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Red In Tooth and Claw

Chapter Text

She wore a black silk dress that shimmered in the bright lights of the ballroom and every eye should have been on her, yet no one but he seemed to notice her. The garment fit her well, hugging to her lithe curves easily, but he noted something in her walk that suggested she’d rather be anywhere else except here. He watched her slink through the crowd like a prowling cat — a woman on a mission, he thought.

He set down his glass on the nearest serving tray and decided to follow the lovely stranger. It was his party, after all, and he made it a point to know all the guests.

The girl was small and slipped through the throng of people as if she were smoke, leaving nothing but a vague scent of perfume behind her. Luckily, he had plenty of experience hunting down elusive prey.

No one else saw her, or if they did they certainly didn't think her important enough to be noted. But, to him, she was the only one worth noticing. The way her body moved in doorways and tight spaces, light as the air she stepped through, captivated him and he needed to know who this woman was.

Suddenly, her figure was no longer in his sight. His fists clenched — he wasn't used to being eluded so easily. He shook his head; there were more distinguished guests to impress, after all.

He turned back towards the ballroom, trying in vain to push thoughts of the mysterious woman out of his head. Then, he spotted something. There, on the dark green carpeting, was a small, black glove. An elegant accessory made of leather so soft that he had almost mistaken it for silk. He bent to pick it up, and was hit with a stinging pain to back of his head.

Before his vision went back, he saw a pair of green, catlike eyes peering down at him in triumph.

-

He awoke to a scratchy rope tied around his wrists, and the curious smile of the mystery guest from before. She was younger than he pictured, with auburn hair and those same bright green eyes he saw in the hallway. She sat across from him, in his favorite chair, with her shiny black heels in her hand. She could have been his sister's age, still at university, but her eyes told of hardship, not the look of a privileged Park Avenue princess.

"You weren't on the guest list," he finally said, returning her ambiguous stare with a curious one of his own.

She smiled, running her fingers over the gold embroidery of his armchair, "Upset that I crashed your party?"

"Only because I don't know your name," he smirked, then gestured to his hands, "and because I'm a prisoner in my own bedroom."

"I had to take precautions," she said, "I don't know you very well, after all."

She locked eyes with him, the feline quality making a repeat appearance in the dim lighting. She seemed to be studying him, but for what he couldn't guess. 

“Who are you?” he asked, the words tumbling from his lips before he could stop himself.

She stared at him for a moment, before getting up from her chair and he repeated his question as she paced around the room, her lone gloved hand running across the surfaces of his furniture.

It was frustrating to have someone so defiant in his presence. He was used to receiving prompt answers—no one ignored him, no one could. As she examined his things he began to tug at the ropes on his wrists. The knot wasn’t anything special, an easy one to slip through, which he found a bit disconcerting. Either she was very stupid, or she had planned on him getting away.

Somehow he doubted it was the former.

She was into his parlor, out of eyesight, when he got himself loose. He peered around the doorframe to see her disappearing into his office, russet hair swinging in time with her hips.

“Who are you?” he asked, chuckling when she flinched at the sound of his voice.

“An exemplary friend,” she leaned against his mahogany desk, her posture casual but her eyes wary, “or a dangerous enemy.”

She gestured towards him, “Take your pick, Mr. Kabra.”

He moved forward and planted his hands on either side of her hips, emphasizing his next words, “What is your name?”

She tilted her head in curiosity and pressed her gloved hand to his heart, pushing him back slightly. Then, she leaned forward; light puffs of her breath tingled against his neck, and she whispered, “I’ll tell you next time.”

She slipped from his distracted embrace and was out the door before he registered what she’d stolen from his desk—

His father’s gold pocket watch.

He walked dejectedly back into his parlor, silently berating himself for letting that girl get the better of him. As he turned towards his favorite armchair, he tripped and steadied himself against the armrest. There on the carpet was a pair of black, patent leather heels—the same shoes the elusive stranger had been wearing earlier. The same shoes she had been holding in her ungloved hand.

He pressed the intercom button on his side table, “Bickerduff, I need you to run some fingerprints for me.”

Let’s see if this kitty has a home.

Chapter Text

Molly Ridgewall was used to making quick getaways. 

Her mother was a raging alcoholic four days a week and a narcoleptic the other three. But, thanks to her mother's beloved new boyfriend, the fire escape had been getting even more use these days. 

The pervert (his name was unimportant to Molly) would spend a little too much time staring at her over dinner when he should have been taking advantage of her drunk mother.

Molly had gotten used to these lecherous glances and had learned to ignore them, but tonight was different.

Tonight, he showed what was behind those seedy looks— and it wasn't rainbows and kittens.

She was used to handling herself, but she was weaker than she liked to believe. The man had a hand to her throat as soon as her mother passed out on the sofa, and all she could do was scream. 

The next few minutes were a blur of screams, "shut the fuck up"s, and a loud banging in her head. Her tshirt was torn down the side and the man's fingers on her throat were quickly causing bruises to appear, but he seemed to be more focused on getting her to quiet down then anything else. 

She looked at his unctuous eyes, remembering the charm he'd pursued her mother with, and spit right into them. She hoped it would distract him enough to let go of her for even a second or two, but instead he shoved her to the ground, muttering curses and pressing her wrists above her head.

"Do that again," he breathed in her ear, hot air feeling slimy against her skin, "and I'll slit your drunk-ass mother's throat."

Molly gulped and shut her eyes. Please, someone, anyone...

The man reached for the rip in the side of her shirt and pulled it until the thread broke clean. A small sob escaped her lips when she felt cool air on her chest, and, in a last ditch effort, she screamed once more.

"You little c—"

He was cut off by a loud bang and Molly's eyes opened just in time to see the man fall backwards, blood splattered on the wall behind him.

Astonished, she sat up and looked around for her savior only to find the front door open and the hallway empty. She stood up on shaky legs, and with one last look at her mother, and the dead man on her carpet, she ran out the door.

-

Dan Cahill was no hero.

Sure, he wanted to be. He’d always dreamed of having superpowers and a secret identity, but instead, he was a petty criminal. Not a master thief like his sister. He wasn’t even allowed to help her anymore after he botched up her last job and almost landed them both in jail. Now, he stuck conning people out their money the old fashioned way—gambling, hustling, pick-pocketing; any way he could make a buck. He had never saved a life, or taken anyone else’s. He lived a miserable existence.

But tonight was different.

It started with when he heard the screams coming from the apartment down the hall. They were clearly female, and she was definitely in trouble. Usually, Dan would never get involved in other people’s business, but he was sick of sitting inside waiting patiently while his sister scaled rooftops.

So, he found himself kicking down the door of apartment 423 and planting a bullet in some guy’s head.

The man had a girl on the ground underneath him, struggling to get free, and Dan didn’t need to think about consequences. He knew he was part of the scum of Gotham’s underbelly, but he also knew there existed people even lower than that and, for those people, death was a kindness—they deserved so much worse than a single bullet.

He heard the girl gasp at the body now lying in front of her and took that as his cue to leave.

He wasn’t a hero, after all.

-

Molly spotted her knight-in-grey-sweatshirt as soon as she rushed down the emergency stairs. He walked slowly, as if he didn’t care about the person behind him, or maybe he didn’t even hear her.

She called out to him, the sound echoing off the walls, and he turned toward her.

“What?” He said, pulling his hood down. Molly peered curiously at him in the dim light of the stairwell. He seemed normal enough—young, too. Not the kind of guy that she imagined would stick up for her.

“Why’d you help me?”

The stranger shrugged, “I had nothing else to do tonight.”

He looked her over, then unzipped his jacket, “You need this more than I do.”

She suddenly realized that she was standing in a dark stairwell with a strange man in only her bra and jeans.

Any other day she might have been freaked out, but this was nothing compared to the mess upstairs.

She thanked him for the sweatshirt and zipped it up to her neck—it was a bit chilly.

“Why’d you run?” she stepped into line with him as they continued their trek down to the first floor.

He stuffed his hands into his jeans’ pockets, “I guess I didn’t want anyone to know.”

“You saved me,” she said, placing her hand on his elbow to slow his pace, “that’s nothing to feel ashamed of.”

“I’m not a good guy,” he said, shaking his head as they walked out into the alley where the emergency staircase lead, “I don’t want to be your hero.”

“Well, that’s tough, buddy,” she said, her voice taking on the tone her mom used to scold the cat, “Because you are.”

She continued staring him down, “And I’m not leaving you alone until you at least give me your name.”

 “You’re really something, aren’t you?” He chuckled softly, his eyes suddenly bright, then he sighed, “all right, fine.”

Molly grinned triumphantly and stuck out her hand, “I’m Molly Ridgewall.”

He grasped her hand firmly, smiling slightly at her nerve, “Dan Cahill.”

“So, Dan,” she leaned against the graffitied wall behind them, “I’ve got a dead body in my apartment and it’s all your fault…”

She smirked at him, amused at his shocked expression, “what are you going to do about it?”

Chapter Text

“We need to get you out of here,” Dan scanned the alleyway for signs of life before pulling Molly towards the sidewalk. You never know when someone is lurking around the corner in Gotham, waiting to narc on their fellow man to make a buck.

“You could be in trouble once police show up,” he added, “we could be in trouble.”

“So, you’re going to take me somewhere safe?” Molly asked, yanking her arm out of his grip and sliding her hand in his instead.

He nodded distractedly, still focused on the people who could be listening, “Do you know of a place?”

She laughed, small dimples appearing in her cheeks, “What if I told you that I know the owner of the safest place in the city?”

Dan knew exactly what she was referencing and almost laughed with her, but one look into her steely blue eyes and he knew she wasn’t joking.

She wanted him to take her to Kabra Manor, home of the elusive billionaire known for his impenetrable security system—at least, that’s what Dan knew him as. Every inch of the mansion was burned inside his skull, thanks to his sister’s “borrowed” blueprints of the place. Dan knew more ways to escape in case of fire than probably Ian Kabra himself.

“How do you know the Cobra?” he asked, using the nickname bestowed upon the rich misanthrope by the regular citizens of Gotham. It wasn’t originally meant to be an insult—the Kabra family crest featured a coiled snake—but some of the poorer class tended to use it as one.

Molly whistled for a cab and tugged him into the backseat before answering, “I went to school with his younger sister.”

Dan grimaced at the mention of Natalie Kabra. She was incredibly beautiful—and never let anyone forget it. He had a run-in with her once and had hoped to never see her again, but it looked like she was about to become a stiletto in his side once more.

-

Natalie Kabra was used to getting her way.

When she wanted new shoes, her brother provided the money—though, sometimes it took a few extra ‘pleases.’ 

When she wanted her boyfriend to take her to that new restaurant on Fifth, all she had to do was drop a few hints—make him think it was his idea—and, voila, she received an exquisite three course meal.

When she needed a taxi, they always stopped for her. Men always opened doors for her, even getting out of their seats to do so. She was on every guest list in the city; no matter who or what the party was for, she was invited to them all.

But, this, this was the one thing that no one would let her have.

“Natalie,” her brother began, his voice taking on an aggravated tone, “I told you, no.”

She let out a whine, and shook the garment bag at him, “I even had the costume custom fitted!”

“You can wear it for Halloween, then,” he made a dismissive gesture with his right hand, not looking up from what he was writing, “Now go find something else to do. You’re interrupting my work.”

“Fine!” Natalie yanked the costume off his desk and stomped out of the office. She paused at the doorway and made a very rude gesture before slamming the heavy oak door shut, the frames on the hallway wall rattling in her wake.

“He’ll need my help eventually,” she muttered, her new red pumps clacking loudly on the wood flooring, “I’ll make him see the light.”

She had just shoved the garment bag back into her closet when she heard the clanging of the front doorbell. She glanced at the clock—11:32 pm—and slipped off her shoes, silently walking along the edge of the stairs to peek on the unexpected guest.

Bickerduff answered the door, despite technically getting off duty two hours prior, and Natalie crept around the banister to get a better look.

“Miss Ridgewall,” Bickerduff’s voice carried through the corridor as he opened the door wider, “how very nice to see you.”

Natalie let out a breath of relief and continued down the stairs, in full line of sight this time. She had just stepped off the final step when she noticed someone else standing behind her friend.

A scraggly-haired, poorly dressed boy that she had hoped to never run into again.

The bastard that spilled tomato bisque all over her limited edition Valentino wrap-dress, stole her diamond bracelet under the guise of helping her clean it up, and then took her new BMW for a joyride.

And, now, he had the nerve to show up at her house!

“Hey, Natalie, sorry to—” Molly stopped speaking when she noticed Natalie’s gaze and who it was directed at.

She looked back and forth between the pair, noting Dan’s casual stance and Natalie’s venomous glare, “Do you two know each other?”

“No,” Dan said at the same time Natalie answered, “yes.”

“Well…” Dan shifted his weight to his other leg, obviously nervous in Natalie’s presence (which, according to her, he rightly should have been), “not really.”

“He’s a criminal, Molly,” Natalie then pointed an accusatory finger at him, her eyes becoming darker with every angry breath she took, “I should have you locked up!”

“Hey!” Dan stepped towards her, his hands curled into tight fists on his sides, “I returned both the car and the bracelet, thank you.”

Natalie turned up her nose at his brashness and crossed her arms, “You didn’t buy me a new dress.”

“Yeah, well, you—”

“What’s going on, Natalie?”

She cringed at the sound of her brother’s voice, trying to determine if telling him that it was ‘none of his business’ was a good idea.

By the look on his face, it wasn’t.

“Well?” Ian Kabra raised his eyebrows, his back straight and arms crossed, staring down at Dan as if the boy were a sewer rat, “who is he?”

Before Natalie could start calling Dan a thief again, Molly stepped up and began to explain what happened. She watched Ian’s eyes soften a little when she mentioned her mother’s boyfriend and what the cretin tried to do. His mouth seemed to begin to smirk as she came to Dan’s part in the tale, but then quickly corrected itself into a frown.

Ian then turned and addressed Dan, “Where did you get a gun?”

Dan took a deep breath, “It was my dad’s.”

Ian nodded, then told his sister to get Molly some new clothes. Natalie dragged Molly up the stairs, leaving Dan to wonder if he should follow or just get the hell out before someone decided to feed him to the tiger in the basement.

Ian peered down at him once more, “Daniel, is it?”

“I prefer Dan.” He answered, still wary of the man.

“I have a proposition for you,” Ian gestured to the door behind them, the office he had come out of, “if you’d like to hear it.”

Something in Ian’s voice told Dan that he really didn’t have a choice but to follow, and he wasn’t interested in facing the consequences of not doing so. Nothing about the man seemed harmless, after all, and the stories he’d heard on the streets about the Kabra family didn’t make the millionaire’s aura appear any brighter.

Dan walked through the doorway and sat in the chair closest to his exit. The large oak door clicked behind him, then clicked again as the lock was turned. His heart sped up a notch at the thought of possibly being trapped in the tiny room with an eccentric. The man had seemed very calm about what happened to his sister’s friend that night, while a normal person would have been shocked and immediately called the police. His relaxed demeanor was unnerving to Dan, who was used to dealing with people who didn’t fare so well at the mention of murder.

Ian sat behind the desk, one arm crossed on top of the other, amusement in his dark eyes.

“I would like your help with something,” he began, pausing to examine the perplexed expression on Dan’s face, “how would you like to work for me?”

Dan’s heart stopped for a moment and he managed to sputter some sort of interrogative phrase, causing Ian to chuckle.

“You shot an assailant square in the forehead and managed to avoid hurting his victim,” the man leaned forward, his lips quirking upwards in a smug smile, “there’s no need to be so modest.”

Dan stared at him wide-eyed, running over the last few minutes in his mind to make sure he wasn’t misinterpreting anything, before blinking in shock at his conclusion—

This millionaire in a designer suit was impressed by a street boy in jeans.

Chapter Text

The doorbell rang with a clatter that shook the entire apartment and scared Amy Cahill to the point of spilling a pot of coffee—from earlier that morning, thankfully—all over herself. She started to yell for her brother to get the door instead so she could quickly find something else to wear, but Dan still hadn’t come back from wherever he was the night before.

She glanced at herself in the mirror as she passed the door, noting the dark stain forming on her grey tank top and the disheveled state of her auburn hair. It was doubtful that anyone important would be at the door, but she still felt like she needed a shower before opening it. She cursed the giant Christmas wreath on her door that obstructed her from viewing out the peephole and cautiously creaked the door open.

She was not prepared for the richest man in the city to be standing in the decrepit hallway next to her younger brother. Dan grinned  at her, slipping inside the small opening and leaving Amy agape at Ian Kabra. He was almost just as she’d last seen him at his annual holiday party—tall, dark, and handsome in a thousand dollar suit—but this time sporting tired eyes and a sheepish smile.

“Did—Did Dan do something?” Amy shook herself out of the initial surprise, assuming Dan had tried to claim a bigger target last night than what he’d set out for, “I’ll accept responsibility for whatever it was.”

“No, he hasn’t done anything wrong,” Ian Kabra’s smile became a little wider then, “In fact, he was a hero last night.”

Amy’s hand went slack and dropped from the door, “A h-hero? Dan? Are you sure?”

Her brother, a hero? What had happened last night? He’d only gone out to run something for the old Russian that lived next door—Amy was pretty sure the man sold drugs, but he was kind and paid Dan well—and clear his head, not play Superman.

Ian (Mr. Kabra? What was she supposed to call him?) gestured behind her, “Perhaps I could come inside and tell you the whole story?”

She stepped back to let him in, no sense trying to prolong the visit—the less a target knew about her, the better. She mentally noted everything in her apartment, making sure that everything remotely valuable (and stolen) was tucked away somewhere. She couldn’t have Ian finding the pocket watch she’d procured from him the other night. She’d been fighting the slow panic that was rising up her throat since she opened the door and she swallowed it once more before following him to the meek living area.

Ian, a true gentleman, waited until she’d sat down on the sofa next to Dan, who already gotten a beer out of the fridge and was in the process of trying to turn on his Xbox when Amy snatched the controller out of his hand.

“We have company,” she hissed, before turning to Ian and self-consciously straightening her cardigan, “Now, what exactly happened last night?”

Ian shifted uncomfortably in the worn armchair until he was satisfied that it was never going to get more comfortable and looked at Amy with the same amber eyes that recently held so much curious animosity toward her, “Young Daniel saved a school friend of my sister’s last night.”

“It was the girl in 3B,” Dan supplied, “Molly.”

“Yes, Molly Ridgewall,” Ian nodded, his attention tearing from Amy’s for a moment, “Daniel heard her scream and found her step father attempting to harm her.”

Amy’s eyes narrowed. She’d met the man in the hall many times, sometimes sober sometimes not, but always a horrendous leach. He was the reason she never checked the mailboxes at night or came outside in her bathrobe.

“Daniel,” Ian continued, “did what he thought best at the time and shot the man in the back of the head.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Amy couldn’t have heard that correctly, “He shot a man? With what gun?”

Dan, visibly uncomfortable in such close proximity to his slowly angering sister, shrugged, “I bought it off Olav, just in case.”

Amy’s panic was rising quicker, “In case of WHAT?”

Dan shrugged again, “I’m not as quick as you are. I thought I might need protection of some sort…”

Ian cleared his throat, Amy snapping back to him at the sound (damn that magnetic quality that billionaires had), “I understand that this is a lot to process, but the important thing is that Daniel saved someone from danger.”

“I would also love to speak to you alone, if I may,” Ian paused, putting on an abashed smile, “I’m sorry, I never asked your name.”

Alone? He couldn’t possibly know anything, right?

“It’s Amy,” she managed a smile that she hoped seemed confident, whereas her insides were dancing the tango on a bed of hot lava, “we can go into the kitchen, if you’d like. I know Dan is eager to play his new video game.”

Dan gave a whoop of approval and Amy handed him the controller, telling him to keep it down.

Ian stood up first and offered her a hand getting up—he’d never do that if he knew the truth, she thought—and she led the way to the kitchen, loud gunshots from whatever Dan was playing following behind them.

“I’d like Dan to come work for me,” Ian said when they finally sat down, “I could train him in my vocation so he’d never feel as if he needed to use a gun in his daily life again.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kabra,” Amy almost breathed a sign of relief that the conversation wasn’t about her foray as Mysterious Party Guest #1, “I’m not sure I even know what you do.”

Ian laughed and his eyes lit up nicely despite the horrible fluorescent lighting. It was a nice change from his stoic portrait she saw every week in the newspaper.

“Please, just call me Ian,” He smiled almost proudly at her, “I’m an art dealer and I could use a good assistant.”

An art dealer. Hmm. The cogs began to move in Amy’s mind. Dan would not only be privy to the Kabra mansion and its inner workings, but he would also be amongst thousands, maybe millions, of dollars-worth of art. This would make it much easier to infiltrate his collection.

And it just so happened that Amy knew an excellent art forger to help replace the missing pieces.

Although, it also meant that Ian would be closer to her, closer to finding out her dirty secrets. Would it be worth it?Absolutely.

“When would he start?” She asked.

Ian’s lips tugged higher and he folded his fingers together, “As soon as he’s packed.”

“Packed?” Amy’s brows furrowed, “packed for what?”

“Well,” Ian leaned back in his chair as if he were sitting in one of his two-hundred dollar office chairs (Amy knew—she’d looked them up at Staples), “I’d need him to be at my call at all hours. He’s told me he doesn’t have a car and I can’t rely on public transit to get him to me in time.”

“You want him to live with you?”

Ian nodded, “Yes, if that’s all right with you, of course.”

Someone on the inside with a full pass to Kabra manor? There had to be a catch. The universe would never let the Cahills get this lucky.

“You would be welcome to visit, obviously,” Ian paused, the gleam back in his eyes, “you should keep an eye on your belongings, though. Leaving behind shoes only worked for Cinderella.”

No, the universe was not this kind. The universe was a tricky mistress, solely here to ruin lives and screw up daydreams.

The panic rose up in Amy’s abdomen and back into her throat. She forced it down with a hard swallow and pretended she was back in the manor, a thin mask across her eyes—the only way she could be as confident as she wished, it seemed. She couldn’t think of anything to say, however, no matter how steely she made her eyes.

“I’ll keep them safe for you,” Ian said, standing up to leave, and winked at her, “you’ll need them for our next encounter.”

Amy silently watched him wave goodbye to Dan and shut the door, the bubbles subsiding within her. For once in her life, she was the one who was caught in a trap and she had no idea what her captor planned to do with her.