Selina didn't care for parties. Too many people. She cared even less for Gotham. She'd have just as gladly never come back.
Yet here she was, at a party in Gotham.
Bruce Wayne kept nothing she wanted, nothing that wasn't his. And the cats liked him. They were good judges of character. Some part of her was glad.
She'd left the ballroom when she'd decided it wouldn't get better. She may have been a little overwhelmed. Too many people, too tempting to claw some of their faces off. Unpleasant smiles, looking at her like a potential pet. She was as wealthy as they were, but one wouldn't know it from the way they looked at her.
Wayne Manor had cats like some places had mice. They lived in the woods along the mountain, some descended from generations of ferals and others abandoned by idiots. Out in the garden and under the moonlight, they wound themselves around her legs and stretched out in the grass.
That one is coming, they said, but they were neither threatened nor excited. She turned her head. Bruce Wayne, remaining at a distance in the dark. He was the first to break the silence.
"That's a lot of cats."
Selina looked down at the clowder around her feet. "Cats like me."
"They must." He wasn't trying to come closer.
"Am I not supposed to be out here?" she asked.
"There's no rule against it. You okay?"
"I just needed some air."
"Okay." His hands were in his pockets, his expression indecipherable. Would she even have been able to see his face, with someone else's eyes? Would he have tried to look nicer, if he'd known she could see him? At worst he looked apathetic, or quietly inconvenienced. Not hungry. "Miss Kyle, right?"
"You were studying abroad, weren't you?"
"After a fashion." Dropout, runaway. He remembered, at least a little. Maybe that explained the distant kindness. Recognition, pity.
"I didn't mean to corner you out here." She could not have been less cornered. "Just wanted to make sure nothing was wrong." He adjusted his weight like he was planning to go.
"You don't have to leave."
Bruce stopped. Selina hadn't actually asked him to stay. "Alright," he said after a moment. Didn't ask questions, still didn't try to come closer.
That one is nice, they said, an I-told-you-so. A cat's definition of nice, letting interaction happen on their own terms. A scrawny tortoiseshell wandered away from the others to rub against Bruce's leg; he didn't seem to mind.
"Cats like you, too," she pointed out.
"Sometimes." The tortoiseshell meowed, meaningless noise to get Bruce's attention. He scooped it up almost absently, and it went limp on his arm as he scratched its head.
Selina stepped closer. He did nothing. "I don't think we've ever actually met," she said.
"We haven't," he confirmed. "Should I have introduced myself?"
"I know who you are." Bruce Wayne, such a shame, such lovely people, that poor boy, so unfortunate what happened.
There's never enough time. You got even less. Don't make yourself smile. Let it hurt. It might get better, but it might not. There is no good advice. Yours, Bruce Wayne.
"Why are you still here?" she asked.
"I live here," he pointed out, deliberately obtuse.
"You don't have to."
"It's home." The tortoiseshell held against his chest was purring like an engine. "Besides. What if someone bought the place who didn't like cats?" He might have been joking.
At some point she'd closed the gap between them. She shouldn't have. Fine as long as she didn't smile. She reached out and took the cat from him; he and the cat both let her. "I hate it here." She didn't owe him an explanation. Recognition, pity. Maybe she felt it, too.
"So why come back?"
"I won't be here long. Just picking up some things." She knelt to set the cat back in the grass; it rolled onto its back, but she left it there as she stood.
"I'm glad you made time to stop by, then." He might have meant it. That didn't mean anything.
She wrapped her arms around herself against the chill. "I still have your letter."
A suggestion of surprise. "Do you?"
Two worn-out pages of immaculate handwriting in a tattered envelope, three years and thousands of miles, tucked safely into her suitcase. "It was nice. Is nice."
"I tried. Are you cold?"
"I'm fine." A slinky dress in purple, it wasn't designed to be comfortable. Despite what she'd said, he unbuttoned the jacket of his tux. He offered it to her rather than try to put it around her shoulders.
"I can get myself another one," he said when she hesitated. "I live here. I have a lot of them."
She took it gently from his fingers, slid her arms into the sleeves. It was still warm, almost hot compared to the night air.
Claimed, they accused, because she'd wrapped herself in the smell of him and to them that meant something. She didn't pull it close. It didn't mean anything.
"Least I can do to make your stay in my city less loathsome."
"Your city," she repeated.
"It's home," he said again. "Where are you planning to go?"
"Anywhere. Everywhere. Have you ever been to Teotihuacan?"
"Can't say that I have."
"If you decide to go, you should call me," she said, a smile without teeth. "I can show you all the good stuff."
"I'll keep it in mind," he said, though he didn't ask for a way to contact her and she didn't offer. "Ready to come back in?"
"I think I'll wait another minute," she said, "and then I'll head out, actually. Sorry."
"Alright," he said, understanding or ambivalent but distant either way.
"Before you go inside, there was something I wanted to tell you."
She opened her mouth, shut it again with a silent huff of breath, averted her face to look down at lurking cats. He cocked his head to the side to try and see her face, brought it closer to hers in the process. Her chance to pounce. Balanced on her toes in heels, fingers splayed through his hair to pull him down, claim his mouth before he could realize what was happening and stop her.
The plan was to get it done quick, so Bruce wouldn't have a chance to push her away. She didn't want him to push her away. But she wanted to savor it, too, memorize every little detail to keep. The hint of stubble along his jaw, the smell of him. It reminded her of black tea in Paris, despite smelling like neither of those things. The muffled sound he made against her tongue, how rough his hands felt against her shoulders.
She needed to stop before he noticed her teeth. Before he pushed her away.
Selina almost let him go, took her lips from his and let her heels fall to the ground. But her hands lingered along his shoulders. Gentle confusion and not anger in his eyes, not disgust and not desire. She was grateful for that.
"You didn't even know me and you didn't need to say anything," she explained, "but you were the nicest. You were nice when you didn't need to be. That's why I came, tonight. I wanted to thank you in person."
She didn't want Bruce to look sad, but she didn't hold it against him. "I hope you've met nicer people since then."
"Nice," she said, "but not nicer."
He kissed her again, too gentle to be doing it for anyone but her. Sweetness, softness, affection offered because it cost him nothing to do so. She tried not to compare herself to the tortoiseshell. Part of her wished that he would mean it. That it didn't matter that he thought he'd never see her again.
Then he pulled away, and with a bittersweet not-smile stepped backward toward the door. "See you in Teotihuacan, Miss Kyle."
He even got the accent right.
"It's a date," she murmured to no one but the cats. When she was alone in the dark, she pulled his jacket tighter around herself, buried her nose in it.
Bruce Wayne was never going to see this jacket again.
Usually when Gotham City Museum was robbed, it wasn't particularly urgent. Most often just someone stealing according to their theme. But, occasionally, someone after an artifact or a weapon. Best to treat them all as a headache in the making.
Batman didn't recognize this one. Slender, or at least on the small side; looked female, but the kit made it hard to establish her figure. Blonde hair visible from under her cowl, no doubt in his mind that it was a wig. All in black, showed less skin than he did. Couldn't fault her taste.
"Want me to head over there?" Robin asked through the communicator in his ear.
"It's under control. I'll keep you posted."
Not that he particularly liked leaving Robin to his own devices. He wasn't always good at sticking to the 'scouting only' rule, worse lately. Good enough so far at picking out which fights he could handle, but the kid was going to give him a goddamn heart attack. In a few years he wouldn't be able to keep an eye on him anymore. It wasn't a comforting thought.
Batman was waiting on the museum's roof, watching his target. Intervening within the building would be more trouble than it was worth. He'd let her worry about navigating security.
Smarter, not harder, et cetera.
New to Gotham, if not to the job, so he'd handle her alone. Sometimes if he caught them early enough he could reason with them. Not often, but sometimes. Easier without a smartass teenager in attendance.
Definitely not new to the job. Mystery woman: one-hundred sixty centimeters if he had to guess, boots looked heavy but light on her feet, cocky enough for a bright blonde wig, smart enough to disable the cameras and evade the motion sensors, nimble enough to avoid the laser fence, strong enough to climb a rope with just her arms.
Not a rope. A whip. Really? Robbing a museum with a whip? That seemed backward.
Whatever she'd taken was stashed in a pack on her back, on the large side. Either box-shaped or delicate enough to stash in a box. Going to need to be careful either way. Didn't do anyone much good to destroy artifacts.
She emerged onto the museum roof, and the silhouette of her cowl was catlike. She fastened her whip to her belt as she stood. Batman stepped closer, footfalls deliberately heavy. She froze. He stopped with just enough distance between them, dark enough that he'd cast a decent shadow, near enough that he could close the distance with ease if he needed to. Slowly, she turned her head. Her eyes were the only thing visible through her mask; they seemed to glint like mirrors in the moonlight.
"It'll be better for you if you don't try to run," he warned. Slowly, her boots crept further from one another on the concrete of the roof.
No one ever listened. Under his cape, he reached for the back of his belt.
Bolas were quicker than running after her, would tip her forward and keep relatively safe whatever was on her back. They caught on the ankles of her boots, but there was a certain grace to the way she toppled over. Made it look deliberate, landed on her hands and pivoted the whole of her body around to face him. The posture increased the resemblance to a cat. He'd been walking toward her all the while, didn't even need to run to catch up. Closer, he could see the buckles of a harness on her suit, climbing equipment. Her mask wasn't all one piece, the top half built similar to his but the bottom half pulled up like a scarf. Not meant to keep her face hidden all the time, then.
"Are you done?"
She reached down to her legs with one hand and tried to cut the bolas — not a knife, something in her gloves — but quickly found it was futile. She pulled her knees up close to her chest, unwrapped the wire with eyes on him all the while.
That seemed like a 'no'.
"You should sit," he warned, even though she wouldn't listen.
She unhooked her whip from her belt as she rose to her feet, took a wide stance to keep her center of gravity low as she tried to snap it across his face. He caught it instead on his left forearm, let it wrap around his glove and wrapped it a few times more as he used it to pull her closer. He could see her eyes widen behind her mask as her boots slid along the roof despite her resistance. Rather than let the whip go, she reached up with her other hand to pull her scarf down off her face.
He didn't know what he'd expected, but it hadn't been for her to bare fangs at him in a hiss, pounce forward. Trying to rip his throat out, maybe? Teeth a bit dainty for that, but he admired her determination. Lucky that his right hand caught her neck before she could reach his, because she'd have needed dental work otherwise. Reinforced armor over his throat. Occasional vampire incidents.
She dropped the whip and tried to dig the blades on her gloves into his arm, to no avail; then she picked her legs up to try and kick him in the stomach. He put pressure on the sides of her neck, careful of her trachea, stopped when she started to go slack.
"Now are you done?"
She huffed. Looked a little petulant, actually. Like she was considering trying to claw his face.
Her eyes were gold. Theoretically hazel, but gold. Distinctive. Gold eyes, a thing for cats. Where had he seen that recently? The costume made her look older. Had there been fangs? That was an embarrassing oversight.
"And your name is?" he prompted.
She looked him over, trying halfheartedly to get his hand off her neck. More the principle of the thing than a genuine effort on her part. "Catwoman," she said finally.
"Very creative. You going to show me what's in the bag, or are you going to keep making this difficult?"
Definitely pouting. "First you let me go."
"I'll be good."
"I doubt it." Without warning he kicked her feet out from under her, released her only once she'd fallen to her knees. "Sit."
She made a show of rubbing her neck, posture attempting to look small and helpless. He crossed his arms and he waited. Finally she undid the buckle that held her pack on, slid it off her arms to hold it in her lap. "It's probably not what you think." He said nothing. She pulled a metal box out of the bag, very carefully undid the latches on the side so she could open it.
Nestled safely and well-padded in the box was a severed human head.
"I bet he's not what you thought he'd be." She seemed very pleased with herself over this revelation.
"Why are you stealing a mokomokai?" Mummified, leathery skin decorated with black tattoos; most likely about a century old. Most of them were.
She looked surprised. "You know what they're called." It was almost a question, sounded impressed. She shut the box again, took her time closing each latch. "I'm taking him home," she said with a flutter of her eyelashes, giving the box an affectionate pat.
"That's the idea." She flashed a fanged grin. "It doesn't count as stealing if they stole it first."
"And the necklace?"
She paused, looked to where copper bells could just barely be seen sitting at the bottom of her bag. "... finder's fee." She set the box aside on top of it, as if that would somehow stop him from having already seen it.
Probably Aztec. Hardly the most expensive item in the museum's collection. Neither item would sell for much, if that was her goal. The question was whether she was telling the truth, when it could as easily be a convenient lie.
Selina Kyle: nineteen; black hair, gold eyes, brown skin; birth parents unknown; adopted parents dead, car accident when she was sixteen; left Gotham that year; tasted like oranges; literal cat burglar.
Too many gaps. Could have been doing anything, wherever she'd been. Never thought to keep track of her. Knew practically nothing of value.
Have you ever been to Teotihuacan?
Batman crouched down so he could look Catwoman in the eye. "I don't tolerate thieves in Gotham." Her petulance this time was imperious. Fitting, for a cat. "Which means you're going to have to sit here and wait for me to get back while I take care of something about five blocks over." She blinked. He picked up her discarded whip, ran it through his hands and considered it. Then he wrapped it loose around her wrists, twisted it into the world's saddest excuse for a knot. He pointed to the roof beneath her. "Stay."
Her face split into a wide smile, sharp white teeth. She pounced forward as best she could on her knees, and he didn't stop her. Her lips against his, aggressive and enthusiastic; this time he felt canines sharp against his skin. Didn't kiss her back, because he didn't want to encourage her. Even if it was tempting.
Shouldn't have been tempting.
Career criminal in the making, only a few years older than Dick.
He pulled away and stood. "Stay," he repeated.
"Yes, sir," she said with an amused crinkle of her nose.
He turned to leave, paused as he looked down at the street. "Don't come back to Gotham," he warned over his shoulder. "I won't be nice if there's a next time."
She waited until he'd already leapt off the roof to get in the last word.