Disclaimer: I do not own Pretty Little Liars in either of its forms. Neither do I own Batman/Batwoman, Catwoman or any of the DC Universe characters. I just think they're shiny.
Author's Note: Obviously A/U. The rating is a high 'T' for now, we may slip into 'M' later, I'll let you know when we get there.
Previously on Gotham Knights:
Tonight she captures the Joker.
Upside down, drug across half of Gotham, she's been in worse places.
'Mr. Fitzgerald, welcome back to Arkham'.
'Aria Montgomery. She can handle him.'
'You'd better hope so.'
Hastings doesn't offer her thanks as they walk away. She never has. The closest they've come is a pregnant stare, words paralyzed, her counterpart unwilling to admit their symbiosis is all that holds a fractured city together. It's a limitation in their partnership that she's come to accept, childish need to impress authority turned to ash with her parent's death.
She doesn't protest his declaration, body all too willing to remind her of every nick as tight leather chafes at raw skin. A concussion is no doubt brewing, stomach balking at the water Robin offers as she slides into the unfamiliar passenger seat. The drive back is long enough that she allows herself the luxury of letting her mind wander. It's a constant loop, inner tactician searching the night's events for points of improvement. They're unfortunate in their multitude.
Too slow to the scene. Processing of the body hampered by the questions of her partner. A hesitation in letting loose a batarang that could have taken Joker down and saved his cohorts in the process.
The melodic cacophony of water hitting rock pulls her attention back to the present. A waterfall, some twenty feet high, conceals the entrance to the cave; a yawning mass of jagged crags and crevices that shelter them from prying eyes. She makes less point of tamping down on the pain, there are no secrets here.
A circular platform sits at center stage of a swirling moat, a parking lot for their most used toys: two modified motorcycles, two ATV's and a cigarette boat small enough to navigate the sewers of the city. It's a short set of stairs from the parking platform to the wall of computer monitors that comprise their main tech station.
As always during patrol, the computer is occupied; teacher turned guardian, turned accomplice in her war against crime.
"Another quiet arrest, I see." Fulton speaks without turning, hands manoeuvring deftly across keyboards with a speed that threatens to make an uneasy stomach rebel.
"If they'd come quietly, I'd arrest quietly," she counters, kneeling beside her mentor, a silent request for help. It's easy work with two good arms, Fulton lending hers to tug the cowl free of a sweat slick head.
"Dislocated your shoulder again?"
"Third time this year," Caleb offers helpfully, peeling the latex mask from his face. Smudged boot black eyes leave him reminiscent of a raccoon.
"Nobody asked you."
"Enough, both of you. Caleb, get the video feeds from your suits downloaded. Paige, medical."
She's tempted to resist, stubbornly dig in her heels. The technique has never worked with Fulton, neither in the classroom or at home. Compliance is a foregone conclusion. Paige stands with a grunt, overtaxed body registering its individual complaints as she walks to medical. Removing the suit is a chore in itself, every piece acting the traitor, refusing to give way without undue effort that sends her stomach roiling.
"Sit down before you pass out." It's a soft order, one she accepts with what little dignity remains after tonight's incident. "Want to tell me what happened out there?" The words are quiet as Fulton tugs the Kevlar armour from her upper body.
"I brought the Joker down."
"You nearly went down with him. You're getting reckless."
"You could have let him go, Paige. I had eyes on him. Instead you risked your life, and God knows how many others, to take him down. If that helicopter had hit one of the mass density buildings..."
Substandard supports, poorly protected gas lines and exploding jet fuel. A catastrophe cocktail.
"It didn't. I was in control."
Fulton's stare is the definition of disagreement. She walks to medical lab computer, easily calling up a news feed that showcases the wildly spinning chopper. "Tell me, what about this is 'in control'?"
Paige wishes she could feel chastened or put forth false regret but Fulton would know it was an act and lies aren't something they suffer between them. "I had to stop him." It's the only truth she knows.
"That man will be the end of you."
"Maybe I'll get lucky and we'll be the end of each other."
It's not the answer Fulton wants -sorely lacking in regret or remorse- but it's all Paige has to offer. Ten years in, she's tired. They both are. "Take those contacts out, I need to check your pupils."
A quick swipe of thumb and forefinger peels the whiteout contacts from her eyes, irises hazel once more. She submits to gentle pokes and prods, after years of patching up bruises, broken bones and bullets holes, Fulton is as familiar with her body as she is.
"You're going to have a hell of a time covering this up for the gala tomorrow." Dark hands, a stark contrast to milky skin, trace a pattern around a vividly blooming bruise that paints most of her shoulder.
"The McCullers Foundation is throwing a fundraising gala for the new district attorney, Toby Cavanaugh."
"Damn, I forgot. I don't suppose you'll let me beg off the dog and pony show?"
Pursed lips and a raised eyebrow are answer enough. "Your secret identity only works when you actually live it, Paige. We've been over this."
"Can't Caleb go in my place?"
"You're a McCullers -Gotham royalty- standing up in support of the DA. You can't send your assistant. Besides, he's not comfortable rubbing elbows with the Gotham elite."
"You would be if you attended more of the events I arrange for you."
The grieved sigh that escapes earns a friendly cuff to the back of the head. "At least tell me you didn't arrange a date?"
"To give you double the reason to dig in your heels? Not this time. Caleb will be escorting you."
"Fine. How is that I'm twenty eight and I still let you still boss me around like I'm a pre teen?"
"Because, despite that," Fulton points to yet another replay of the chopper crash. "I think you do actually know what's best for you."
"This is stupid, I look stupid."
"You look fine. You'll be fine."
"You do remember that you found me living under a bridge, right?"
"That was four years ago, Caleb. I assure you, the smell of cardboard and campfire has washed off."
He doesn't like her attempt at levity. It happens rarely enough that he can't tell when she's joking. He's called her a snob more than once. Maybe she is. She's tried every incarnation of secret identity; rich brat, aloof benefactor, involved philanthropist. None of them stuck, not fully. She's an odd amalgam of them now, part of it may well be snob.
A server offers them champagne and she accepts, holding back a grimace as she holds thin crystal. Her shoulder protests even the slight weight of the flute, an embarrassing weakness. If Caleb notices, he's learned not to say. Fulton is the only one allowed to dote on her.
Hastings moves through the crowd, more comfortable amongst Gotham's higher ups than Paige would profess to be. Hastings is from good breeding, bucking her family lineage to police criminals rather than defend them. Gotham's youngest Commissioner, forged in the fires of No Man's Land.
Paige throws back the flute of champagne, relieving herself of the empty flute as a server passes. Caleb is good enough to snag a second for her, following at her elbow as she approaches the Commissioner. An unfortunate necessity as host.
"Commissioner Hastings, good of you to attend."
"Miss McCullers, good of you to throw such a... bountiful event. It's nice to know some people haven't been put under hardship after everything that's happened."
It's a dig that Paige accepts, part of her role to play. The Commissioner would never associate an over the top rich kid with Gotham's dark vigilante. "What can I say, Commissioner? I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is and I believe in Toby Cavanaugh."
A quick toast and Paige excuses herself, well aware they're both grateful to part ways. Much as she respects Hastings, neither of her identities get along with the woman who appears more refined steel than cultured lady.
"Want me to get you a jacket? I'm pretty sure the room just dropped to freezing." Caleb addresses her but his eyes roam the crowd for trouble. A gathering of wealthy Gothamites is a tempting target for anyone with an axe to grind or bill to pay.
"It's fine. We don't need to be friends, we both have jobs to do."
"You'd think with the Joker back in custody she could at least spare a smile."
Paige purses her lips. Caleb's not a city native, escaping the worst of Gotham's depression. For everything he's gone through, tragedy, poverty, he was never responsible for more than himself. Hastings has taken on the mantle of justice in a city that spits on idealism, a duty that hangs heavy. It's a consideration he doesn't understand. Yet.
"She's the Commissioner of the city with the highest crime and violent crime rate in the first world. So long as she doesn't end up at Arkham or throw herself off the Gotham Bridge, I'll consider it a win."
His answer is deflection. "Not that this place isn't great, but why did you waste money renting out a museum? You could have just used the mansion or the penthouse."
"This place is six months away from bankruptcy, the price I paid to rent it for the evening should keep it going for another year."
"That's important because?"
The question reminds her that, for the four years of partnership, he's still her junior in many ways. He's young, not necessarily in age but definitely in experience playing long terms games. Years living on the street taught him to think in short time lines, the next dollar, the next meal, the bed. She's learned to plan. Patience isn't just a virtue, it's a necessity.
"If Gotham ever wants to truly pull itself out of depression, education, art, and culture will be the tows. This is one of the few free museums left in the city and the only one easily accessible to underprivileged from the Narrows."
It's all the answer she has attention for, concentration unexpectedly pulled from her companion to that of a woman entering the gala. Her escort is pretty enough, a mid height blonde with an obvious sense for fashion. She's dismissed out of hand, Paige's focus rests solely on the woman beside her.
Rich hair, chestnut silk, drapes across bare shoulders. Her dress, a satin purple halter top, has left no piece of fabric to chance, sliding across a toned body as though it were second skin. The bottom hem clears appropriate -barely- leading in to long legs, athletic form further accentuated by heels that make calves and ass stand at attention. Paige thinks the newcomer is familiar, a half remembered dream in the haze of the early morning.
"If you're so worried about this place staying open, why not just buy it?"
"What makes you think I didn't?" Paige leaves Caleb to fend for himself, collecting two champagne flutes from an unguarded tray as she approaches the new arrivals. It's part act. She's meant to present herself as a romancing scoundrel, another piece in her personal play. The blonde falls for it, a playful smirk crossing pink lips as Paige offers the champagne. Her friend is less impressed, obviously familiar with the game but Paige plays it better than most.
"Ladies, welcome. I'm Paige McCullers."
"Our illustrious host for the evening." It's the blonde speaking, offering a hand. "Hannah Marin."
"At your service, Ms. Marin and Ms..." She leaves off, expecting to at least pry a name loose from the silent woman. It works.
"Fields." It's all she offers, no first name, only a light handshake before she nods to someone to Paige's left. A quick excuse and both women are past her, leaving Paige to her confusion.
A complete brush off. That was...new. The McCullers name usually warrants at least a courtesy flirt. Caleb appears at her elbow as if summoned, following the women with his eyes.
"Who was that?"
"I have no idea. But I'm going to find out."