Author's Notes: Selina Kyle/Bruce Wayne. Specific spoilers for TDKR. Any and all feedback is very much appreciated!
"I never did say thank you," Gordon says to her.
The ice from the latest storm is starting to thaw, and the sun warms her face. The bay's waters are eerily calm today, smooth as a sheet of glass, and as she stands under the bridge, she remembers lingering in this exact spot just days before, watching the mushroom cloud of smoke billow in the distance. Somebody keeps recreating and relighting the signal on the top of the bridge; it burns in broad daylight now, a memorial of sorts. People are gathering, leaving mementos in lieu of their apologies for being non-believers. Selina swallows around the sudden bitterness in the back of her throat.
"No. You never did."
"We could use your help," he murmurs after a long moment of silence. "With the clean-up. A lot of dangerous people are still missing from Arkham and Blackgate. We could use your help getting them back to where they belong."
His line of sight follows hers. Gordon's shoulders sag in defeat for just a moment before he catches himself and straightens them into a hard line again, moving to even his weight on the heels of his feet. She knows he's mourning the loss of a friend, a comrade. Selina's not quite sure whom it is she is mourning.
"I'm pretty content with sticking to my side of the law, Commissioner," she tells him, her mouth curling defiantly, but the bite to her words is missing. She sounds tired and battle-worn.
He nods, and she thinks she sees a bit of disappointment there beneath the gesture. "There will be a small memorial service. Would you like me to keep you updated?" he asks carefully, slowly, as if he's trying to gauge her reaction as the words leave his mouth.
Selina shakes her head, turning her back to the bay. "I'm sorry I'm not him," she tells Gordon quietly. His face registers surprise, his eyes softening as he regards her, and the smile she offers him isn't kind in the least. "With me what you see is exactly what you get."
The click of her heels echoes between them as she walks away.
Selina was raised and molded into the woman she is now on the streets of Gotham. She knows them from memory, can list all of the dark alleys that are best used for cover, all of the red light intersections to avoid when making a quick getaway, and all the corners to steer clear of after the sun goes down on the tips of her fingers and toes. It was on the streets of Gotham that Selina learned how to spin the truth and pocket wallets, jewels, and whatever she felt like as her own.
It was also on the streets of Gotham that Selina honed the tools she would need to survive.
In the aftermath of Bane, she walks those very same streets endlessly, turning corners and taking shortcuts she had devised years before. The shattered glass and rubble mix with the snow and crunch under her weight, sticking to the edges of her shoes as she walks. Days later now and people are slowly starting to rebuild – cleaning the streets of debris, replacing broken windows, trying their best to salvage what they can from their lives before. Selina watches them curiously, but never offers her hand to help. She merely pulls her wool coat tighter around her shoulders for warmth and nods as she passes, offers a tight smile every so often.
Selina doesn't owe them anything. She never has.
On the Friday after Batman stupidly gave his life to save this city, to save these people who would never fully appreciate the full weight of his sacrifice, she borrows an abandoned car and drives north to the outskirts of town. Wayne Manor stands mostly whole against the skyline in the distance, but the chaos reached its hand and touched here too. The grounds show wear from the riots, looting, and vandalism it had to endure these past months.
As a child, Selina used to revere this home and the people in it. When she was still young and childish enough to want for such things, Wayne Manor served as a backdrop for her imagined happily ever afters. Like most little girls in Gotham, Selina believed in the fairy tale of the Waynes and dreamed of the handsome prince who would one day save her from desolation, who would give her a better, richer life. As a child, this house was as castle, a fortress, an awe-inspiring sight, but eventually she grew older and wiser. Her life grew to have little room for naïveté, for foolish wishes and wants.
Eventually, this house became just another mark, another door to con her way past, another set of locks to pick.
Eventually, Selina stopped waiting for the prince to save her and figured out ways to save herself.
After she cuts the engine to the car, the silence of the vacant grounds pops in her ears. She considers the house quietly for a moment – the sharp edges rich with history now marred with spray paint and a cracking foundation, the once tidy lawn now unkempt, sidewalks buried under layers of snow both old and new. A window in the southeast corner has a crack that spiderwebs from pane to pane and is surrounded by glassless frames. Selina sees it first, notes it as a point of weakness, a possible entry strategy. The service entrance is used instead, however, the lock picked in under forty seconds and the security system disabled quickly thereafter out of habit and habit alone – the police were too engaged in salvage and recovery, the city in mourning, too busy to deal with a burglary in a now abandoned house.
Besides, she's eager to start feeling a little bit more like herself, and picking locks and disabling security systems feels like as good a place to start as any.
Inside, there is a stench of rotten food, glass and antiques broken into shards on the floor. Selina steps over the wreckage and walks the endless hallways and climbs the stairs without getting herself turned around. She had studied the blueprints for days before making a ploy at lifting Bruce's fingerprints, and remembers the pathway from the kitchen to the east wing with acute clarity. Closing her eyes, she does the final ascent from muscle memory alone, smiling a little when she reaches her destination without pause.
There is no real reason to be here – none that she can wrap her mind around anyway. Still, she tries to rectify the events of the past weeks and months in her mind. Perhaps, Selina muses, she's here looking for him, or perhaps she's just looking for further confirmation of the facts she has long since accepted as true. Bruce is more than likely dead. She knows this. Selina does not try to convince herself otherwise because there is no need. He is nothing to her – not now, not then – and Selina knows better than to try to build something out of absolutely nothing.
The space he locked himself away in for eight years is exactly how she remembers it: the photos arranged just so, the furniture underused, the curtains drawn tightly. Selina eyes the safe, her fingers twitching to reach for it, but she curls them into a fist instead, keeping the urge at bay.
She draws a line through the dust collecting on the shelves, traces the edges of photographs, and tries to make sense of who this man is – was– and what made him believe this city was worth giving his life for.
It's to no avail, of course.
Selina has always been able to recognize a lost cause when she sees one.
She doesn't intend to take the pearls. Selina doesn't intend to take anything, actually, but the strand is just lying there on the dresser, abandoned. Taunting her.
It seems ridiculous to allow such pretty things to go to waste, so she pockets them as her own without allowing herself to think twice about it. A part of her likes to believe that perhaps he would have liked her to have them anyway – however unfounded such a thought might be.
Besides, Selina is who she is and has never tried to make excuses for it.
(Still, Selina will laugh a little later, much later when she is back in her fifth story walk-up in Oldtown, and Jen is out doing whatever it is Jen does to fill her time. Selina will fasten the clasp delicately and arrange the strand to rest around her neck just so.
In the mirror, she will admire her reflection, her smile small and a little crooked as she reaches to rub at the smudge of mascara near the corner of her eye.
Still disappointing him, she will think.)
The cold hard truth that most everyone who meets her immediately accepts is this: Selina Kyle is not a nice person.
She isn't kind or thoughtful; she never puts others before herself, never considers the full ramifications of her actions before she is driven to act. She is cold, closed-off, methodical in almost every aspect of her life. Her edges have been hardened by time and circumstance, by all the things she had to endure and all the things she has had to do to survive.
She does what she has to do, always, and somewhere along the line some of those things she had to do turned into things she wanted to do. The line is forever blurred now, no longer bold enough to separate right and wrong as two separate entities. The thrill, the adrenaline that races up her spine after she steals something worthwhile or beats an un-crackable safe is almost as addicting as the idea of a clean slate and a fresh start. It is almost as addicting as the fantasy of starting over she holds on to with pearl-white fingers, the fantasy she used to reconcile her inner demons after she watched Bane nearly beat Batman to death and his army carry Bruce away like garbage.
Looking for points of entry and exits, fault lines in the security, and easy marks are as natural as breathing for her. Selina steals from the rich because she can, because they live in excess while others merely just survive and Selina has never been alright with standing idly by when something is directly affecting her. She does her best to close the gap between the filthy rich and the desperately poor because it is in her best interests, not because it is for the greater good.
Make no mistake – Selina is well aware of the fact that she is all too human, that she, too, is prone to making mistakes. One misstep caused her to get caught up with Daggett and Bane, allowed their people to use her until even she started to bend to their will, compromising the scarce morals and ethics she used to govern her life. Until she was once again driven to do what she had to in an effort to survive.
After the chaos has settled and she's surviving in the aftermath, she thinks about getting out clean and starting over completely. Selina adjusts well to change, to slight deviations in pre-designed courses. It's in her nature. She is an intelligent woman and a brilliant thief that just happens to have a reputation marred by the mistakes of her youth.
Still, she has always excelled best when she sticks to what she knows. So it makes sense that she doesn't stick around for Gotham's clean up or the eventual rebuilding.
Instead, she cashes in her earned ticket to freedom and leaves the city that has taken so much from her behind before the dust even has a chance to settle.
She passes through six cities in three countries and burns through too many aliases that just don't quite fit during that first week. She feels aimless, a little too much like a wanderer until she settles on England as just Selina Kyle sans the criminal record.
The streets of London are kinder to her than those of Gotham. The rain fits her mood, the fog offers a nice cover, and acquaintances grow into familiar faces, then associates. Those associates transform into allies and she builds a better, different name for herself. She hones new skills whilst proving to anyone who takes notice that she is a force to be reckoned with.
Selina goes to the ballet, sees Shakespearian plays, reads Chaucer in a quaint little café. She perfects her accent, and steals jewels and money and precious antiques from the disgustingly wealthy. Never once does she feel badly about it, either.
Some items are fenced, traded in for cash that she keeps under the floorboards as an emergency fund and in accounts that originate in some island of the Caribbean that can never be traced back to her. Other items are kept in storage lockers, brought out into the light of day only on a whim. What she has left over is liquidated and sent to Jen in the form of non-sequential bills and a note that simply reads, take care of yourself.
(If somebody cared to look hard enough, they would know that a portion of her earnings is also sent to one of the charities the Wayne legacy helped to cultivate and grow in better times, and is struggling to survive now in the aftermath of the company's downfall.
But this secret is hers and hers alone, something nobody would ever suspect and she will never share.)
When she grows tired of the rain and the fog after only a few weeks, she moves on, always in perpetual motion.
A month is spent in the vast bleakness of Eastern Europe. Selina spends the majority of that time glancing over her shoulder, scanning crowds and street corners for familiar faces.
She doesn't ever quite manage to shake the feeling that she's being followed.
When she moves onto Moscow, she is born anew as Irina. Irina has harder edges, a thick accent, and quite a few reasons to wear her steel-heeled stilettos. Irina is too much like Selina – she doesn't make friends easily. She also doesn't much care.
Gunfire rains down upon her when she makes it past the border and into Kazakhstan in the middle of the night. A bullet carves out a bit of the flesh on her arm in the process. As she bleeds all over the cracked leather chair of some doctor who is paid to have discretion in matters such as these, she can't help but wonder if this is what Bruce had in mind when he gave her a clean slate, when he put his faith in her to do the right thing.
"You'll have quite a scar," the doctor tells her, admiring his handiwork as he wraps her arm in scratchy gauze.
Overhead, the fluorescent light flickers, and it takes her a moment to make the translation, but when she does her mouth curls ruefully.
"What's one more?" she asks softly.
The doctor offers a look like he doesn't quite understand, smiling awkwardly before he refocuses his attention on her arm. There are specks of her blood drying on the cuff of his white coat; Selina stares down at her dirty hands.
In Spain, she works on her tan and cons a descendent of the royal family out of some very expensive family heirlooms.
Madrid brings a handsome young businessman that she allows to get close so he can serve a greater purpose. He takes her to operas and luxurious dinners, and teaches her about some of the finer things in life. He has access to a fortune, a couple of Rembrandts in his art collection. Selina spends her free time devising a foolproof plan to get out clean with the cash and the canvases, and lets him feel at home between her sheets in the process just because she can, just because an occupied mouth and hands equates to an occupied mind and she spends too many wasted hours remembering things she wishes she didn't.
He asks too many questions though – about her, her past, about the faded and still-fading scars she wears like armor. Selina does her best to keep him at bay, to keep him interested while still fending off his inquisitions. It doesn't always work as well as she would like. He thinks he loves her already, and it's not time yet for her to shed light on the fact that he only loves the version of her that she allows him to know.
"Why so many secrets?" he always asks.
They're spending a long weekend in Barcelona. It's night, and she stands near the balcony, champagne flute dangling between her fingers as the city springs to life beneath them. He comes up behind her, hands slipping under the fabric of her robe, palms resting against the jut of her hipbone.
Selina doesn't answer. She never does, merely uses her skillful fingers to reach for him, nails draggling lightly against the skin of his neck before her lips brush the hard bone of his jaw. Selina is good at this, always has been. She knows how to twist her mouth and use her hands and pretend that love is a true emotion and not just a false sense of security. Selina knows exactly how to bend a man's will until it conforms to her wants and needs because practice makes perfect and she has had plenty of practice.
When they return to Madrid she sets her plans in motion and makes a clean getaway. She'll never understand why, but she leaves the Rembrandts behind.
Bruce Wayne reenters her life with just as much drama and flair as he had when he left it months before. Selina is in Belfast, on a rooftop, and the black leather of her suit is weighing her down as she goes hand to hand in combat with a man who is twice her size, has twice the firepower, and ia angry as hell with her for breaking into his boss's safe and stealing some very important documents.
Corporate espionage really isn't her thing, but the man who hired her liked that she didn't ask questions, and paid handsomely for it. At the time, Selina had assumed it would be a walk in the park, but now that she is pinned in a corner, and her opponent's hands are around her throat, she is starting to rethink her earlier assumptions. Her nails claw at the skin of his hands, but her head is beginning to feel light from the force of his grip around her windpipe and the struggle she is exerting against him. Glancing over her shoulder worriedly, Selina's vision beings to blur around the edges as she calculates the force of gravity and acceleration and just how hard the impact would hurt if she made the four-story jump versus the pain of dying from strangulation and gasping for her last breath.
Then, out of nowhere, the man is pulled off of her and she's sinking to the concrete, gasping for air. Her vision clouds completely for five, ten, maybe twenty seconds. When she comes to, the thug is out cold across the way and she has to blink herself to clarity as Bruce looms over her, dressed in all black, a ski mask bunched in his fist at his side. His mouth is moving, but she can't make out the words, thinks maybe she's going crazy, that the blow to the head she sustained earlier is doing things to her subconscious.
But then he reaches for her, his fingers smooth against her elbow as he crouches down on the ground next to her. The confusion gives way to clarity then, the clarity becomes overclouded with anger, and she jumps up to her feet with all the grace she possesses and swings with her good arm, her fist connecting with his jaw. Hard.
He stumbles backwards, dazed, caught completely off guard, and she does it again, and again, uses the forward motion of her body as a distraction to connect her foot with his bad knee. Selina's mouth twists in victory as he falls to the ground, and before he can say anything, before he can open his mouth to speak, she has the steel-heel of her stiletto angled at his throat.
"You're supposed to be dead." The words are spoken roughly, voice thick and raspy before she chokes into a cough. Her throat burns. She sends a discrete glance towards the thug twenty feet away and knows she'll have the imprints of his fingers around her neck for days.
Bruce arches an eyebrow at her, nonplused, but blood trickles down the side of his face from where her knuckle broke the skin. "A slight exaggeration on my part."
"You always did have a flair for the theatrics," she says, rolling her eyes. Her shoulders soften, but she doesn't move her heel. "Why are you here?"
"I'm saving your life," he tells her with all the arrogance she had forgotten he was capable of possessing.
"I don't need you to save me." Sirens can be heard in the distance, and her back stiffens on reflex. "I didn't ask you to save me. Five more seconds and I would have had him."
"He had you backed into a corner."
"Wouldn't be the first time that happened and I came out ahead." She applies more pressure to his neck. "You underestimate me."
Bruce doesn't react. "Clearly."
The sirens loom closer and she relents, removes her heel and steps away. Bruce pushes himself upwards on unsteady arms; she doesn't offer her help.
"They're playing my song," she tells him, backing up slowly. He is watching her carefully, looks as though he might move to stop her, but ultimately decides better of it. "Do me a favor? Don't follow me," she says in parting just before disappearing into the night.
Naturally, he is waiting for her at the hotel when she returns just twelve hours later. She spots him upon entering the room after a meeting with her buyer across town. Bruce is seated too comfortably in a chair near the balcony, legs outstretched, and feet resting atop a coffee table. He looks as though he belongs there, surrounded by her things, and it infuriates her to the point of being irrational. Selina has traded in her leather suit for a nice dress and oversized hat, a scarf that hides the bruises along the column of her throat. Removing the hat, she tosses it to the side carelessly, and slams the door behind her to exaggerate her entrance.
"You don't listen very well, do you?" she says. He ignores her, moves to stand, and starts to cross the room. Selina holds up a hand to stop him and is only slightly thrown when he adheres to her request. "Why are you here?"
Shoving his hands in his pockets, Bruce rests his weight on his heels. It's the first time she has really been able to see him. Last night the adrenaline was too distracting as it hummed under skin, and it makes her recollection hazy in retrospect. He looks different to her somehow. He carries himself differently. Seems… Lighter, happier. Or, at least, lighter and happier than the man she never really got a chance to know. Lighter than the crumbling, recluse of a once playboy billionaire she outwit too easily. Much happier than the hero she thought was dead until exactly twelve hours ago. Her mind still reels at that revelation, and she feels an intense amount of relief hit her like a storm at the mere thought, but Selina has always been better than most at compartmentalizing.
Selina understands exactly why he felt the need to bury Bruce Wayne and Batman. She understands and can't fault him for it because that is exactly what she had been begging him to do when she asked him to run away with her, to leave Gotham behind for good.
Still, the relief at his presence gives way to something else, something that cuts deeply, and Selina finds herself irrationally angry about it all for reasons that are inexplicable to her.
"When I gave you my parting gift, this isn't exactly what I intended you to use it for," he tells her. There is a beat, a stretch of silence that lasts almost too long, then, "You also have something that belongs to me." Smile disgusting smug, he removes the strand of pearls from his pocket and holds them up for her to see.
Scoffing, Selina rests her weight against the dresser, crosses her hands over her chest. "Is that why you're here? To settle old scores? A girl has to make a living, Bruce. It is a cruel and expensive world outside these walls."
"There are other ways to make a living," he points out, taking a few more steps towards her. Selina straightens her back, allows her arms to drop to her sides. Her inhale is quick, pointed, almost as if she is preparing for battle.
Her mouth quirks in lieu of a distraction. "Yes, but they aren't quite as fun, are they?"
He moves towards her again, stopping only when she can make out the specks of gray at his temples, the creases near his eyes. He looks older than she remembers. Stuffing the pearls back in his pocket, Bruce allows his shoulders to soften and Selina's breath hitches when he reaches for her, is surprised at herself for allowing him to do so. His fingers graze the scarf around her neck, pulling on the fabric until it loosens; he traces the bruises there carefully, and something curls defiantly in the pit of her stomach.
Selina closes her eyes and remembers kissing him in the middle of a war. Remembers him tasting like kevlar and sweat and gunpowder. She licks her lips and opens her eyes to see him gazing at her fondly and feels the anger from earlier return and transform into something else entirely.
"I thought you were dead," she says too quietly, voice cracking embarrassingly around the edges. Her will to resist starts to fade into non-existence, her shoulders softening before crumbling completely.
Bruce smiles softly then, the edges crooked, the sentiment almost apologetic just before he kisses her.
Belfast lasts three days longer than she originally intended it to. During their time together, Bruce imprints his touch on every part of her.
The first time they fuck it is fast, rushed, furious. They battle for control the entire time, the upper hand constantly exchanged. The second time, he keeps her hands pinned above her head, his touch digging into the bones of her wrist, leaving reminders she can carry with her. The third time is slower, more relaxed, the both of them consumed with a quiet patience. The fourth time, Bruce pushes and pulls until she is begging for it, for him, until the string that holds her resistance frays at the edges and unravels completely. After, Selina returns the favor, memorizing the feel of him in the process, all the edges of his muscles and scars, the burden of his weight above her, under her, inside of her.
There have been other men before him, of course – for sport, for a con, for pay – and her body has long since become just another weapon inside her arsenal, a double-edged sword she yields in opportune moments to gain an advantage. She is surprised to find that here with him that it is both more and less than that. Mostly, Selina is surprised to find herself completely starved for his touch.
In between, they order room service and old movies, drink champagne on the balcony and act as though nothing exists outside of this time, each other, the four walls of her hotel room. They don't talk about the past or the future. They don't talk about Gotham, about all the things she was running from and all the things he left behind. They don't talk about anything really, and Selina finds she is more than fine with that.
The final time they fuck, they act as though they have all the time in the world. It is slow, easy, and leaves her breathless. Already, he has learned what she wants and needs, and it scares her, the intimate knowledge he has of her now.
After, she wakes to the feel of a cool breeze from the open balcony door, slips out from under the weight of his arm, and out of bed without making a sound. She's slipping on her boots, her bags packed and standing upright near the door when she looks over at him one last time only to find him watching her carefully. Bruce schools his expression into yet another mask; Selina bites the inside of her cheek, the first to look away
Zipping up her boots, she stands and smoothes out the wrinkles of her dress. He doesn't move to stop her, doesn't say anything at all actually, but the look he gives her, the one that flashes across his features for a split-second, tells her that maybe he expected this.
At the door, she pauses, her fingers tightening around the knob. She turns her head, offers him a smile that cuts.
"Sorry to keep disappointing you," she murmurs.
The sound of the door clicking behind her drowns out his reply.
On the plane back to London, her hands busy themselves with the strand of pearls around her neck, nails tracing the curves and idly fingering the clasp. Selina had stolen them back while he slept, and now as the plane descends into Heathrow and Ireland is behind her, she isn't quite sure if it was merely out of spite or so he'd have a reason to look for her.
The bruises along her throat are starting to heal, now an ugly mixture of yellow and purple. She hides them and the pearls under the silk of her scarf. The ones around her wrist are fresh, ugly, and glaringly dark.
She does not think of Bruce.
While she is mostly okay with leaving what little Gotham had to offer behind, she still reaches out to Jen every so often. There are phone calls here and there, emails, letters.
The responsibility she felt for Jen weighed heavily on her shoulders for a very long time, the two of them bound together by a shared history and abject circumstances. They had both lost their parents, their innocence to an unyielding city at too young of an age and had saved each other on more than one occasion. Selina had asked Jen to go with her, but the girl had refused. They had argued about it endlessly during the days leading up to Selina's departure, both of them stubbornly trying to make the other understand. Selina tried to tell her about the life they could have, the life they could build separate from Gotham. But Jen had just hugged her, her skinny arms wrapping around Selina's neck too tightly as she whispered, it's going to be different now, you'll see.
Selina didn't have the heart to tell her that things, people don't change, not really. Not that easily.
She had left in the middle of the night then too. Selina had slipped out without saying any actual goodbyes, leaving only a note with a contact number, a way to be reached just in case some serious trouble managed to find her. Selina has never been very good at saying what she actually means; she has never been fond of trite overtures or platitudes and is just simply terrible at goodbyes.
Still, she calls after Belfast. Jen picks up on the last ring, and Selina glances at the clock, realizing she had forgotten to calculate the time difference. Jen's voice is thick with sleep, but the way she says Selina's name – breathy, like she's exhaling in relief – is wistful, happy. They talk about nothing, really, and the conversation is short, mere minutes, but it has a sort of rejuvenating effect Selina desperately needs.
After they hang up, Selina tosses her phone to the side and shifts on the bed until she's comfortable, until the mattress molds around her tired body. She thinks about Bruce then, about Batman, about that long night she had spent searching the city for his remains, the guilt curdling in her stomach at every turn after the first time she had thought he had died at Bane's hand. She remembers those days she spent walking the streets of Gotham after he saved them all from certain death. How after those long days the soles of her feet and the muscles of her legs had ached with exhaustion, her version of penance. She remembers stealing that car in Oldtown and driving with no direction, not even realizing where she was headed until the Wayne Manor loomed in the distance.
Selina thinks that maybe she was searching for him then too.
In London, she sees him everywhere. On the streets outside her flat, in the cafe she frequents, in the park where she jogs most mornings. A couple of weeks after Belfast, and her eyes immediately scan crowds and the faces of passersbys in search of any man that matches his height, weight, and gait.
None of them are Bruce.
Gotham constructs a monument of their fallen hero and places it in the center of the city. It makes headlines, even across the pond, and she keeps BBC's replay of the events to a dull roar the afternoon of the unveiling as she readies herself for the day. She thinks about calling Jen, but doesn't. Some things are better left alone. Selina knows this better than anyone.
During the broadcast, the camera pans to a sea of citizens still mourning the loss of their savior and she watches from the reflection in the mirror as she applies her eyeliner. Just a few minutes in and the story segues into a tale of the city's grand renovations, their try at reconstructing what she once thought irreparable; as she watches, Selina's pessimism begins to get the better of her. She knows this respite, this peacetime isn't meant to last. It is only a matter of time until the manipulators and opportunists start making waves again.
She idly wonders if Bruce will return when his city starts to spiral downwards once more, or if he has a contingency plan for that too.
When she does see him again, it is at her favorite café on a Wednesday, the one she frequents near the Palace where she can sit and watch the changing of the guards. As she meanders towards the outside entrance, her eyes find him without trying, and her pace slows for just a fraction a second as her body registers surprise. He's sitting at her favorite table, smirking at her from across the way. She's only slightly infuriated when she drops into the seat across from him.
"I need a favor," he says, his version of hello, apparently. She likes this about him, how he is swift and to the point, always saying exactly what he means or merely nothing at all. It is such a stark contrast to her; she has made an art out of stringing words together into a pretty, but convoluted mess so they don't reveal any of the tiny truths she is intent on hiding.
There are very few things she has to come to know about the man sitting across from her. The first is that she watched him die a martyr at the price of his foolish idealism to save a city she hated most of her life. The second is that he has a habit of putting his faith in people that don't deserve it.
It is the later that causes Selina to remember their time together almost immediately – the taste of him, the burden of his weight above her, between her legs, the way he sighed her name when he came. She remembers leaving in the middle of the night, his face when she turned for one final look and parting shot, and wonders if he's here to even the score between them. She scans his face for any sign of anger or resentment, but finds nothing of the sort. It hurts her pride more than she would ever admit.
With challenge, Selina arches her eyebrow. "You do realize who you are speaking to, right? What makes you think I'm in the business of granting favors?"
Bruce ignores her. He's wearing jeans and a linen shirt. His hair is too long and the stubble that spreads across his jaw is out of control. He doesn't look like the Bruce Wayne she knew in Gotham. She likes that – perhaps a little too much. "It's a small favor, really," he says. "I just need you to come to Florence, sit across from me at a café, and pretend you like me."
"What's in it for me?"
His grin is wiry. "A free trip to Italy."
She waves over the waitress and pretends to think about it. "Shouldn't be too hard," she tells him. "I am, after all, a brilliant actress."
In Florence Selina puts on a simple dress and his mothers pearls and sits across from him like he asked her to, acting the part. The scroll on the bottom of the news that morning reveals a breakthrough in Wayne Industries' continued quest for sustainable clean energy. Selina makes out the highpoints with her tourist Italian, and they talk about it for a while over tea and biscotti before segueing into their mutual affinity for some of the finer things in life – art, jewels, liquor. He reluctantly confirms what she has already assumed: he's not poor, not in the true essence of the word, because she was right – the rich really don't go broke like the rest. Bruce Wayne was smarter than most assumed, and hid a portion of his money in real estate and offshore accounts.
When Bruce's mouth spreads into a rare smile – one that is small but reaches his eyes, one that is alarmingly honest and sheds years off his features – she glances over her shoulder, and sees Alfred across the way. It is then that Selina understands what this is: Bruce's version of I'm okay, a first and perhaps only payment needed for services rendered. When she turns her back to Alfred once more, not wanting to give anything away, she considers the man across the table from her for a long moment. Takes in the graying hair and subtle wrinkles that serve as reminders that time hasn't always been his friend, but also notes the way he carries himself now with an air of peace, with a calm. She marks the differences between the Bruce she knows now, and then man she met in Gotham whose shoulders sagged under the weight of twelve million souls.
It is a nice thing he does for Alfred, although she never tells Bruce that.
There are too many things about him she wants to know. How he did it, how he survived, for one. How he is here now and with her despite the odds. Selina watched as the bomb exploded in the sky after she sent him to his death and knows Gordon and Alfred buried an empty casket next to his mother and father's and grieved for Bruce Wayne enough to make up for the city that would never know the truth. Selina wants to know where he was during those days and months when she thought he was dead the first time, when she carried the guilt for his death with her everywhere, a cursed keepsake.
There are things she wants to tell him, too. Burdens she wants to share so the weight of them won't feel so heavy anymore. Selina wants to tell him of those nights she spent in Blackgate dreaming bloody, vicious nightmares of the evening she watched Bane beat Batman into submission. How sometimes she still wakes with a start in the middle of the night, sweat sticking to her skin as she swallows a scream, the sound of his bones snapping echoing in her ears.
Selina wants to tell him these things and demand answers of him, but knows the questions and the truths would give away too much, make her vulnerable to him.
Vulnerability is a luxury she will never be able to afford.
"How long did you stay after?" she asks instead. They're back at his villa on the river later that night and she watches in the mirror as he changes his shirt, catching sight of the scars that have been carved into his skin, a roadmap of his greatest failures. She reaches up to touch the pearls around her throat gently before removing them and setting them to the side.
"Longer than you," he says. Her eyes catch his and her brow arches.
"Just how long have you been following me?"
Bruce pauses long enough for her to know he is choosing his words carefully. When he speaks, his tone is pointed. "You left a partial behind when you stole that Matisse in London," he shrugs. "I have better recognition software than Interpol, apparently." It must also help, she muses, that her name doesn't carry any red flags anymore – except with him apparently. Bruce nears her quietly, their eyes meeting in the reflection of the mirror as he rests his palms against her shoulders.
It's the first time he's initiated physical contact since Belfast, and she deflects her surprise, the warm arousal coiling within her by murmuring, "That's creepy, you know that don't you?"
But he ignores her, only looking somewhat sheepish when he continues, "You really need to find some new extracurricular activities." There is a glimpse at his crooked grin before he dips his head and presses his lips to her neck. "Or be a better thief. This is the second time I've caught you."
"I wasn't really trying before." His mouth twists into a smirk against the curve of her neck and she leans back into him in a way that demands attention. When his eyes flick towards hers in the mirror she can't help herself and asks quietly, "Why did you stay?"
He's too close and she can feel him still, the easiness falling away immediately. Bruce straightens his stance, some of the bones of his back cracking into alignment as he does; his palms smooth over her shoulders and the length of her arms before falling to rest at his sides. They're no longer touching except for the places where the arch of her back collides with his chest.
"I had some things I needed to take care of. Things I needed to make sense of."
Their eyes meet again. "And do they make sense now?"
His fingers splay against her hips and she feels herself come alive for him, feels like she did in Belfast – like she was starved him and could never be satisfied. "I'd like to think so, yes."
Arching her neck so she can face him fully, she reaches her hand for him, her palm against his cheek guiding his mouth to hers.
Here is a truth about Bruce she always suspected: he is all conscious thought and calculation until he isn't, until she murmurs his name in the back of her throat and it propels him into action, his teeth sinking into the skin of her shoulder, his hands rough as they shove her backwards and into the dresser. Selina winces at the contact, as the wood digs into her spine and her back bends at an unnatural angle, but she doesn't falter, never slows down. Instead, she uses her toes as leverage and pushes herself up onto the ledge, opens her legs wider to accommodate him.
She matches him inch for inch, the perfect opponent.
He is greedy, selfish in the way he takes from her. His fingers sink between her legs, press at her through the silk of her underwear, then underneath, and finally inside of her. His mouth is hard and vicious as it slides against hers, as his tongue smoothes against the roof of her mouth and flicks against her own. Bruce kisses her so hard she feels it in her teeth, over and over, and the vibrations from the contact reverberate in the base of her skull, making her dizzy.
They have never been people that bother with pleasantries, and they don't now – not with sweet nothings that would ring false or permission that isn't needed. It's just the two of them, just Bruce and Selina and all the things they carry, with her dress pushed into a wrinkled mess around her waist and her fingers fumbling with his belt. The slick pop of metal sliding against metal echoes in her ears as he frantically works her panties down her legs. They're both wound too tightly, held together by sheer will and determination, and when her fingers wrap around him snugly, Bruce curses, tearing his mouth away from hers, teeth grazing her jaw, her ear, before sinking into the dip at her neck where curved bone meets shoulder. She's impatient, and he chokes the breath from himself as she pulls him in. For a moment, she can't feel anything except for how full she is.
When he moves it is without grace. Her shoulder hits the mirror with a sound thud and in the distance she hears the glass crack and begin to shatter. Nothing exists, however, outside of this moment here, with him, the feel of him inside her, around her, hollowing her out completely. Selina's fingers claw at his back, sink into the skin there as if she is searching for some sort of anchor, for some way to keep from losing herself completely; his own guide her hips forward forcefully, fingers unintentionally bruising the skin underneath.
In their haste, they create marks they can carry together.
Selina, he says, just her name, just those two syllables strung together into a convoluted mess of consonants and vowels she can barely decipher. Selina, he says, over and over, and she drags his mouth to hers just to shut him up because it is too much all at once. Her body aches, tightens, her back arching for him. She comes unexpectedly, hard and fast, her hips slanting, taking him deeper, her body forcing his over with her own.
After, as the chaos ebbs into calm, Bruce kisses her again and again, his lips molding against hers with a promise that doesn't taste like a lie.
He kisses her like he needs this, like he needs her. Selina tries not to think about how much truth there may be in that.
Stay, he asks. His mouth is somewhere near her throat, the burden of his weight above her pressing her back into the mattress beneath them. The springs creak under the shift of their weight and his hand finds home between her thighs, get lost between them as his fingers curl and coax her into compliance.
Her legs bend at the knees, opening wider for him on their own accord. Bruce's mouth slips from her neck to her shoulder, down to her stomach, to her left thigh, then her right, and finally settles between. She closes her eyes, sees light in the darkness, and reaches for him, curling her fingers around the loose hair at his nape.
Okay, she breathes.
Selina doesn't see the harm in it at that moment.
"Why were you there? In Belfast?" she asks him.
This is days and weeks later, when they're still in Florence. She asks this not long after she realizes she is already starting to subconsciously amass a vast array of information pertaining to all things Bruce. Like, for example, how when she wakes in the middle of the night and reaches for him only to find the sheets cool and empty in his absence, it means that he spent what little sleep he encountered dreaming of brutal horrors and his greatest defeats. They're alike in this way – they don't sleep like normal people. Mostly because they aren't normal people at all, not really. Their dreams serve as proof, as constant reminders of their pasts, of all the things they've had to endure and survive. Too often, even in the short time they've spent together, Selina has blinked herself awake, choking on the stench of blood and dirt and her own sweat only to see him watching her carefully, his mouth pressed into a thin line because he understands.
During those nights, Bruce never reaches for her. He never asks for an explanation or offers meaningless platitudes along the lines of it's okay. Selina is thankful and shows him the same latitude. They are alike in this way too – there are some things that aren't meant to be shared, some burdens that are meant to be carried alone. They know this better than most.
"Same as you," he says quietly.
Arching an eyebrow, she slides into a seat across from him at the table, drawing a bare knee to her chest as her other leg anchors itself around the bottom rung of the chair. He has files and newspapers spread across the wooden top; his laptop hums softly in front of him. Bruce doesn't look up at first, but when he does Selina watches as his mouth spreads into a slow, appreciative smile and she looks down, remembers that she's wearing his shirt. It's what was there, she thinks, and almost tells him, thinking better of it at the last moment.
"You were stealing corporate documents for profit?" she presses instead. Her fingers reach out, float across some of the papers he has strewn about. Nothing catches her eye until she sees Gotham in the title of something from the Associated Press. Her mouth presses into a frown, and she drags the article out from underneath some files, her eyes scanning the words for anything noteworthy.
"The corporation you were stealing from is a shell company for a gun runner who has ties to some followers of Bane's. I was making sure that connection no longer exists."
"And does it?"
"No." He adds grimly, "For now anyway."
"And if it had?" Selina asks, meeting his eyes. She already knows the answer, but wants to hear it anyway. Needsto hear him say the words. There are things they don't talk about, as a rule, and Gotham has always been one of them; Selina's itching for a change. Bruce is silent for a long moment, and she laughs coldly in response. His silence confirms the answers she has long since deduced. Then again, Selina has never been one for asking questions she doesn't already know the answers to. "You are a fool," she says and wishes she sounded more angry than resigned.
Sighing, Bruce shakes his head. "It's just a loose end."
"There are always going to be loose ends with you and that city, aren't there?"
He pushes his laptop closed and looks at her for a long while. Experience helps her not to fidget under his gaze and when he speaks his tone is low, cautious. "It's not about the city, Selina. It's about the people. I buried him, but I still stand for the same things. I still believe in the same things …" He pauses, and Selina watches the emotions flicker briefly across his face as he considers his words. "Bruce Wayne was the mask. I was always Batman."
She thinks, maybe, that she has always known this. Maybe she understands better than he thinks, even if she doesn't like it, even if she may only ever grow to tolerate it. Selina feels as though she's been gearing up for this argument for as long as she's known him, and as surprised at how easily she deflates.
Already they are making these sorts of concessions for one another.
Heaving a sigh, Selina pulls her other leg up to her chest, wraps her arms around her knees and remembers her own beginning: five years old and carefree, dreaming of princes and fairy tale endings before her mother's death. Before her father's love for the bottle outweighed his love for his daughter and the horrible stench of abandonment tainted every single crevice of her life. So much of her formative years were spent devising exit strategies, marks scratched in a calendar used to count down days and the services owed until she could finally place Gotham in her rearview for good.
Looking at Bruce, still alive despite the odds, his humanity a blessing and a curse rolled into one beautiful mess, Selina realizes a vital truth she's been trying to outrun for as long as she can remember: she is who she is. She always would be, no matter how many oceans and continents she puts between herself and the city that aided in her formation. More important she realizes that how she came to be that person isn't as important as what she chooses to do ias /ithat person.
She's irrationally angry with him for being the one to help her reach said revelation, but she's nothing if not an excellent liar, and she deflects.
Resting her chin atop the bones of her knees, she tells him, "I can't compete with ghosts, Bruce."
He considers her for a long moment. "I would never expect you to."
When Batman resurfaces and resulting headlines reach across the globe, Bruce lets her in on the secret. He tells her about John Blake, about leaving behind the suit and the legacy in capable hands.
Selina remembers something then, a tiny memory sparking to life when she closes her eyes and rests her head against his shoulder as she listens to him talk. It's Gotham, months and a lifetime ago now, the day she went to the Manor looking for answers to all the questions she didn't want to ask. She remembers the estate in shambles, the interior crippled and looted and falling apart at the seams, but the east wing oddly unharmed, almost as if it had been put back together. She remembers the pearls sitting on the dresser despite the odds, untouched, and how he had told her that he had stayed longer than she had after. She remembers traveling to Moscow and Berlin, feeling as though she was being watched at every turn.
Memories are tricky things. The mind trickier when it comes to resisting understanding of the things one simply isn't ready to comprehend, and Selina sees what she couldn't before: the pearls were her clue, his version of I'm okay. They were similar in meaning to the coordinates he left for Blake and the batsignal he fixed for Gordon. She just didn't know how to see it then, couldn't piece the fragments together so she could understand that he had been there that day, that Bruce had been sure of her, of her intentions. That he had known she would look for him, for some sort of definitive proof, just as he had the faith that she would come back and fight alongside him
Even when he had no right, he knew her.
"Tell me something real about yourself," he murmurs, and it takes a moment to realize he's talking, for his voice to shake her out of her thoughts, to pull her back into the present. Bruce's fingers draw patterns into her shoulder blade and her legs tangle with his as she moves closer and into him. Outside rain spits against the window.
It's surprising, especially to her, but she tells him a lot of true things about herself then. She tells him about the first safe she ever cracked, about the first thing she ever stole, about how she had wanted to be a ballerina when she was young and allowed to make frivolous wishes for the future. She tells him that she can remember being happy once, when her parents were still alive, but the memory is faulty at best.
What she doesn't tell him is this: her mother killed herself with a revolver and her father killed himself with the bottle; her fondness for guns is a conundrum, but her somewhat disastrous relationship with alcohol is almost expected, a vicious cycle she actively tries to break. She saved Jen's life and felt as though it was her duty to look after the young girl long afterwards. Selina had found the younger girl in the gutter, bloody and broken with clothes torn and innocence lost. Selina cleaned her up, set her straight, and found the man who left scars both figurative and metaphorical and gave him some of his own to remember her by. She doesn't tell Bruce that the first life she took was by accident, but she had meant it, and he had deserved it, and those two things have helped her to sleep at night ever since.
Selina doesn't tell him these things because she's been keeping secrets for so long she doesn't know how to exist without the weight of them anymore.
Besides, a part of her figures he probably knows them anyway.
The next day, Bruce comes looking for her down near the river in the early morning, her feet in the water as she bunches the skirt of her dress in a fist to keep it from getting wet. He had started fidgeting in his sleep somewhere near dawn; it made her restless so she had slipped out without a noise, started wandering without any real direction. Selina hears him now as he nears her, notes the way he drags his weaker leg behind slightly, his gait uneven as he shuffles his feet against the sand. These sorts of things are unnoticeable to the casual observer, but Selina has long since developed a routine out of noting people's points of weakness, filing them away for future use. It's a hard habit to break.
When the weight of his fingers press against the small of her back, she has to remind herself not to lean in to his touch, but she forgets too easily how nice it feels to allow somebody else to carry some of her weight – even if it is just for a passing moment.
Selina is the first to speak, her voice even, guarded as she says, "I can't figure out what it is you want from me."
His palm flattens against her back before falling away. "Nothing more than you're willing to give me," he tells her and she resists the urge to roll her eyes because he can be the most infuriating person on the planet when he gets like this – noble, patient, kind. Selina deals better with anger. She is comfortable with anger, knows exactly how to bend it until it fuels her into action, until she can make it her own. She doesn't know patience. She definitely doesn't know kindness.
"I'm not a nice person, Bruce," she reminds him softly. "I'm not noble. I'm selfish. I'm a thief… I think you have this idea of me in your head and you have absolutely no idea how wrong it is. I can never live up to that. I can never be anyone except who I am."
"I know you," he tells her, and Selina wants for his sort of faith, she wants to be able to believe in things the way he does. "I know you," he repeats, and maybe there is truth in those words, she thinks. Still, she is trying to rectify the fact that Bruce has seen the worst parts of her, understands the worst parts of her, and still sticks around, still wants her by his side. "I know you came back. You had your chance to get out clean, and you didn't. You came back."
Selina's gaze flicks towards his. It is the closest they have ever come to talking about that night and a sour taste coats the back of her throat. She swallows around it, presses her mouth into a thin, straight line. "I didn't do that for you."
He laughs softly and smiles like he has a secret that is his and his alone. "I know," he says.
They stand there side by side for a long time, sinking down further into the earth as the water crashes gently around their ankles.
Suitcases stand tall and tidy near the door to the bedroom, more out of habit than something else entirely. Bruce eyes them and then her, Selina's line of sight catching his in the mirror as she fumbles with her earrings, readying herself for the day.
In the doorway, Bruce lingers, shoulder resting against the frame as he regards her curiously. Already they have these routines, she thinks, and the smile she offers him then is small, honest, with just a flash of teeth; his mouth twitches in response.
"I want you to stay," he tells her softly. His eye sight never leaves hers.