Gutpunched doesn't begin to describe it.
She twists around on one heel so quickly, so shocked, that she rocks back, half a degree too far - too stunned for her normal agility - and she is off-balance as the world is pulled out from under her, wincing and slipping backwards and trying desperately to think of a flip or a landing angle for breaking her fall.
A hand - it must be the man's - collides with her forearm and grabs on - and for an instant, her eyes are squinted tight and everything hangs in the balance.
The moment stretches out, as small details enter her awareness; the low rumbling noises of the city, the dawn-hour spring breeze, cool and soft across her face, and the fact that she is precariously leaning backward over a forty foot drop, with someone pulling her just barely in balance. Selina grabs his arm back with both of her own, and opens her eyes.
She almost lets go again.
But instead she wills every muscle in her body to drag herself upward, and as he helps, she pulls just hard enough to vault herself back upright and off the parapet, to land safely on the brick walkway circling the roof. She crouches for a moment and exhales, and finally looks at him - because of course, it's him.
He's dressed like a normal ex-billionaire; decidedly sharp but non-tactical street clothes, and his unmasked eyes are right there for her to try and fail to read. Slowly, he cracks a tentative smile.
Some savage emotion claws its way across her. She stands and crosses her arms, so he won't see them shaking, and her voice is low, as she accuses, "You said there was no autopilot."
"Are you ok?" Bruce moves toward toward her with a hand near her shoulder and she jerks away from his touch, instincts and desires utterly confused. She is incredulous, she is armorless - then she is unholy fury, and it almost feels like strength.
She locks her knees so they'll stop wavering and finally says, "What the fuck is this?"
He takes a step back, hands up where she can see them, and he says hesitantly, his eyes seeking hers, "...I was actually hoping you'd be happy to see me."
"The world thinks you're dead, " she spits back at him, as though it's the world she's concerned with.
"I know," and here he has the decency to look sheepish, "I wanted to add you to the short list that knows better." Somehow he is looking at her like she's the ghost, like it is her presence there that is the miracle.
Her throat is dry and her back is up against an open freefall.
She wants to grab him by the shoulders and feel for herself that he's alive. She wants to punch him for letting her worry, and then maybe punch herself for the same thing. And god dammit, there's a masochistic part of her that just wants to kiss him and lie to herself - to have a long nice minute or two of warm lips and strong arms, and pretending to believe in romance and redemption and the fairy tale of someone like him belonging with someone like her.
Those thoughts feel like a form of slipping far more dangerous than her little tango with gravity five minutes ago, and her remaining self-preservation instincts are signaling that she should bolt before she discovers she has a heart to break - but somehow she finds herself reaching for fight, instead of flight.
"Why?" She throws at him, narrowing her eyes, "Taking out loose ends now that Gotham's safe?"
"Hey - hey," he tilts his head incredulously, "I'm not here to off you. I think your world has been even darker than mine has... but we're square, you and I. Selina, I..." He swallows, and shakes his head. "I certainly don't mean you any harm." He says the final word with an awkward emphasis that is almost self-deprecating, almost self-conscious - and she freezes.
Affection. That's the emotion in the eyes that are currently trained on hers, round-edged and imploring some answer from her to an unasked question. She feels a little disoriented, and hears herself say, "Then why the note? What do you want from me?"
"You asked me to come with you; you said I could have gone anywhere, and now I can. I took your offer at face value..." He smiles again, his confidence seeming to grow, approaching cockiness as he says, with a grin, "...I'm sorry I'm late."
Burn it down.
No chance on earth this ends well. It's a trick after all, but it's one he's playing on himself - smitten Brahman goes slumming with a bad girl; give it a week before he comes to his senses and vanishes. Safer to cut it off, cauterize, survive.
The thoughts hit her like a kick to the breastbone, each one twinging her chest with pain, and she feels her shoulders arching up - but she wills them to stay down, wills her body to be confident. She breathes in, and shakily forces out a sugared sneer. "Aw, handsome, did you hear 'happily ever after'? I said you could skip town, same as I was. Didn't mean as a duo."
His eyes cloud with hurt, and it's surprisingly unsatisfying. The surge of panic drowns her this time, and in a snap decision, she quickly follows up, "If that's settled, I'll be heading out. Have a nice time being undead."
She gets maybe ten steps down the nearest ancient stone staircase, before she hears him call out nonchalantly, "I just spent four weeks in a hospital bed thinking about you. Would you like to get a drink sometime?"
She whirls around, fury and indignation surging through her veins, "This is a joke. If you want anything to do with me, it's only because you've got a hard-on for saving people, and I've got a bankrupt soul and a nice ass."
"Those are hard words," he says, with a calm skepticism that is absolutely maddening.
"I'm a hard woman."
"No," he says, strolling down the stairs after her and shaking his head. "You're not. You're tough, and you've been through hell."
"'Tough' is a nice way of saying 'corrupt.'" She furrows her eyebrows, tries not to wince as she notices he is walking with a slight limp, "When are you going to get it? I'm not like you, and no amount of guilt-tripping is going to miraculously turn me into a decent human being."
"Selina, people who are truly evil don't think they're doing a damn thing wrong." He reaches the bottom of the stairs and stands facing her, casually confrontational. "You're a good person who made mistakes, and you think that just because didn't pay the price with your life, that you have to spend the rest of your life paying penance by hating yourself."
She rolls her eyes, unable to stop them from blinking so much, trying to get some semblance of control and finding her own voice saying the cruelest things she can imagine. "I don't hate myself half as much as I hate amateur psychologists. You're wrong on all counts. I only look out for number one, and I've never given a damn about you."
"You came back to save my life," he says, and for a moment it seems like he's telling himself instead of her. "You kissed me."
A long beat passes, while she tries to look unyielding, and untempted by the idea of doing it again. His face is just inches from hers now, and there - flesh and blood and breathing - is the body of the man she thought was lost to life itself, let alone lost to her, and now she could just -
"Bullshit." She quickly breaks eye contact, moves to keep walking down the corridor on this level, and he keeps following her. The first rays of dawn are starting to creep in through the arches of the loggia, and she looks out across the bay at the dormant Mount Vesuvius and not back at him as she says, her voice thick, "The world was ending and you let a pretty girl plant one on you. That means nothing."
"You're wrong" he says gravely, "if that's all you think of yourself, and you're wrong if that's all you think it meant to me."
There are so many alerts and warning signals sounding off in her head right now that she can't even single out what she's thinking or what she's afraid of, and so she grabs the nearest thought and throws it over her shoulder like a weapon. "I don't think that anything means anything to a flippant playboy."
Bruce stops in his tracks. "Look, I tracked you across a couple of continents; I can't really play it cool here. That kiss made me decide to turn on the autopilot, when I had been hellbent on death two minutes before… did it really mean nothing to you?" He asks flatly, frankly.
"I couldn't let it mean anything more," she finally says, whirling around, choking on the word, fire in her throat, wiping her eyes, control unratcheting all over the place. "I've never thought that you meant any of it. You keep saying there's more to me, but I can't imagine any kind of more that could ever make up for leading you through the sewers to die. I blast the midtown tunnel open, I shoot the monster that's attacking you - and I still know every goddamn day that it was pennies on a million dollar debt. Your software might have cleared my name to the world, but I can't ever clear it to myself." She palms her eyes, angrily, shoving water off her face, voice ragged and raw, "I have done terrible things, and if you want me close to you now, you are a fool, and I don't have time for fools."
He nods, slowly, seeming to take it all in, then walks a few steps to lean against the pillar closest to her, and leisurely challenge her again. "What do you have time for? Your name is clear, your remaining profits from your previous career are yours to spend - and instead you spend a week preparing to leave every city you land in. From where I stand, it looks like you have nothing but time."
"Where have you been standing, exactly? Maybe I look nicer from the lovesick-stalker shadows." She glares at him, but the words she means to be seething just sound hollow and brittle.
"I'm not a fool," he says calmly, "And I don't love you. At least, I don't yet - I don't know you. But I can't shake the feeling that I want to. I thought there was nothing left for me in this life, but after meeting you for the first time, I wanted to go back out into the world. I don't know what that is. But I'd like to find out."
His words may oscillate between glib and guileless, but his eyes are going to be the death of her.
It's earnest and unashamed, his look - and so genuine that she almost feels the need to flinch away from seeing someone so momentarily unguarded. Doesn't he know you're not supposed to let people see you feel anything that unreservedly? The man with the armored aircraft and the Kevlar suit suddenly has no shields up, and it is unsettling her completely.
He seems to gather himself, during her silence.
"Are you out of worst case scenarios yet?" He asks with a wry smile.
"Tactical threat assessment has kept me alive this long," she says grimly, distracted, her head swimming.
"I don't doubt it," he says with something approaching sympathy, "but it's a lot less necessary now. There aren't consequences to haunt you or traps and double-crosses in every deal, anymore. Doing just what you have to do for survival is a thing of the past. Your life is yours, your name is free. What do you want to do, Selina?"
She can hear birds now, and diesel engines on the streets below, and the distant blast of ship horns from the harbor. Pale sunlight is beginning to fall across the red tiled roofs of the buildings stretching out to the east; the air is a little warmer. Her heart is suddenly hammering in her chest, and she decides to jump off a cliff.
He inhales sharply as she kisses him, and she can't pull him close enough, closing her eyes and pouring two months of sublimated heartache into a singular longing for him. It is beyond reason, beyond knowing better, beyond self preservation and for a terrible second he tenses and she worries she's made a terrible mistake - then he is kissing her back in earnest, his very real breath filling her own lungs.
She kissed him once because he was a mark, and once because he was a hero. She kisses him now because he is a man she wants to kiss.
And he wants to kiss her - his arms like steel rebar wrapped around her, crushing her against his chest as his lips press back against hers with with an urgency and intensity that momentarily fills her head with a rush like waves crackling across her brain, dark and dizzy and consumed entirely. Her pulse seems to be coming not from her heart but her entire chest and this is dangerous, this is losing control, this is how drowning begins - and there are a thousand reasons why any man on earth would be safer for her to kiss than this one.
His arms slowly relax around her, and one of his hands traces tenderly across her shoulder blade and down the back of her arm. She stops to take a breath and he presses his forehead to hers, his eyes still closed, his hand stroking past her elbow in a caress that turns sharp as his fingers deftly lock like a cuff around her wrist.
"Please don't run," he says in a low breath without opening his eyes - and it is a statement, an order, but it is also a plea.
She twitches against his grip instinctively, but his hand is like steel locked around hers, and he murmurs again, "Please."
He opens his eyes and looks into hers.
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for your reviews and messages! It turns out I was entirely wrong when I said this was going to only be a two-parter - there will be three chapters for certain, and possibly a fourth. It turns out I'm having too much fun with these characters to stop now. :-)
It also turns out that there's a lot more than two chapters of walls coming down and catharsis required, before these two could be cheerfully having a nice dinner on the banks of the Arno. I'll be very interested to hear your impressions and opinions on my characterizations here; in the film I think both of them project extraordinary outward confidence, but I think it's often a compensation for vulnerability, especially on Selina's part - so I wanted to show them both really feeling and even hurting, behind all that quipping.
Your reviews are a wonderful thing, and are a large part of my motivation to keep writing - so thank you in advance for any feedback.