up with my shit. That's safe. It's easy. It's familiar. Then you don't have to have to show me anything of yourself, there's no risk on your end, and you get to play your precious hero role forever, even with your girlfriend."
"Stunning insight, Selina, really. Batman likes to play the hero? Maybe you should go into psychotherapy." Bruce crossed his arms over his chest.
Selina ignored his remark, going on. "But we've been doing this for awhile, you and me. And I'm finally starting to understand something about you. This whole noble hero thing is bullshit. You're angry. With me, with Gotham, with everything, and you have been for a long time. But you won't let yourself feel it. You locked it up a long time ago, maybe even that day in the alley when you were a child. And it's been eating you alive from the inside out ever since. I think after your parents died, you couldn't feel anything but anger for a long time. That's why you never had a real relationship, or a friend that wasn't on your payroll. That's why you became Batman in the first place, so you could channel all of that anger you'd never dealt with into another identity and hide behind all your fancy toys and the mask that let you become a monster so you could beat criminals to a pulp and throw us in prison and pretend that all of us had the face of that man who took your parents away from you. But it didn't work. Nothing worked. The anger's still there inside you, and you still can't let it out. I can still see it. I see it right now, looking back at me."
Selina stepped closer to him. "You saw me in Gotham and you saw someone who was honest about being pissed off at the world. When I'm angry, I set the world on fire, and that's why you wanted to be with me back then. I wasn't some repressed little rich kid like you or everyone else you knew. I fucked when I wanted to fuck and killed when I wanted to kill instead of holing myself up in a Manor and pretending I was some kind of beacon of justice when all I wanted to do was bash in the skulls of the people who took everything away from me."
She narrowed her eyes, lowering her voice to a dangerous whisper, Bruce's expression remaining cold but his jaw twitching slightly, Selina knowing she was trying to provoke a reaction out of him at this point but unable to stop. "Look at you right now. You're furious with me. I hurt you. You said it yourself. But you still won't let yourself get angry. You still won't let yourself feel it." She stepped so close to him that their lips were almost touching. "Come on, Bruce. Just let yourself get angry for once in your life without the mask to hide behind. The world won't end, I promise. Tell me you hate me. Tell me to go fuck myself. Hit me if you want. I can take it."
Bruce looked at her for a long moment before speaking. "Why is this so important to you?"
Selina was about to ream him for turning everything around on her, but when she tried to start yelling at him, she found that her eyes were burning with tears again. She couldn't think anymore. So she just said the truth. "Because if we're the same, then I don't have to be alone anymore."
"Selina…" He reached out, his hands on her arms.
She didn't push him away. Apparently, now she couldn't get angry with him. She had talked all her anger right out of herself.
He seemed to take the fact that she didn't punch him in the face as a good sign, leaning towards her and kissing her briefly before wrapping her in a hug, Selina hugging him back. Bruce spoke against her hair. "I asked you to marry me because I don't ever want to be without you. I don't want to be alone anymore either. That's why you get married. To be together. That's all I want." He pulled back to look at her. "And we're never going to be exactly the same. But that's good. You're right—the people I grew up with, the people that were like me, were boring. I want to know everything about you." Bruce took a deep breath. "And I was angry for a long time, so angry it scared me—but being with you and loving you is one of the main reasons I've been able to leave a lot of that behind in Gotham. But not all of it. And I should tell you things like that. I should tell you everything. It's just…it's hard for me to be honest with anyone. About anything. And I'm sorry about that."
Selina sighed. "I'm sorry too. About everything." She stroked the hair at the back of his neck. "You just may have to give me a minute with the whole proposal thing…I've never even thought about getting married to anyone, ever… "
Bruce tried to play it off. "I know. I'm sorry. I just…it just happened. I mean, we haven't even been together a year. That was…it was too fast."
"Are you just saying that?" She raised an eyebrow.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, are you just trying to end this fight?" Selina leaned back slightly, her arms around his neck. "Bruce, am I going to start finding Modern Bride stashed under our mattress?"
"You make nice, I make jokes. See how the uncomfortable situation just goes away?" Selina shrugged.
She leaned in, silencing him with a kiss. Bruce had a bad feeling this fight was far from over, but he also had a feeling they'd be fighting it the rest of their lives, so he closed his eyes and kissed her back, Selina smiling against his mouth and pushing him back against a tree, her hands tangling in his hair. The electric energy always coursing through Selina sometimes exhausted him, but he could never get tired of the way he felt it when she kissed him like this, her lips and body crushed against his with the same livewire ferocity she brought to everything.
Afterwards, Selina broke away from him with a small smile, stepping back onto the trail, Bruce's hair sticking up in all directions as he leaned back against the tree, looking as if he'd just been attacked by a wild animal.
"So." She stretched out her arms behind her. "Tell me about your late night visit with Daddy Matteo."
"Can you hear me?" Bruce spoke into the miniscule communication device he'd spent most of the last hour tooling around with and painstakingly inserting into his Rolex.
"Loud and clear, boss." Selina's purr emanated from the listening device in his ear, transmitted from the matching communication device he'd implanted in her diamond bracelet. She was wearing a hidden listening device in her ear as well, so she and Bruce could stay in contact throughout the night.
He was presently working in his office while she was getting dressed in their bathroom on the other side of the second floor, and it still sounded like she was standing right next to him, so he felt reasonably confident they'd be able to communicate even in the booming nightclub environment of Dominare. Bruce was already dressed in an all black suit to match his newly darkened hair, beard and mustache that helped to make him look much less Bruce Wayne-like—they'd decided they had to disguise themselves if they were going to assume new identities in the public eye, even briefly
"You almost ready to go?" Bruce spoke into the watch.
"Yeah. Now honey, try to remember…Giovanni just got out of prison today. I'm appealing to his baser instincts here."
"What are you getting at, Selina?" Bruce sighed.
"Lena Palermo is a slutty American party girl with more money than sense. Just keep that in mind tonight. When you see me at Dominare, I'm not your girlfriend anymore. We're barely acquaintances. I've met the mysterious wealthy British bachelor— Alistair Strong—that's you, babe— a couple of times on the party scene when we were both in London, but that's it. "
"Uh-huh," he said distractedly. Bruce and Selina had decided to go in separately for this mission to Giovanni's club with the joint mission of getting invited into his VIP room, using their different strengths—Bruce's money and Selina's sex appeal. At some point in the night, Bruce would invite Selina and Giovanni to a charity event that he was setting up as "Alistair Strong" to benefit the Villa Aurelia convent the following week. Giovanni wouldn't miss the opportunity to salvage his public reputation. And if they could get him to hone in on Selina, or "Lena Palermo" as his potential next mark, she could find out more about him, and she and Bruce could also hopefully start finding out more about the way he was planning to go out on his own and run his business without Daddy's help…and hopefully, eventually, what he had done with all of the money he had stolen from the sisters of Villa Aurelia.
Bruce and Selina had discussed the matter at length, and while they knew they could just give the convent the money they had lost, that wouldn't solve the issue. Selina had found out from Mary Elizabeth that the convent had been paying exorbitant "protection" fees to Giovanni for years to supposedly keep the mafia away, and while clearly that hadn't done them any good, who knew what hell Gio and his goons would unleash on them now that they couldn't make their payments?
Bruce and Selina needed to take care of this Giovanni problem once and for all, and just settling debts wouldn't do it. They needed to get him off the streets, away from Villa Aurelia, and away from any other wives or girlfriends that he would send beaten and bloody to their doors next. And that would take some very delicate planning.
Delicate planning that required brand new cover identities and a very tenuous mission that they'd decided would begin with a night at Gio's precious nightclub—or as his father had put it, his "hunting ground," Dominare, with Selina presenting herself as his perfect prey—Lena Palermo, who for the purposes of this mission would be gorgeous, lonely, and dumb as dirt.
"Ready to go?" Selina appeared in the doorway of this office.
"Yes, just make sure…" Bruce's voice trailed off as he looked up at her. He swallowed hard. She was (barely) wearing a dress that looked like two pieces of shimmering gold fabric draped over her breasts, the dress completely backless, slit practically down to her navel in the front, and then twisted together at her waist and wrapped around her hips to form the shortest skirt he'd ever seen in his life. She was wearing black strappy high heels that made her mile-long legs look even longer, and a long blond wig with bangs, her dark eyes lined all the way around with smudgy black make-up, but her full lips left bare. She was wearing a long gold-and-diamond necklace that rested between her breasts and caught the light, sparkling and winking, making it even harder to look anywhere else than her chest, a fact of which he was sure Selina was completely aware. Even now, just looking at the expression on Bruce's face, she smirked, tracing the line of the necklace.
"What's the verdict? Would you do me as a blond?" She tossed one side of the wig over one shoulder so he could have a better look at her outfit.
"Does anything go under that dress?" Bruce's brow furrowed.
"Other than you, when we get home later?" She raised a teasing eyebrow.
She sighed. "No, this is the whole dress. Come on. It's Zuhair Murad."
Bruce shrugged. "That means nothing to me."
"Just trust me. It'll get the job done."
He sighed. "Fine, fine. You're the expert. Just...remember you're only trying to get him to invite you into the VIP room. You don't have to—"
"Blow him? Got it, thanks, hon. I will try to restrain myself." Selina sighed, fussing with her dress and adjusting herself as she and Bruce made their way down the main stairwell.
"And if you need me—"
Selina stopped at the front door, giving him a look as she cut him off. "Bruce. Worry about yourself. It's much harder for a good-looking guy to get invited into a VIP room than a girl in a slutty dress. I know you hate this, but you're going to have to really throw some money around. Act like the life of the party. Buy bottle service for every table. Make him wonder who the hell you are. He'll have to defend Alpha Status. That means no skulking around in corners, Bat Boy."
"I know." Bruce breathed out, his hands on her bare arms, rubbing them gently.
"What's wrong?" Selina asked him.
"I just…last time we split up for a mission, you ended up with a knife in your stomach." One his hands went down to her hip, his thumb tracing under the gold glittering material of her dress to the scar on her stomach hidden by the fabric. It had healed so nicely you could barely even see it, just a thin white line barely visible on her pale skin. The scar from Bruce's stab wound on his stomach was much more brutal and messy due to the fact that they'd been unable to get him proper medical care for several days—it had healed, but the scar was not a neat one, a jagged line above his right hip to add to his collection of battle wounds all over his body from his days as the Batman that she had memorized by now.
Selina looked up at him, her gaze softening slightly, suddenly looking like her normal self even under her disguise and about ten pounds of make-up. "Someone told me once in training that scars are just proof you're stronger than whatever tried to hurt you."
"Stronger, and hopefully wiser too." Bruce studied her for a moment. "My father always told me scars are useless if we don't learn from them."
Selina slid her hand under his black suit jacket, over his right hip to where she knew he had a scar from Talia's knife. "Okay. So what did you learn from this one?"
"That trust is the greatest risk you can ever take on a person. I got that scar because I was wrong to trust Talia, but I also know that the only reason I lived that day is because I had faith in you." He breathed out. "This...what we're starting tonight…this isn't going to be an easy job, Selina. These are powerful people, and if they think for one second that we're playing them, they won't just slap you on the wrist like the Gotham PD. They'll kill you."
"I know that, Bruce."
"I told you I wanted to do this together, and I meant it. No more playing games—if we can't trust each other completely, we won't stand a chance of taking Matteo down. Or making it out alive."
He waited for Selina to roll her eyes or brush off his words, but she didn't. She just looked back at him, her gaze steadily on his before she nodded. "I trust you." She swallowed hard. "What about you? Do you trust me…I mean, even after everything…"
She shook her head, trying to understand. "Why?"
"Because it's always been worth it to me."
"The risk of trusting you."
"How is that possible? After I've given you a million reasons—"
Bruce cut her off, kissing her gently, Selina closing her eyes and kissing him back. "That's why they call it faith," Bruce said quietly, reluctantly pulling away from her, knowing it was time to work, leading the way out of the front door and to their separate cars, Selina watching him drive off towards Dominare in his black Lamborghini with a small smile on her lips before she got into the red Maserati and followed him.
"You good to go?" Selina heard Bruce's voice in her ear as she strutted across the nightclub towards the bar.
"In position." She twirled her blond hair through her fingers, leaning against the bar with a bored, vacant expression on her face whenever she looked out to the bar, speaking covertly into her diamond bracelet. "How about you, Bat Boy?"
"I'm just walking in. Good luck."
"You too." Selina smiled to herself, finding Bruce's voice comforting as always, hoping he was ready for this, hoping—
"I've never seen you here before."
Game face, she thought as she heard a heavily accented voice behind her.
"It's my first time." Selina could feel his breath on the side of her neck as she stood at the edge of the bar. "Will you be gentle?" She turned to look over her right shoulder with a small smile to see Giovanni Matteo standing behind her, popping a piece of Nicorette gum between his blindingly white teeth with an annoyingly cocky smile playing at the edge of his mouth.
He was shorter than Selina, 5'6" if she had to guess, and while he wasn't exactly ugly, his was not a pleasing face— he had almost feminine features, with long dark lashes and full lips. But there was something cold and merciless in his dark brown eyes that made Selina's skin prickle. In his mind, life had been cruel to him by making him short and slight, with thin wrists and small hands and a voice that always seemed to end in a lilting whine no matter how stern he tried to make it and commanded no respect from his inferiors, and so Giovanni had grown up the angriest and least-loved of a very large family of brothers and one hard-as-nails sister who were all stronger and better than him in his father's eyes.
"A virgin, huh?" Giovanni looked her up and down with a little laugh.
"You don't believe me?" She raised her eyebrows teasingly.
He stepped closer to her, tracing the line of her necklace down between her breasts. "I think a man doesn't drop forty-k on a necklace for a woman who's not spreading her legs for him."
Selina shrugged. "Maybe my Daddy bought it for me. For being such a good little girl."
She shook her head with a grin. Giovanni laughed out loud, thankfully deciding to stop fondling her breasts for the time being, signaling the bartender to bring them drinks. He looked back to Selina, smiling brightly, Selina wondering to herself if his teeth were capped. "I like you. You and your perfect breasts. What's your name?"
"Lena. Lena Palermo." She held out her hand.
He kissed it, his lips wet and slimy against her hand. But Selina's smile didn't falter. "I'm Giovanni Matteo. This is my club."
"Really?" She looked around at the sweaty mass of people grinding against each other on the dance floor, at the girls in their matching disco ball silver dresses taking rich old men off to private rooms on the second floor for "private dances", at people snorting lines of coke off sticky tables in the corners with tightly rolled hundred dollar bills, at the girls in cages elevated above the dance floor, two to a cage, grinding against each other, sweaty and drunk, kissing sloppily and touching each other when drunk men cheered them on—Selina forced an expression onto her face that all of this was her own personal Wonderland, that she couldn't imagine anything better.
"Yes, I'm surprised you've never heard of it. It's one of the most popular nightclubs in Italy." Giovanni looked slightly offended. "Where are you from, sweetheart? America, yes?"
"Yeah. I grew up in New York. Staten Island. But I'm spending the summer in Europe. Graduation present. Daddy wanted me to broaden my horizons after college." Selina grinned wickedly. "So that's just what I've been doing."
Giovanni grinned back, handing off her whiskey sour as he took his own. Selina noticed he drank his from a small straw, just like the straw that was in her drink. Something about that both turned her stomach and made her want to laugh. She wanted to tell Bruce about a man drinking a whiskey sour with a little tiny straw. "Is this your first time in Rome then?" Giovanni asked.
Focus, Selina. "Yes, I just arrived a few days ago—I've just been staying with friends, and—" She suddenly stopped, catching Giovanni by the arm, "—holy shit, it's him."
Giovanni followed her gaze to where Bruce was laughing drunkenly and loudly as a blonde girl used a knife to open a bottle of Krug Champagne Brut Blanc— spraying everyone at the table in the face with the liquid which was easily worth thousands of euros per bottle, Bruce laughing hardest of all, taking the bottle from the girl and pouring what was left of the champagne into everyone's glasses and toasting her, everyone clinking their glasses together and drinking deeply.
"Who the hell is he?" Giovanni asked, his arm around Selina's lower back.
"I ran into him a couple of times when I would go out in London—he's totally wild. Old money with nothing better to do than spend it on booze and girls and a good time—and believe me, he knows how to have a good time." She laughed. "His parents make him bankroll charity events and go sit behind a desk every once in a while to keep up family appearances, but it's mostly just an act."
Giovanni looked at Bruce curiously while Selina was talking. He kept his arm around her, leaning over to the bartender on their side of the bar, a pretty girl with dark hair and so many piercings Selina couldn't even count them all. Giovanni spoke rapidly to her in Italian, and Selina pretended to be looking through her small purse for her phone, looking briefly at the translation device Bruce had given her. Giovanni was asking the bartender whether Alistair had opened a tab, and if he did, how much was on it. She told him that he had, and that his tab was presently at 15,000 euros.
"Hey, sweetheart, do you think you could introduce me to this friend of yours?" Giovanni touched Selina's arm, Selina snapping her purse closed.
"Sure thing." She smiled agreeably.
"And then maybe I'll take you up to the third floor. It's the VIP lounge." His hand slid down to her ass, cupping it appreciatively. "It's not so crowded up there. You and me could really get a chance to talk. Would you like that, princess?"
"Sure. I love talking. It's my fifth favorite thing to do with my tongue." Selina closed her lips around her tiny straw, taking a sip of her drink, Giovanni watching her mouth in stunned, hungry silence until she finished her drink, sauntering past him, towards Bruce's table, throwing her arms in the air, a bright smile on her face. "Alistair! What the fuck are you doing here?"
Bruce looked up at her, taking her lead, getting to his feet, shaking his head and smiling, continuing to speak with his flawless British accent. "Lena Fucking Palermo. God help us all. Did your father let you out of the house like that?" He laughed, looking her over. "You look good, kid."
Selina rolled her eyes. "You sound like such a pervert when you call me that. But whatever. You always sound like a pervert, so…"
"And here I thought we were friends." Bruce shrugged.
"Gross." She pushed him away. "Stop creeping for like two seconds so you can meet my new friend." She stepped back. "Alistair Strong, meet Giovanni Matteo."
Bruce shook his hand soundly, Giovanni still looking wary of him. But Bruce smiled, unperturbed, and Selina had to admit, he did have this asshole rich guy act pretty well down. "Love your place, Matteo. I've been looking all over Rome for somewhere to get a decent drink." He leaned in closer, lowering his voice. "And some decent girls."
Giovanni smiled hesitantly. "Well, you've found it. We like to say, no matter what appetite, if there's not something to suit your tastes at Dominare, then it doesn't exist."
Bruce clapped him on the shoulder, laughing. "I like that!" He looked over at Selina, leaning over to speak into Giovanni's ear as if Selina couldn't hear them. "So…is Daddy's Little Angel on the menu?"
Giovanni jerked her possessively over to his side. "No. She's with me." He and Bruce stared each other down for a brief moment, and Selina knew he was taking her advice—challenge the Alpha, and then let him win. "But any other girl is yours."
Bruce glared at him for a moment longer, finally sighing and relenting. "Fine. How about that blonde? The one with the knife? I wouldn't mind getting to know her better."
Giovanni looked very pleased with himself, his grip tightening on Selina's waist. He snapped his fingers at the blonde waitress. "Carese! Avanti!" The girl obediently came forward, and when Giovanni pointed at Bruce, she went to his side, Bruce lazily draping an arm around her shoulder. Giovanni smiled that smarmy smile at Bruce. "Carese is one of our most popular girls. And don't worry— she speaks enough English to know when to get on her knees." Bruce nodded, looking her over appraisingly as if deciding whether or not he wanted to buy a new car. Selina sighed, playing with her hair, looking around as if she was bored. "I thought you were going to show me the third floor."
"Oh, yes." Giovanni recovered from the momentary distraction. "We'll all go." He gave Bruce a tight smile. "You stay away from mi fighetta, and we won't have any problems, yes?"
Bruce nodded back, but Selina could see that his jaw had gone very tight at Giovanni's words. She had the feeling she didn't want to know the translation of what Giovanni had just called her.
They all made their way up to the top floor, and as the rest of the night went by, Bruce played his part beautifully—surprisingly well, Selina thought to herself. He had seemed so reticent about all of this, but now, he was laughing and drinking with Giovanni like they were lifelong friends, inhabiting the character of Alistair Strong like a second skin, and (Selina felt her stomach twist strangely as she noticed this) keeping his hand resting on one of Carese's thin legs, stroking the girl's inner thigh with his thumb while he and Giovanni laughed uproariously about something.
Selina sucked down another glass of champagne, feeling a headache building in her temples. She wanted to go home. She wanted to take off her uncomfortable shoes and the pins holding her wig in place and peel this damned dress off of her body. She'd lost count of how many drinks she'd had at this point—she only knew she was so drunk that if she tried to stand up right now from the corner booth of the VIP room where they were all four sitting together, she would probably fall flat on her face. She didn't want to lean back against Giovanni's arm resting across her shoulders—he was sweating from too much cocaine and alcohol mixing in his blood, and his armpit smelled disgusting. If Selina leaned forward slightly as she was doing now, the smell wasn't so bad. She turned to look at him while he was talking to Bruce, keeping a fake, vaguely interested smile on her lips, watching Giovanni gesticulate wildly as he spoke, Selina examining his thin, spindly hands and feeling her teeth grit with anger as she thought those hands pressing a gun against the back of Mary Elizabeth's neck as he raped her before nearly beating her to death. Looking at him now, you'd think he didn't have a care in the world.
Did men like Giovanni really not give their crimes, even ones so brutal and heinous, the most fleeting of second thoughts? It seemed impossible to her, yet she had encountered his kind time and time again. Well, if he'd forgotten in his self-imposed haze of alcohol and cocaine, she and Bruce would just have to have to jog his memory for him. Selina felt her own hands involuntarily tighten into fists, staring down at them. Put my whip back in my hands. I'll jog his fucking memory.
"Did you not hear me, you stupid vacca? Have you gone deaf?"
Selina snapped back to reality, realizing that Giovanni was speaking to her. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Alistair and I need to talk business. Put your number in my phone and then get lost." He waved his hand dismissively.
She realized that Carese had already been dismissed, swaying on the dance floor of the VIP room, dancing with another girl provocatively when she remembered where she was, smiling at Bruce in a vague, coked-out sort of way, but she was definitely in no condition to be spying on business talk.
"Sure thing." Selina took his proffered cell phone, entering the number of the phone she and Bruce had purchased specifically for this purpose. She handed it back to Giovanni, smiling hopefully at him. "So is this you're way of saying you'll call me or what?"
"Yeah. Maybe I can find out your other favorite four things to do with your tongue." Giovanni smiled back. "Or maybe you can give me a little preview right now. Give me a kiss goodbye, sweetheart."
Giovanni gripped the back of Selina's neck with his hand, so hard it felt like a vice, his mouth open and tongue straining for hers before their lips even met, Selina squeezing her eyes closed, trying not to taste the revolting combination of orange-flavored nicotine gum and too many whiskey sours on his breath as he basically rammed his tongue down her throat far enough to gag a girl who wasn't as used to kissing drunk losers as Selina, Giovanni's lips overly full and wet and unpleasant against hers, the embrace even more uncomfortable when she felt his other hand slid under her top to her bare breast, pinching at her nipple with his thumb and forefinger so hard it hurt.
But she was playing a part tonight too, and even though she wanted to punch him in the face, wipe off her mouth with the back of her hand, and then rinse it out with Listerine for the next half hour, she managed to make it look like that was the best kiss of her life when Giovanni pulled away from her, smiling at her like he had just done her the greatest favor of her life, his hand still inside her shirt, playing with her breast like he was a teenager who'd never felt up a girl before. "Lena with the perfect breasts." He flashed those wolfish teeth at her again before looking back at Bruce, still smiling that horrible smile. "Alistair, don't you think Lena has the most perfect breasts?"
Selina met Bruce's eyes fleetingly. His eyes were so dark with rage she really thought for a moment he was going to kill Giovanni right there and blow the entire mission.
"You want to touch them, don't you?" Giovanni asked Bruce quietly.
Bruce said nothing, practically vibrating with anger at this point, so Giovanni answered for him, Giovanni's small, clammy hand tightening on Selina's breast. "Of course you do. Every man would. But you never will. She's mine. Her breasts are mine, her cunt is mine, all of it belongs to me. You should think of her as a living embodiment of this city. It's mine too. And as long as you can respect that, we can work together. Do you understand my meaning?"
"Yes." Bruce finally grunted out as if saying the single word was akin to reaching down his throat and pulling a knife out of his mouth.
"Good." Giovanni finally released his hold on Selina, sliding his hand out from under her top. "Thank you, sweetheart. Now run along."
Selina just nodded, getting to her feet, finding them surprisingly steady, annoyance and humiliation sobering her focus as she walked out of the VIP lounge, walking down the stairs with a hard grip on the balcony and making her way out of Dominare, hailing a cab to take her home.
It was past four in the morning when Selina heard Bruce coming home through the front door of their villa. She had already shed her wig, dress, and make-up, and taken a long hot shower, practically scrubbing her skin off under the scalding water to get the smell of Giovanni off of her. Now she was wearing one of Bruce's old t-shirts, her most comfortable sweatpants, and tall socks, wanting every inch of her body covered after Dominare. Her dark hair was still wet from her shower, and she had just twisted it up into a bun on the top of her head, feeling drunk and exhausted but unable to sleep until Bruce was home, sitting in their bed and watching TV without really seeing anything on the screen, just needing noise to fill the oppressive space of their cavernous home when she was in it alone.
She'd turned on her listening device a few times to check in on Bruce, but he and Giovanni were discussing business in such rapid Italian that the translator could barely even keep up, and reading along started to give her a headache, so she gave up. Bruce sounded like he was doing fine—better than fine, great—and wasn't in any kind of danger, so all she could do now was wait for him to close the deal and invite Giovanni to the charity event and come home.
When she heard the crunching of tires stopping on the rocks in the front drive (he'd had the sense to take a cab home as well after the amount of alcohol they'd consumed), she had climbed out of bed and started down the master staircase, desperate to see him, hold him—the real him—reassure him that she was fine, that everything was going to be fine.
Bruce closed and locked the front door behind him, not seeing Selina on the master staircase. He leaned back against the door for a moment, looking so drained Selina thought for a moment he was going to sink to the ground and pass out right there. But then suddenly, he made a dash for the closest guest bathroom, throwing the door open, stumbling and then lurching to his knees in front of the toilet, making it just in time to empty the contents of his stomach so violently it pained Selina to hear it. He vomited until he was just dry heaving nothing, just gagging and spitting, wiping off his nose and mouth with toilet paper before flushing the toilet and closing the lid, collapsing with his cheek against the cool porcelain.
Selina crossed the entryway to him, entering the bathroom almost tentatively, Bruce still saying nothing to her as she wet a washcloth in the sink and wrung it out. She knelt down beside him, laying the damp washcloth across the back of his neck.
Bruce suddenly reached out, gripping her arm. He was shaking all over. "Bruce…" she said softly, brushing his hair back off his forehead.
He moved forward with a sudden motion, wrapping his arms around her with desperate fervor, the washcloth falling off his neck and to the floor as he clutched her shoulders, his hands twisting in the thin material of the t-shirt she was wearing. Selina stroked the back of his head with one hand, her other hand resting in the center of his massive muscled shoulders. "Baby, it's okay…everything's okay…"
"I wanted to kill him…I almost did…" Bruce spoke against her shoulder, his voice more strained than she had ever heard it. "Every time he touched you, I wanted to rip him apart."
"I know. But Bruce, I'm fine. Believe me, I've had worse," she assured him.
Bruce pulled back to look at her, shaking his head, his eyes red-rimmed and glassy. "Not with me. Never again. I'm supposed to keep you safe. And…just having to sit there and listen…sit there and watch while he…I can't do it, Selina…"
"Think of all the good we're doing. Think of all the lives we'll save." She reminded him, her hand on his cheek.
"I don't care," Bruce said recklessly.
"Bruce. Of course you care. That's what you do. That's who you are." She looked at him intently. "You still want to do this, don't you?"
He sighed, nodding wearily after a long moment, sagging back against the shelves of the bathroom counter. "It's done. I invited him to the Villa Aurelia charity event in three days, and he's coming. He's expecting you there as well."
"See? This will all be over soon." Selina leaned back against the shelves beside him.
"I know. I just wish you didn't have to—afterwards—"
"It's the only way, Bruce. You know it is."
They both sat together in silence for a moment, the grim reality of the next stage of their plan to bring down Giovanni Matteo much harder to bear now that it was actually upon them.
Selina shifted slightly, leaning her head against Bruce's shoulder. "So how'd you get rid of your new friend Carese?"
"Gave her 100 euros to go into one of the private rooms and get some rest. Told her in Italian to say we had a great time if Matteo asked."
"Good one." Selina nodded in approval, pausing for a moment, her voice a little nervous when she spoke again. "Can I tell you something stupid?"
"I hated watching you touch her. Carese. I know it was nothing compared to what you had to see Matteo do to me…but I've just never seen you…I mean, you never even look at other girls…I hated it. I wanted to kill her."
"I don't even really remember what she looked like." Bruce looked over at Selina. "I was just trying to make Matteo think I liked her."
"I know. I just…I just want you to know…I don't think you're overreacting about me and Matteo. If I had to watch you kiss someone else…I can't even think about it without hearing the Kill Bill music that plays in Uma Thurman's head when she sees someone from her kill list and everything turns red and she murders everyone."
Bruce laughed quietly. "Thanks, Selina." He smiled sleepily at her before looking down at his suit, the smoky, alcohol-soaked stench of Dominare still clinging to the fine fabric. "I really need to take a shower."
"Yeah, I wasn't going to say anything, but…" She smiled back. "Let's go upstairs." She took his hand, helping him up and leading him to their bedroom.
She crawled under their overstuffed feather comforter, listening to the soothing noises of Bruce being home with her, showering and getting ready for bed in their bathroom. Later, when Selina was starting to doze off around five-thirty in the morning as the sun was coming up over the hills outside their bedroom window, Bruce walked out of the bathroom, freshly showered, feeling much better with his teeth brushed and the smell of the club off his skin, closing their dark curtains to shut out the sunrise so they could finally get some sleep. He got into bed beside Selina, and she stirred slightly at his presence, turning over to face him, a small smile on her lips.
"Hey, baby. Does it feel good to be yourself again? For a little while at least?" she murmured drowsily.
"Yes." He brushed his lips against hers. "It's good to be home." She made a small noise of contentment that almost sounded like a purr, curling up with her back against his chest as they started to fall asleep together. Bruce kissed the nape of her neck, so softly it tickled her skin, especially with his newly acquired beard, a pleasant chill shooting through her body at the feeling of his lips against the back of her neck. Selina arched her back slightly against him, mumbling that she liked that as Bruce kissed her neck again, a little lower down this time, Bruce draping his arm over her waist, Selina starting to move her body back against his almost without meaning to with a slow, almost leisurely grinding motion as he further explored the side of her neck with his mouth, both suddenly more awake. Bruce kissing her neck and Selina grinding against him wearing his t-shirt seemed like such simple, almost innocent foreplay, but despite the low level of kink factor, they were both starting to get more than a little turned on. But were also both sadly so exhausted that they could barely keep their eyes open. Selina sighed, the first to admit defeat. She looked over her shoulder at him, her hand gently tangling in his damp hair. "Later," she said, kissing the side of his mouth.
"Later." Bruce reluctantly agreed.
They were both asleep in each other's arms in a matter of minutes, the dark curtains shutting out the bright sun of the beautiful Italian Saturday that passed them by largely unnoticed. They would have slept into the next night if they hadn't been awoken by a beeping sound on Bruce's bedside table.
Selina groaned, rolling over to hide her face in her pillow. "What's that?"
Bruce sat up, checking his phone. "A tracker I put in Giovanni's wallet last night. I rigged it to go off whenever he enters or exits Dominare. That sound means he just arrived for the night. When it goes off again, we'll know he just left."
"Giving me a set timetable to get the lay of the land inside our charming new friend's mansion tonight." Selina sat up in bed beside him, shaking her head with a smile. "What are you, a genius or something?"
"Let's get ready. We shouldn't waste any time," Bruce said, showing his always impressive ability to switch into Batman mode within moments of waking up, watching her make her way into their massive walk-in closet, leaving a trail of clothes in her wake. "You got anything in black?" Bruce called after her, getting dressed himself in an all black shirt, shoes, and pants, throwing a ski mask in with their equipment just in case she needed him.
He could practically hear Selina smiling when she replied. "I think I should be able to throw something together."
"I'll go get the car ready. I rented a car big enough for us to transport all our equipment and work out of the back. We can park at the bottom of the hill and you can make the approach form there so he doesn't catch anything on the cameras."
"Big enough? What, like a black van?" Selina poked her head out of the closet, snapping on her tight black gloves before pulling a black turtleneck over her black bra.
"Is this giving you a panic attack?" Selina raised an eyebrow. "Not having a jet with a cloaking device for our getaway?"
"It didn't have a cloaking device." Bruce mumbled.
"You know what I mean." Selina zipped up her thigh high leather boots over her skintight leather pants. "I mean, I think you're doing just fine without your precious Mr. Fox making all your toys, but it can't be easy—"
"We have everything we need for this mission." Bruce held out what looked like a variation on her old mask with dark red lenses for eyeholes. "Night vision built in. Press the button on the side while you're having a look around tonight and when we plug it into the computer it will render a 3D, fully interactive recreation of his home so we can plot out the best route for you to take when he presumably takes you home after the charity event."
"Presumably? All this time, and still so little faith in my abilities." Selina shook her head with a sigh.
"Try them out." Bruce changed the subject, still holding out the mask, clearly not wanting to further discuss what specific "abilities" she would need to call upon or at the very least allude to when it came to making Giovanni take her home from the charity event two days from now.
Selina took the hint, sliding on the mask and smiling with approval as she looked around the room through new eyes. "Nice. You have been a busy boy."
"I'm glad you like them." Bruce zipped up their bag of supplies, slinging the strap over his shoulder as he got to his feet. "Ready?"
"To start ruining that creep's life?" Selina buckled on her belt outfitted with a length of rope and grappling hooks around her waist. She looked at Bruce after, stretching out her fingers in her gloves. "Oh, believe me, honey. This kitty's been dying for something to scratch."
"Then let's go."
A/N- Thanks so much for reading! Next chapter—Alistair Strong hosts the charity ball for Villa Aurelia, Bruce and Selina have an unexpected close encounter in the coat room at the party (you'd think they'd know by now that charitable gatherings get them all hot and bothered!), Lena Palermo spends a very interesting night at the home of Giovanni Matteo that ends up with Bruce breaking into a hospital morgue, and then it all concludes with a showdown on a yacht where the fates of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle will be decided for good, one way or another…including her answer to his proposal. Until next time! Thank you so much for sticking with this story, and I apologize for the long wait for this chapter! This past year was my first year as a teacher, and I spread myself way too thin, but hopefully one day I'll be able to write full time. All of your support and kind words keep me going and keep me writing and you all keep believing that writing for a career is a dream I should keep trying for, so thank you all so much. More to come soon!