The moment Selina opens the door, she knows something is off.
Despite the calamity – disorganized chaos led by crime lords, men with masks and women with vendettas, business tycoons who turn out to have a savior complex bigger than this city, and oh yes, near nuclear annihilation – Selina isn't one to miss the details. The devil is in the details. These last few months, she's managed to carve out a small harbor at her old-town apartment while Gotham tears itself apart, so she notices erroneous items just at the first glance. A jostled painting and something else, something small. It's a trinket of hers, gold and flashy and taken from one of the many rich patrons who had donated their treasures to one special charity of Selina Kyle's, however involuntarily. It's knocked over so it spills on its side. In someone's haste. Selina never hurries.
She steps inside, systematic but leisurely: the living room first, edging around her table and a rack full of clothes, then passed a mannequin pinned with unstitched material. One hand swiftly plucks an overlong hairpin and tucks it unobtrusively along the inside of her wrist. Her wrist is angry, wrenched tendons and bruised bones protesting the small, careful motions, but she ignores the throb. She draws out the time by dropping her visor onto a plush chair, the action disarming to a naïve observer.
She's always enjoyed her privacy while attending to a nightlife that makes a mockery of other's. What can she say? She isn't above a little hypocrisy. So whoever picked this flat for a raid or a hiding place, tonight of all nights, is in store for the worst consequences of their life. Today, she helped save a city she had hated all her life, at the cost of a man too good for it.
Tonight, she is not in the mood to entertain uninvited guests.
"You didn't move from this apartment," he announces from behind, and Selina freezes just for a microsecond, the oldest of clichés. "I didn't think you would."
It's a small gesture when she intakes a quiet breath, but for anyone that knows her, it's as telling as a gasp. She pivots on her spiked heel, and he melts out of the shadows on the far side of the room. The sight of him confirms for her one of three things. (1) She's seeing ghosts. (2) She's hallucinating. Or (3) Bruce Wayne is one goddamn son of bitch who she might like a bit too much for her own good. Since she doesn't believe in ghouls and goblins and she isn't one to suffer from hysteria, it's her (un)lucky day.
At length, she remarks, archly, "You're supposed to keep that red stuff on the inside of your body, you know?"
If he were the type that smiled, she imagines he might've in that second. And there is it, the heart palpitation that she's never gotten for another man. It's ridiculous but far from juvenile. The moment is shattered when he stumbles a little, and all veneer is dispensed when she catches him. Her fingers snag the ridges of his ballistic vest sewn across the breastplate. It's hard and cold, and she helps carry him forward to a chair, where he sits, breathing heavily.
One would think he'd had a hard day, the way he collapses against that chair.
She doesn't ask how he did it. She doesn't linger on the impossibility of him surviving, yet again. She doesn't think a man has that many lives, but the papers used to call her Catwoman sometimes, when the stories of her thievery had gotten sensational enough to sell papers. Catwoman, they said. She has nine lives the way she leaps off buildings and evades pursuit. Clearly, they had the wrong species entirely because she doesn't think there's a way to beat Batman's record of late.
"I'd say you need a hospital," she tells him, eying the garish wound on his abdomen, "but the nearest one had a rather unfortunate explosion months back."
"What's happening out there?"
Of course, his first and only concern is still external. "It's still pandemonium," she informs him coolly. "The 3rd Infantry Division just crossed the bridge and Commissioner Gordon was on TV an hour ago, assuring the city of a change in the tide. He's a man of few words."
"Those words were necessary."
She doesn't quite roll her eyes, but it's a near thing. "The St. Crispin's Day speech is rousing and all, but what can you say the day after the war?"
"That a new dawn is rising. That there's still reason to hope."
He cannot be for real. All evidence points to the contrary.
"The world thinks you're dead. Everyone does, including the Commissioner."
Bruce doesn't say a word, just stares off distantly at the television in the corner of her room; she'd forgotten the thing was even there. Electricity had been one of the first things to go, months back. She suspects restoring power had more to do with calming the masses than any one man giving a rousing speech, but then again earlier today she had turned her back on a certain escape for a supposed lost cause instead. Who is she to question nauseating idealism today of all days?
But his face looks aged. It looks tired and though his eyes have always seemed dulled a bit, like he's seen too much, she doesn't think she's ever seen him so exhausted.
This is the price of idealism.
"My death is a necessary evil," he tells her, and she wonders if he's reading her mind.
"Because this city needs a symbol to rally them together?" she twists her tone into a wry sort of thing. "This city doesn't need another martyr, Bruce. It had Dent, and look how that turned out. Bane was a brute, but he had the right idea. Some things can't be saved."
"Then why did you come back?"
She raises an eyebrow. "I'm adaptable, remember?"
It's the sort of response that can answer any question.
The silence stretches for a beat too long, and she wants to kiss him, so she does. Carefully at first, lips pressed against lips, too aware of everything between them, past and present. She's always played the damsel or the seductress when the moment suited her, but this is the first time she can say she's ever let desire and affection be the only governing motivation. Her first kiss with this man was with Bruce Wayne, the second with Batman, but this kiss? She can tell the lines between duality have blurred entirely. His hand lands on the back of her neck, fingers pressing into her nape, and the careful kiss goes deep and insistent. It lingers.
But he's hurt, and she's tired enough to sleep for days, though she knows she won't. Selina settles on small things tonight, beginning with tending to with his wounds. She's not Florence Nightingale and he isn't helpless, but he doesn't say a word when she reaches for his mask, fingers under his jawline, trying to find the groove so that she can lift off the heavy material. His hand catches hers a split-second later, flicking some mechanism or another, and there's a hiss. He lets her pull off the mask after that. It's only when it rests weighty in her hands does she notice the small lining inside, one that could administer a shock of some sort. She realizes the booby-trap, but doesn't comment.
She proceeds to strip the man of Kevlar. She knows that must be an unprecedented sign of trust for him.
Why did you come here? she wants to ask. Wants to, but doesn't. She hasn't done enough to earn his trust, at least not in her own estimation. A start, maybe. Saving his ass is a nice way to begin amends, but Selina still has nightmares about that night she'd led him into the pit against Bane. She's a girl with a lot of regret, especially for one with not nearly enough conscience, but of the things she does feel remorse for, she thinks that night might be at the top of the list.
And it's a very colorful list.
There's a siren in the distance, and Bruce looks toward the window. The shrill sound wails and echoes, distantly familiar because five months ago feels like five years ago, but it reminds them both that life moves on even if they're both very, very tired. She knows that the ragged edges of this city will try its very best to neatly sew itself back together now, but she knows just as well that the seams won't ever fit the same way again. And let's face it: Gotham City was never well put together in the first place.
"It's not over yet," he says, quietly, sounding like his mind is miles away.
She suspects, for a man like Batman, it never really is.
When she wakes, his side of the bed is already empty.
Unsurprising, of course. 6:12 am, Selina notes grimly, and turns onto her side, away from the red glow of the digital readout. It's nearing dawn, and the pale light is barely breaching through her curtains. She debates sleeping in because she knows she'll be that much more useful if she gets at least a couple of hours of sleep, but it's a futile desire.
There's a pile of soiled bandages in the bathroom sink. Selina sighs, shaking her head. "Just because you were born a billionaire," she mutters, under her breath. If he thinks she's going to be his maid in this or any other lifetime, he's got another thing coming. She cleans up only because she needs to use the facilities, but the pink stain in the sink leaves an unflattering reminder of his wounds.
She dresses quickly. Before she reaches the door, there's someone jingling her doorknob, an ineffectual attempt to pick the lock. She sighs again, heavier this time, and when the door finally gives way and a person enters, she calls out, "How many times am I going to have to teach you that, Holly, before you do it right?"
Her young friend jolts in surprise, then offers a sheepish smile. "Christ, Selina, you scared me."
Holly looks wasted, like she had an all-nighter with a bottle of jack and some pills. It isn't booze and drugs this time, though. Not when there were so many other ways to get shitfaced last night.
"You all right?" Selina asks, stepping closer.
Holly gives a smile full of bravado and not a whole lot of anything else. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm fine. I – just, it's been crazy."
"Yeah," Selina returns, and lifts her friend's untamed blonde locks a little, examining a dark bruise on the right side of Holly's face. "Where'd you get this?"
"A guy," she says, ambiguously.
"How'd he look at the end?"
"Worse than me," Holly beams, with obvious pride.
"Atta girl," Selina approves.
Holly crashes on the nearby sofa while Selina continues to collect her things. "I thought," Holly says, eventually, sounding awkward, "I thought you might have left last night, with the first flood of refugees."
"Honey, I am not a refugee." She stops, turns slowly on her heels to face Holly, and says softly, "But I'm still going to be leaving soon."
"I always was."
Holly doesn't comment, but the crestfallen look on her face says more than enough. Sometimes Holly has this habit of making Selina feel like she's kicked a puppy somehow.
It's a harsh world, though. Selina can't protect her forever.
"Can I come with?" Holly asks, hesitantly.
Selina finds herself smiling softly, despite herself. "Yeah, if you want."
Holly pauses again. "What if I asked you to stay? Here, with me, with the neighborhood kids. We need you, Selina. This is our home."
Selina looks away, silent for a beat, two, and then says, like it's being pried out of her, "This isn't my home, kid. It's a cage. There's a difference."
And with that, she's out the door without a backwards glance.
She keeps the Batpod. Call it a brokerage fee.
She settles into the seat like a knife in butter, booting the kickstand up and revving the throttle. Her heels jam in place, and then she takes off. It's a beautiful design, she'll give Bruce that. The tires mounted on offset wheels, a sturdy frame, yet elegant, and an ultra-compact, single-cylinder engine that hums between her thighs. She even likes the color.
The city races by her, but she avoids City Hall and mid-town, all the other main parts of Gotham because of the military occupation. The city feels schizophrenic. Entire streets are deserted while others are full of cars packed bumper to bumper as people try for exodus. She sticks to the Narrows. She isn't sure where to look, precisely. Figures if she wants to find Batman, she needs to find trouble and usually one will follow the other. The Narrows is always good for trouble. Besides, he's managed to seek her out when she least expects it, and it isn't that she's concerned about him taking care of himself – he can, obviously. But she knows how to fight, knows when to give and when to take, knows which buttons aren't meant to be pushed, that sometimes it's better to wait than pounce. She knows when to walk away.
Bruce doesn't, especially when he's supposed to be dead.
So she rides for hours across the slums of the city. The day is breaking grey with falling snow, but the city is still at war with itself. Scarred, broken, the whole breadth of it in devastation, but yet life goes on. She stops a few muggings, disarms a madman who has a rampant resolve to redecorate an entire neighborhood with bullet-holes, before she runs into a familiar face. At least by reputation – Crane, the insufferable prick that she saw herd more than a few dozen citizens to their expiration date. Death or exile. Crane is surrounded by two idiots with guns, and he wouldn't normally be her concern but she remembers all too clearly that he's also responsible for sending one of her neighborhood kids across the frozen river; drowning in ice-cold water is a shitty way to go.
She skids the batmobile to a stop, and flips her visors up.
"Freeze, boys," she tells them. "Put the guns down and nobody gets hurt."
"You're not a cop," one of the thugs in the back laughs.
Selina rolls her eyes, and to his credit, so does Crane. "Yes, thank you," Crane remarks snidely to his goon. "What did I say about talking?" He turns back to Selina, his smile a little cracked. "I know you. You're the little cat thief that helped the Batman." He says the latter like a chant, like a song he finds funny. "He's been dead for less than a day, and you're already stealing his ride?"
She slides off the batmobile and saunters towards him. "Guilty as charged, but it's hard for a girl to have fun these days without a little bit of guilt involved."
"Then you're not having fun the right way," Crane tells her, condescendingly. "In my court of law, you would have been praised."
"Your court of law was set up by a brute."
"Maybe," Crane shrugs, "but Bane had a vision, you gotta give him that."
She takes in the growing number of men surrounding her, having jumped up from two men to five. "Bane didn't really give a shit about anyone, plebes or princes. He also wasn't his own man. He was just a jacked-up puppet."
"Watch what you say, bitch," one of the thugs calls out.
Oh. She's hit a nerve.
Two goons step closer to grab her, and it's almost too easy – she jabs a cross to the right cheek and follows it up with a backstab to the solar plexus. She disarms the other one, and swivels the gun to pistol-whip it across Crane's face. She finishes off two of them simultaneously with a roundhouse kick – perhaps excessive, because it's not like the guys offered much of a fight, but she's never believed in the phrase overkill.
Crane is the only one left conscious. "What do you want?" he demands. "Batman's dead, the city is in ruins. You've already lost."
She smiles a little, nastily. "I was never playing before."
She socks him right across the jaw so that he goes down cold and unconscious to the ground.
She's a little annoyed she didn't think of this first, but she realizes Bruce is probably at the Wayne Manor. With an aggrieved sigh at a waste of a day, she rides back towards the stately manor just at the edges of Gotham City. It takes two full hours because she has to bypass Grand Avenue to use longer routes, skirting around policeman or madman, take your pick, and by the time she makes it, it's almost evening. It leaves her in a foul mood.
As she approaches the manor, she's observant as always. The mansion's opulent exterior has been decimated by months of burglary and vandalism. Still, she knows better than to judge by its cover. It's the oldest cliché in the book, but there it is. She knows how heartless this house can be, how empty, because she's an orphan just like Bruce. Of course, her story doesn't include a billion dollar trust fund and a kindly butler, and in others, she'd resent that. Not with Bruce. They have too much in common.
Still, she feels the slight pang of misplaced anger as she pushes open the front doors and enters. Selina was orphaned at seven when her mother had died of cancer. (Her father had never been a presence in her life, but that's another story.) She grew up in foster homes after that, after a lack of medical insurance led to the inevitability of a doctor's bullshit answer, I'm sorry, there's nothing more we can do for your mom; she got shuffled around during her adolescent years from one crappy foster home to another, then juvie when she was sixteen, before she decided to make a run at life homeless. She figured out quickly that she had knack for things – illegal things. Other people did, too. Fell in with the wrong crowd, and once she was in, it was hard to get out.
Story of her life, and a thousand others in this city.
And Selina hates to be so prosaic.
She makes it back to Bruce's isolated bedroom in the east wing, picks up that same framed photograph of his parents, the one half charred with burns. The picture of the woman in yellow is faded, but Martha Wayne looks kind and lovely, the type of mother that would have been endearing. (Selina remembers hospitals, remembers clinics turning her mother away, and her hands pressed up against the pane-glass window of a pharmacy.)
She turns around and examines the scattered belongings on the bureau beside the broken TV, sets down the frame and thinks, if I were as paranoid as Bruce, where would I hide? It takes her only thirty seconds of searching to figure out there's a secret passageway behind the bookshelf, but opening it up is another matter. She can't find the trigger release – tries all the books, feels for a button along every square inch of the room (and it's a long room), tries behind the trashed art deco paintings and the half-broken piano, and nothing. She frowns, because it irks her when she can't figure something out.
Bruce finds her like that, ten minutes later. "Finally given up?" He sounds amused, and then walks across and hits three different key notes on the piano. The bookshelf slides away, and he motions for her to join him on the hidden elevator. "Going down?" he asks.
She smiles, sauntering over to join him. "Not on the first date, anyway."
He has a fucking batcave. Why is she surprised by that?
Face neutral, the kind of visible neutrality she never displays when running an actual con, she says, "You have serious problems for which you should probably seek extensive psychiatric help."
"Tell me something I don't know," Bruce remarks, settling into his chair.
There's a full wall of screens, ceiling to floor and at least fifteen feet wide. Surveillance video of major city areas cover at least half of the two dozen monitors, and Selina doesn't even know what's on the other half except that she's not particularly interested in it. On one monitor, the national evening news is on, muted. She reads the closed caption on the stats that an anchorman throws up. The Gotham criminal occupation lasted from the afternoon of September 23th through the evening of February 24th. During that time, conservative estimates place somewhere between 700 to 1200 people were killed, 15,000 injured, a third of that critically, and authorities have arrested approximately 13,212 citizens already. There were 11,113 reported fires, and property damage is currently estimated at $17.1 billion dollars.
"How does your storm look now?"
Selina looks to him, cut. "This isn't what I had in mind."
Bruce's voice lacks censure, "What we plan to happen, what we intend – it never really works out that way. I know that better than most."
The news cuts to a video conference call with Lex Luthor, who according to the bylines splashed across the bottom of the screen, is apparently donating over one hundred million dollars of his own money into facilitating Gotham's rehabilitation.
"That isn't good," Selina remarks.
Bruce looks to the screen. "Luthor's donation?"
"I know you spent the last eight years as a leper, but tell me you know Lex Luthor isn't a good man?"
"I know a lot of corrupt businessman, Lex included."
Selina keeps her mouth shut. She was hired once, by Lex's men. The job had been messy. "Lex isn't just a corrupt businessman. He'll help Gotham City the way a vulture helps road kill."
Bruce watches the feed for a moment, before he turns away. He rises up from his chair, facing the open cavern beyond the platform. In the distance, she can hear bats. She's never been afraid of bats. She thinks he thinks too much of symbols, though, but she won't remark on that because whatever helps him sleep at night – whatever helps him survive the night – she's all for. He's a fool for caring so much. Then again, clearly so is she. The difference is, he cares for an entire city, and she, apparently, only for one man.
"I don't know if I can leave Gotham yet," he confides.
She flinches, and realizes which one is more the lost cause.
He says yet, and she knows what he means. The conversation continues, but Selina doesn't hear anything that she can't predict coming a mile away. He knows his time has come to an end, that the Batman is dead and can never reappear, but he still has loose ends. He means the Commissioner, of course, and apparently even Detective Blake and that R&D guy on his board. But she's familiar with this tale. It's like she's the Other Woman and he's every guy that's ever claimed he's going to leave his wife, just not yet. Soon, baby, soon. Selina swore to herself long ago that she'd never let a man play her for a fool, and she won't. Not even if that man is Bruce Wayne.
She knows what has to happen now.
But first, she changes into a slinky black dress and has a drink. The dress she brought along; the drink Bruce supplies. She pours two fingers of scotch on rocks and drains it within two minutes. Then she pours herself a second glass. Her history with alcohol isn't the best, but she thinks she's earned the favor tonight. She moves to stare out the window, caught between studying her faint reflection and watching snow drift down on the back acre of the mansion. She's afraid, she realizes. It feels like she's been afraid of men all her life in one form or another. She hates that fear, despises it, which is why she never shows it when left with any other recourse. This time, it's different. She doesn't fear Bruce – she fears losing him, and it's an uncomfortable feeling, wanting to hold onto something that can hurt her like that. She doesn't like it at all.
She hears Bruce enter while she's still drifting through her thoughts, but he doesn't say a word as he approaches, barely even makes a sound, until he's draping something over her head and she realizes he's putting his mother's pearls back on her neck.
"I've decided," he tells her, "this looks best on you."
"I bet you say that to all the girls," she remarks, but her fingers are already stroking the pearls with fondness. She knows how much this must mean to him, and she's always had a weakness for pretty things. There's a pit in her stomach that won't unclench, though, so Selina does what she always does when she feels uncomfortable. She picks a fight. "In fact, did you ever use that line on Talia?"
She turns around to see his face neutral and closed off. "Selina," he starts. "This isn't a game to me."
"Fine, then let's be real for a second. You obviously cared for her a great deal. But here you are, less than a few days after the fact, and you're with me. Are we all so replaceable, Mr. Wayne?"
He steps back. "I never loved her."
She raises an eyebrow. "You avoided answering the question."
"You sound jealous."
"I've been told I don't share well with others."
He has the audacity to smirk a little, the prick. "I like my balls attached, thanks. I'm not looking to two-time you with another woman."
"Just with an entire city, then?"
He stares, never one to look away. "What do you want from me? You're upset I'm staying so I can wrap some things up? I have responsibilities. I have—"
"You have a God Complex," Selina cuts in. "If it was only a few more things, I wouldn't be bringing it up. But it's always going to be a few more things with you and this city, isn't it? You can't let go. You can't let go of the Batman."
"Careful," he muses, tiredly, "you're starting to sound like my butler."
She has no idea what that even means, if it's a good thing or a bad. She met Alfred Pennyworth a handful of occasions, but she'd been playing him for a mark the entire time. He'd seemed honest and good-natured, but now she suspects she'd only scratched the surface with him.
She presses closer, invading Bruce's personal space because she wants him to pay attention to this bit. She finds her hand stealing out, her palm resting on his cheek, fingers brushing against the bluish edges of a bruise. "You think there's an end?" she prompts, clipped and curious all at once. "You think there's ever a resolution that will completely satisfy you? Today, it's cleaning up your crazy girlfriend's mess. Tomorrow, it'll be a new disaster. There will always be a new villain to prey upon Gotham City. It's our curse. It's always been our curse. And you, Bruce – you aren't a kiss that can make it go away. This is Gotham City. It was here long before you, and it'll be here long after. If anything, I think Bane and the Joker and the mobsters and every other bad guy," she stresses the words, smiling a little, "has proven that. Gotham City isn't a victim. She's a survivor."
"I know that," he tells her.
"Then tell me I'm overreacting. Tell me you aren't holding onto something you have to let go."
He stays silent, instead.
She sighs, pulling away. "You're not a man that listens much when someone tells you what you can and cannot do," she sidesteps around him, unhooks the latch on his mother's pearls to leave them on the corner dresser, "which is why I've never even bothered with it. I'm just not going to sign myself up to wait in the shadows for you. I told you before—"
"I wanted out of this life—"
"I'm not asking you to stay."
That stings, a little. She smiles. "Finally grown tired of me letting you down?"
His face is neutral except for his eyes, the pinched worry and pain there rather too telling. "It's not that. You've more than proven yourself. I just have things here that require me to… linger."
And he edges closer, the first to invade her space rather than the other way around. Selina hates the fact that she's allowing it, because she knows before he leans in to kiss her exactly what this is. A quick halt to a messy discussion; a temporary solution to a permanent problem because there will always be this city standing between them. She gets that. She won't be the one to ask him to leave again, because that's his choice and a person has to make their own. She's made hers.
But the damnable thing is: when he moves, when he presses his lips to hers, she leans into it. Selina pulls him to her, in fact, because there's been a part of her that's been savoring every touch, every kiss, every jab and smile because it might be the last. She's done holding back. She kisses him like she wants to kiss him, dirty and rough with things unsaid, and he's volleying back more of the same. His fingers curl possessively around her waist, hard enough to bruise, and she wants that. Wants this to hurt a little, just a little, because she feels like maybe it should. Goodbyes should.
She pulls back, breathing, "Oh, come on, admit it. You knew better than to think this thing between you and me had a chance to last."
"It will," he counters, softly, "if you give it a chance. You still think I'm hung up on Gotham City, and I admit, it's going to be painful to walk away – but this fight? It isn't about me. It's all you, Selina."
She stares at him. "Me?"
"Tell me I'm wrong."
She shakes her head and decides instead to win the argument by kissing him. It's always been easier that way with men, and Bruce is after all just a man, never one to argue with a kiss. Things progress quickly after that. She spreads her legs and hooks them around his hips, drawing him to her firmly. For a man who had a broken back and shot knees, no cartilage, he works quickly, readjusting his hold and pushing her back against the wall, and she licks his mouth while he claws at her little black dress. He whispers her name against her skin, rough and deep, like he's still wearing the mask, sucking bruises into her throat. He pushes her dress higher on her hips and slides a hand between her legs, and Selina blindly reaches out to catch purchase on something, anything to ground her. Her hand collides with something on the dresser nearby and something hits the floor and crashes but she doesn't care, tightening her legs and pulling him closer.
She works open the button of his pants, lifting up as he tugs her stockings down her legs, lets him spread her thighs and then he leans in, mouthing at her through the fabric of her underwear. He finds her clit and sucks briefly, and she bucks, once, her fingers tightening in his hair, pulling his head back sharply, breath hot against her thigh; his other hand is pushing under her dress, passing her ribs to cup her breast, thumbing the hard nipple until she wants to scream.
She works her panties far enough down so she can get one leg out. "Fuck-" she breathes, thickly.
He pulls off his shirt and buries his face back between her thighs, and she cries out, hooking a leg over one of his bruised shoulders. The sight of him eating her out with the same level of possessiveness that he tackles everything else is intoxicating. She savors the dark thrill of it.
"Fuck, Bruce, please," and she's never been one to beg for anything before.
He's shaking too, eyes closed beneath a creased brow, lips parted and open as his tongue darts out. One hand is still splayed out on her hip, but—not shaking. He's pumping himself at the open edge of his fly.
"Come up here," she says, and he opens his eyes, hand going still.
She maneuvers them back to the bed, feeling the spring mattress dip under his weight before she climbs on to straddle him. She kisses him again, and rubs against him at his open fly. She rocks her hips and Bruce's breath hitches and breaks off. Their bodies are separated by only a little, and it doesn't take much time and effort until they're both naked, pressed chest-to-chest, and the stroke of his erection against her is hard and arousing.
His lips are pressed firmly against hers when she finally pulls him in, so tight and slow that Selina breaks off the kiss with a gasp. Bruce Wayne is not a small man, not that she had thought otherwise, but then he says, "Keep moving," in a shaky voice, a voice she can't deny, so Selina takes a shuddering breath and rocks her hips again, while he says, "That's it," encouraging, his voice thick and raw and so greedy. "Keep moving for me, keep moving for me."
As he pushes up, in and out of her, Selina is acutely aware of her efforts to keep her voice strangled. Her body tightens and throbs for release, and she whimpers a little, sharp small noises from the back of her throat that make Bruce's eyes slide open.
She slants her body, rocks her hips, and then he comes, flooding her senses and pushing her own body over the edge with the rush of his release. It takes a few seconds for her body to come down, for the tremors to subside, but she sweeps her hair back with a hand and rests over him. Her hair cascades down like a curtain over his face. Then her gaze drifts passed him, at first absently in her post coital-haze, before she spies the string of pearls lying broken across the hardwood floors. A victim of their haste.
It seems the perfect metaphor for their relationship.
Beauty and destruction, all in one.
Afterwards, she watches him sleep from afar.
She's barefoot, wearing nothing but underwear and one of his sweatshirts that he drudged up from god knows where. Curious, she watches him sleep from the cushioned bench near his window, knees drawn up against her chest as she alternates her stare between the expanse of the Wayne Manor and the subtle lines on Bruce's face. Eventually, she picks herself up, grabs a leather pack from a rack inside his closet and opens it up quietly with barely a rustle. She's used to working stealthily, so silent that it can't even wake Bruce. She changes back into her catsuit, and quietly collects his mother's broken string of beaded pearls into a small mound, leaving it on his dresser again.
She's known for her skills for a reason because she manages to climb back down to the Batcave without activating the elevator, and it's easier now that she's been around. His electronic security is good but she's better and, besides, she'd been watching him when he'd given her the two-cent tour. She knows what to look for.
She gets to the main console, pulls up his files onscreen, and searches for the ones about the Clean Slate Program. She figures it's going to be hard, it's going to take a while, and turns away to make sure Bruce hasn't followed her down yet – it's only a matter of time. If she had been smart, she would have slipped some secobarbital sodium into his drink, but she didn't have her full supplies with her because she hadn't woken up this morning with the intent of fucking Batman, drugging him, and then stealing from him.
When she turns back, she stops short. There's a small object resting on the edge of the table, just sitting there, almost taunting her for the oversight. She picks up the small black drive, a bit thrown. She looks around, and the coast is still clear, so when she tests the drive out on his computer, it confirms it quickly. The Clean Slate Program. He'd left it out there for her. He'd left it for her to take.
She palms the drive, grabs her stuff and turns.
Bruce is standing there. Of course he is.
There's a thick beat of silence, before she gestures with the drive and offers, "Couldn't even make it a challenge for a girl, could you?"
"Actually," he admits, "I've never figured out how to challenge you."
He steps forward, but she steps back, like they're dancing again. She's finally resolved to do what she needs to, and he won't change her mind this time. She's doing the smart thing, for once. She drops the drive into her décolletage, and takes a breath, hating the way her nerves feel wrecked.
He stares at her, saying nothing, and suddenly all pretense slowly drains out of her. She knows she looks as wrecked as she feels. "This isn't easy for me, Bruce. Don't make it harder."
"Wasn't planning on it."
She shakes her head ruefully. "You being a good sport about this is making it harder. But I bet you already knew that. Sorry to keep disappointing you."
"I told you before, I'm not playing games anymore. This is real for me. It's real for you, too, which is why you're scared."
"I am not scared," she flings back, straightening. "At least not of this, of you. I just refuse to die in this city. I won't. I'm getting out. If you ever do, look me up. I'll show you how not scared I am of you."
He gives her small smile. "How will I find you? You use that program and Selina Kyle disappears into a black hole."
She smiles back, but her eyes are stinging. "Something tells me, Bruce, you'll figure out a way."
He doesn't say another word as she leaves.
She doesn't expect him to.
Four months later, she finds a curious thing: she's partial to the name Selina Kyle.
She uses the Blank Slate Program as planned, wipes out her crimes, her history, her birth, her fingerprints, her records from federal, state and local databases. It even manages to reach Interpol. But she still sticks with the name, because – well, she is Selina Kyle. She ran from her past and her record, not from herself. And not from Bruce, no matter what he thinks. (She has her moments of doubts.) A life outside Gotham. Selina used to imagine sleek crimes and easy cons and people calling her by names other than her own, none of them the wiser, but she couldn't have imagined anything like the reality: hung up on a man who carries more armor around him than any suit could provide, who has more baggage than her, believe it or not, and the work wasn't what she was expecting either. It isn't as fulfilling or thrilling, and Selina has always been a girl about the thrills.
Still, the time affords her the luxury to unwind a bit, and pick the next mark.
In Metropolis, she attends a convention for rich businessmen. She says "attends," but mostly she sits in the lobby restaurant, some five-star place where the lettuce sets you back a hundred bucks. She watches the Luthor Corp gather for their evening meeting – men in their overpriced suits, women with their pencil skirts and high heels – the staff all smile and nod at her as she sits at the bar. During dinner, she only orders a colorful cocktail that's frothy and crowned with fruit and umbrellas, not something she'd ordinarily be caught dead drinking, but it goes with her cover and it turns out to be a perfect disguise for the double shot of rum she asks the bartender to add. She waits for the crowd to thin. She spots Lex Luthor right on time. He's surrounded by a gaggle of his employees like it's a mini-army. The staff quickly works to provide accommodations, and he's seated with three of his most senior staff at a table six feet to her right.
She eavesdrops on the entire conversation, but it's mostly business that's on the up-and-up. A man approaches her about twenty minutes later, swirling brandy in his glass while he first stares at her breasts before lifting his gaze higher. Normally, Selina would endure because she could always mentally strip this man of any valuable information - corporate secrets, business plans and petty personal lies - but she doesn't have the patience to deal with it at the moment because he's talking over Lex. But Selina just sits there for a while, not wanting to create a scene, smiling when he does, nodding when he does, staring absently at a spot of ink on his tie, smiling bashfully (still in character), hating everyone, plotting bloody murder, until he places a hand on her thigh and she calls enough.
She leans over with a fork brandished in her right hand and jams the utensil against his groin, whispering sweetly, "Leave, before you lose something you can't get back."
The man blanches and nods, tightly, barely moving, until she pulls the fork away and then he's fleeing the way he came like the roadrunner. A waiter looks over to her, concerned, and she draws her expression down into a perfect facsimile of embarrassment. "I think he had to run to the little boy's room. Emergency."
The waiter pauses, doing his best effort to cover his expression, before nodding and turning away. Selina turns back to Lex, but he's already rising from his chair and dropping a hefty tip to his bill. Selina contains a sigh, and orders another drink, this time a dry martini with extra olives. She spots a woman next to her, a newspaper folded in thirds on her lap, and Selina catches only a corner of the headline.
"Pardon me," Selina says, leaning over. "Do you mind if I borrow your newspaper?"
"Have it," the other woman says, smiling.
Selina unfolds The Daily Planet, ignoring the front page story about the emerging rumors of a man capable of flying through the air and feats of miraculous strength (she thinks this Lois woman has been applying too much artistic liberty to her journalism, but people in Metropolis are starting to buy it hook, line and sinker; god, she hates this city ten times more than Gotham). Selina quickly turns the page. The article of real interest to her is on page seven, beneath the fold.
Batman Rises Again? the title reads.
Selina steels herself for the news. Her eyes quickly scan the article, and it's mostly conjecture. The Batsignal spotlight has been mysteriously restored over the Police Headquarters, and there have been strange sightings of a caped crusader again. Selina draws her lips into a thin line, tiredly. It had taken a full month before Gotham City had been opened to the public, allowing people to enter in and not just flee out. She knows Bruce's butler had been among one of the firsts in, and she'd been hoping that Alfred would be able to talk Bruce out of the foolishness of reemerging.
She'd even had hope, when the Wayne Estate had been fully probated two months back and Bruce was declared officially dead, that Alfred had won the argument.
Gossip magazines that had so intently followed Bruce's exploits a decade ago could hardly even remember his name anymore. Not after years of reclusiveness, a crippled slant to his former playboy reputation, bankruptcy, and all the other horrors and news stories that had come out of Gotham City in the last year. His official funeral had only been attended by "close friends," and Selina knows that must have included no more than three or four people in the entire world. She probably counts as one of them, and she'd been in London at the time.
It stings, even though she knew to suspect this. Selina hoped that Bruce had been sticking to the shadows for a reason, that'd he'd finally gotten out. He had his chance, he'd been freed, but if the rumors were true, Gotham City still has a self-imposed messiah.
She wishes this were one of those times she'd been wrong about her instincts. It hurts. It's surprising how much it hurts, even after these last few months, because it's like some wound that hasn't healed yet, infected and dirty, and she isn't even thinking about the missed potential of what they could have had. She's more upset that he's going to die as the Batman now; it's guaranteed. He'll get exactly what he wants, what he's always wanted, but not what he deserves. A man like that, to have sacrificed so damn much – he deserves more.
She hates Bruce in that moment, but more than anything, she really, really doesn't.
Later that night, she dives headfirst into trouble.
"Look, this is all a misunderstanding," she says, careful to keep her tone flustered and painfully polite. Three security guys surround her as she's pushed into a chair, and she stumbles a little as she hears approaching footsteps of a fourth from just behind. "I didn't know this was a restricted area. You should put up signs, or something."
One of the Luthor guards point to a sign to his left, white-and-black with big lettering. No Unauthorized Personnel Allowed.
She offers a nervous laugh. "I didn't see it," she says, and her eyes water just the perfect amount, not enough to actually cry, but enough to give her that Bambi look. "Please, you have to believe me, I didn't—"
"Save it," a voice offers, and there's fingers curling on her shoulder. Selina looks up at some tall broodish man with a thick German accent and a receding hairline. There's a quiet hish of metal being pulled against nylon behind her, and Selina realizes enough is enough. "We have our orders. No police. You break into Mr. Luthor's personal office, and we—"
She grabs the hand on her shoulder and twists up, hearing a pop and then a scream. She jabs a flat hand out at one opponent, and then snags her chair with a curl of her leg, flinging it across the room to tackle another. She throws a cross, blocks a punch with her elbow, and lands a heeled boot to someone's stomach. She turns to the last guy, only to find him already hanging upside down from the ceiling by a thin long cord.
"Missed a spot," a rough voice says.
Selina freezes, recognizing the dark voice. When she turns, a figure is standing in the shadows, half hidden by the curve of a wall. She knows enough already – the voice, dark and guttural, and very, very familiar. For a beat, when he steps out of the shadows, she expects him in his full Batsuit, cape and cowl – but the silhouette is already wrong for that and when he emerges, he's wearing only black body armor and a ski mask. It's still Bruce, though. She doesn't think he'll ever be able to fool her again, no matter what mask he wears.
"Hello, Stranger," she breathes, heavily. "Let me guess? Happened to be in the neighborhood, were you?"
"Something like that," says the man that's never done a single thing that isn't by design.
She'd been gone from Gotham City for only two days when she started second-guessing herself on the decision to leave. Two days, and she had been debating with herself to the point on whether or not to return. So it isn't surprising that the first thing she does upon seeing him again is walk right up and drag him into a rough kiss. He responds, like he always has, even back when he'd just been a rich mark to her with a valet ticket in his breast pocket. He draws her lip between his and sucks hard and she closes her eyes against her better judgment. Bruce kisses like he fights, hitting hard with no reprieve. Her tongue grazes his mouth, slips back into the shadows between her teeth, and she pulls back, breathing heavily. It's a throaty, indulgent sound.
She's happy enough to see him that she shelves the questions of how he tracked her down or why he's here and why the Batsuit isn't present. Besides, she came here for a job and it's still outstanding.
"Follow me," she instructs, quickly, and turns without waiting for a response.
Lex's office is a full quarter of the top floor, and filled with the minimal sensibility of the rich and decadent. There's a large sleek desk at the center against the floor-to-ceiling plate glass window. The panoramic view of Metropolis isn't the same as Gotham; there's far more skyscrapers and an exponent number of more blinking lights. Selina walks across to the Brunelleschi painting in the corner and lifts the frame, finding a safe behind it. She glances at her watch, estimating the time; she's already disabled security feeds on the entire floor, but Lex is the type to think of redundancies.
"What are you looking for?" Bruce asks.
She talks while she works on the safe. "Luthor's Black Arc Project. Rumor has it that it has something to do with Gotham City."
"You have a funny way of putting that city in your rearview mirror."
She pauses, then glances up to offer him a somber look. "Just because I leave something behind doesn't mean I've stopped caring about it." Selina returns to her work, and the safe opens while she adds ruefully, "Even if it is rather stupid of me."
She can't tell much because her back is to him, but his voice sounds considering, "I doubt you've ever been stupid in your entire life."
Until I met you, she doesn't reply.
She grabs the files, turns, and hears security guards approaching from down the hall. There's only one exit to the room, and Selina steels herself for a fight, walking around the desk to stand beside Bruce.
"So," she says, casually, studying his attire; it isn't as sexy as the batsuit. "Does this mean you've retired in the arena of beating up bad guys?"
He only offers her a look against her silent wager, flat and even, but she can read whole books in his expression now. He tugs her forward by the waist so that she's pressed up right against him, removes some type of grappling hook from his back, and aims it towards the window. The guards burst in just as he releases a thick-fiber rope and the window smashes. Selina grips tight as she's flung across the room, through the gaping window, and into open air thirty-eight stories above ground. Bruce holds her tightly while she curls a leg around his for extra support, and the entire time, Selina thinks about sin and grace and their little dance.
Maybe she had been wrong.
Maybe this is just the beginning, after all.
One of the reasons Selina is such a successful con is her ability to play along with leaps and adjustments to the mood in the air, her willingness to throw one line of action overboard as soon as it's exhausted and attack the problem from a different angle with no pause for breath.
She does that again when Bruce keeps his hands to himself, almost painfully distant and reserved the entire way to her upper-west side apartment. Until, that is, they're inside, and then his hands are all over her, cupping her face, tangled in her hair, sliding down her back, over her hips, pulling her close. She steers them into the bedroom, a long, staggering path and he all but throws her to the mattress, and then Bruce is on top of her, heavy and solid, pressing her back into expensive, 300-count percale sheets, mouth open and panting and pressed against Selina's neck, but she leaves teeth marks on his skin as retribution. She forces Bruce down on his back, grips his shoulders and lays heavy over him, riding against him with force enough that it feels reckless and far more wanton than the first time they slept together, because that time had been goodbye, an end, and this – this is rash, mindless abandon. It's a promise. But then he flips her over, a turn of control exchanged, and her hair splays out across the pillow as he pounds into her until she's practically screaming.
She loses control of herself, and there's a collision of mouths when they both come, tears streaming down Selina's face with the force of her orgasm. She feels Bruce come inside her, sticky and wet and clinging as it leaks down her thighs; as they both come down, pressed sweaty skin to sweaty skin, she feels herself utterly filled and content. It's a strange, unfamiliar feeling.
"You're hell on my body, you know," he whispers to her, drained.
She laughs, and whispers into his ear, "You can take it."
Afterwards, when they're comfortable, and chilled from cooling sweat, he tells her about letting the mantle fall to John Blake. He tells her about sending a scrap of paper with coordinates to his Batcave, and how he'd fixed the batsignal, and left clues, subtle and unobtrusive, for all the people in his life to tell them he was okay – alive. Except Alfred, he says, Not yet. And his tone is heavy enough that she doesn't press the issue.
He's given up the Batman. She didn't think he had it in him.
"How did you find me?"
"Keeping the same name helped," he tells her, amused. Then pauses. "I've actually been following you for a while."
"A long while," he answers, vaguely, and at least he has the grace to look sheepish.
"Stalker," she accuses, affectionately. "Why didn't you approach me before?"
He pauses. "To be honest, I didn't know if you'd want me back in your life."
She could reply a lot of things to that. Even if she hadn't proven in quite a number of different ways, plenty physical and some very recent, just how stupid that notion is, she gets why he held back. She left him, even with the caveat to come find her. She suspects Bruce, for all his playboy reputation and feats of other wonder, has never really managed to figure out women before. She's going to have to teach him a thing or two.
Instead of asking more questions, she lets silence fall. She runs a hand up his exposed abdomen, across his neck, exploring, fascinated and almost reverent of the scars she sees. The worst are on his back. One, she knows, she is partially responsible for. He lies still under her touches, a complete lack of uneasiness as she runs the tips of her fingers across the ridges and ragged scars, a map of his biggest defeats. In his face, she sees him watching her. The slight angles of his wounds—she reads a whole history of fights in them.
When he finally catches her fingers in his hand and stills them, she meets his gaze, stares at the stubble forming on his jaw, the sharp nose, his parted lips. There's something magnificent about this man, that he's even alive after all this time, especially for someone that is, despite legend, only too human. She sees proof of that in his body.
"Hey," he breathes to her, sensing her mood. "No more games?"
She smiles, softly, genuinely — then warns, "Be careful what you wish for."
The next few weeks fly by quickly.
It's foreign to her, this feeling of needing. It's a good thing they're a walking contradiction. Bruce sleeps like the dead but she always wakes to an empty apartment. He has nightmares, too – brutal ones, unsurprisingly, but he never talks about them. The thing of it is, bat or cat, they're both solitary creatures so it takes some getting used to. It isn't just their personalities—it's their survival instincts and survival of the fittest (there's a difference between the two, subtle, but there), but the Black Arc Project gives them something to attack in unison. (Lex has plans, and she knows they've only hit the tip of the iceberg; the public only knows of his mergers and hostile takeovers of Gotham's major corporations, but it runs deeper, dirtier, and he's recruiting some of Bane's men to keep things working in his favor in low places.)
And the thing about the universe's sense of humor: she's the one that drags Gotham City back into their picture. The Black Arc Project is her chase.
It's irony for you. For every day of her life, Selina's been known to find new ways to hate Gotham City. Apparently it takes leaving it for Selina to acknowledge some of its redeeming value. (At least with Gotham, the depravity was up front; in Metropolis, they try to hide their shadows – look at Lex for Exhibit A.) It'll take much longer than this to figure out ways to forgive, but maybe she'll get there eventually.
Anyway, somehow, someway, Bruce has infected her with his need to help – not just people (she's always done that, in her own way), but now she's thinking about the bigger picture, the big fish and the grand schemes. And she's always rolled her eyes at that sort of thing, before. Blood and art and crime, the screams and the stench, the absolute lack of mercy – that's reality, the immediate one she grew up in. She's killed people, only people that deserved it, and even if he doesn't like it, Bruce still knows about it and sticks around, so it's not like she's the only one compromising, bending to each other rather than breaking apart.
It's still a work in progress.
Besides, soon enough she realizes that she only has to stop looking at the compromises and start looking at their actions to see how Bruce and her work so damn well together. An undeniable force. She thinks, he strategizes, she deflects, he pursues, she anticipates and he moves. Selina has never been the type to prescribe to the idea of love, but clearly there's a reason they've stuck together so easily when all sense and logic dictates they'd be nothing but horrible for each other.
And sometimes he gets this smile on his face, a small smirk or even a laugh, and it lightens his features and sheds a decade off of him – and she knows how rare it is that anyone elicits a genuine reaction out of him. He's spent too long as a recluse, a playboy, a masked vigilante. She thinks he might've forgotten what it's like to be himself outside of anyone but Alfred (she knows, now, how important Alfred is to him, if only because it's one of the few things he refuses to talk about with her at much length, when almost everything else is fair game. Alfred and, of course, Rachel Dawes, but Selina is willing to skirt around the latter rather willingly.)
And they take regular trips around the world, too, not just the ones to advance some agenda, but just for fun – it's a new concept for him, she suspects; even though he's technically dead, and broke long before that, Bruce had been smart enough to put aside a hefty nest egg for a rainy day, and she goes along enthusiastically while he puts them up in the best hotels in the world, all under assumed aliases, of course, and she indulges in the lap of luxury that she's never had a real taste of before. He fixes his mother's string of pearls and she wears them on special occasions. She's especially pleased when he turns a blind eye when she lifts the pocket of some rich SOB that grabs her ass or snares a diamond necklace off a woman too old and snobby to appreciate that sort of beauty anymore.
They visit the Met, and really, if Bruce hadn't intended on her pilfering a priceless painting, he shouldn't have led her into the Baroque Exhibit; she's always had a thing for Rembrandt. She steals it. He makes her put it back.
It's another two months later, on a hot humid night, late August, Mexico, and she's waiting for him to come to bed but it can be a long pursuit given his nocturnal habits. Eventually, she pushes the sheets away and steps barefoot out of their bedroom to find him sitting at the far side of the kitchen table with a laptop open. He's sideways on the chair, one arm thrown over the back of it, his right leg stretched out in the manner she associates with when he's in pain. The metal contraption for his leg is nowhere in evidence, which means he must have taken it off and set it by the front door.
She steps inside the kitchen and pours herself a cup of coffee. Tonight, she suspects, is one of those nights when there will be little sleep.
"Well?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
He looks to her, face calculating and drawn tight. "The latest numbers aren't good. Lex is gaining ground on Gotham City. It reminds me of a quote, actually. A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. He clearly thinks Gotham's ripe for the picking."
"A lot of people have thought that," Selina says. She bends to read the screen, hand slipping over his broad shoulder and down his chest to rest, idly. "And? What are you thinking?"
He licks his lips, closes the lid, and turns to her. "I think it's time I got in contact with Robin."
Selina huffs a breath. "I'm surprised you lasted this long."
He rolls his eyes. "I'm glad you think so, because I might need you to be the liaison. Bruce Wayne can't just go walking back through the door."
She offers a smirk. "Why not?" she murmurs in amusement, slipping into a chair opposite of him. She plants her feet in his lap. "You've risen from the dead how many times now? Just tell me we don't have to go back to Metropolis. If I hear one more thing about this supposed superman—"
"They thought I was fake too, at the beginning."
"Did you ever claim to be faster than a speeding bullet?"
"Rumors exaggerate, but you're too cynical to see the potential."
"Oh," Selina laughs, taking a sip of her coffee. "So you really believe there's a guy out there that flies with clouds between his knees?"
Bruce doesn't comment, and she knows she's won the argument. He pauses for a beat. "Actually," he says at length, sounding curiously serious. "I was thinking of stopping by Florence, first. There's a café there that I'd think you'd like." His tone belies a meaning she can't guess at, so she raises an eyebrow, and he turns to face her fully. "There's something I have to do there, and I'd like you to be with me."
"Well, then," she says, immediately. "When do we leave?"
"Just like that? Don't even need to know the details?"
"You can fill me in on the way. Besides, I'm adaptable, remember?"