There was something particularly galling about seeing Selina Kyle in a museum. As if she was doing it on purpose to taunt him, even though Bruce knew she couldn't have been.
The Gotham Museum of Contemporary Art wasn't even the kind of place Catwoman would target. Unless she knew and disliked one of the artists. Which was possible. She had an astonishing capacity for pettiness.
Best to avoid her. Didn't want to encourage her. She'd never approached him of her own accord, was only ever approached.
Because even though he always planned to avoid her, he never did. Not his fault. Circumstances conspiring against him.
He mingled and chatted and tried not to keep track of where she was in the gallery. Habit that he did, nothing else. Brief glances occasionally caught her looking in his direction. Observing. No malice or yearning or anything at all.
She didn't mingle. She didn't encourage being mingled with. She managed to look down on people much taller with the casual disdain that only a cat could manage.
He counted at least five different men watching her from a distance. Screwing up their courage or planning an approach. Three of them were older than he was. Including Jack Renaud. Which he could have predicted. There was a reason he never invited the man to anything. Utterly vile. Tragically not a grounds for arrest. He'd never been so disappointed that someone was law-abiding.
Renaud was also the most likely to actually attempt to talk to her. That was a problem. A theoretical problem. The fact that he was disgusting was allowed to be problem enough.
If it were anyone but Selina, Bruce wouldn't have hesitated to intervene.
"Hello, Miss Kyle."
She perked up immediately as she looked up at him. Dangerously high heels and legs to spare but she still had to look up. She was always so tentatively pleased to see him. Wary happiness. It made him feel guilty.
"Hello, Mr. Wayne." Measured, subdued, the way she always was when he could see her face. Renaud was still waiting for Bruce to move along. That meant he couldn't.
"Enjoying the exhibition?" he asked.
"It could be worse."
That got a toothless smile out of her. "Do you like them? The paintings."
He looked at the canvas closest to them. "They seem... introspective?" he suggested as much as said.
"Yes." She said nothing. "I take it you disagree?"
"They seem masturbatory," she said.
"That seems unfair to the artist," he said. "I'm sure she—"
"He," she interrupted.
"Did you think the artist was a woman because his first name is Brooke?" she asked, amused.
It was the curator who'd invited him, not the artist. There hadn't been any reason for him to do any kind of research. He might have done it anyway, but someone had been keeping him busy at night. And during the day, figuring out where she'd be at night.
The artist wasn't the point. Bruce was really only there so the curator could ask him for money. And several other curators, from several galleries around town. Possibly some other, less successful artists.
There was always a long list of people who wanted to ask him for money.
"The art seemed feminine," he explained.
"Considering all the ballerinas," he added.
"Like a statement on women's position in society." He was just making shit up now. If he kept it up long enough, he could pretend he'd been doing it on purpose from the start. Or she might laugh. Or both.
"The position seems uncomfortable."
"That's what I've heard." That earned another smile, at least.
"It also seems to involve a lot of open mouths and gauzy fabrics."
"Obviously your mileage may vary."
She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. Then she turned her head, buried her face in the crook of her arm for a dainty sneeze. Extraordinarily dainty. So dainty it was almost fake.
He was offering a handkerchief before he'd even had time to think about it.
"Thank you," she said, taking it and covering her nose with it. Trying to stop herself from sneezing again. She folded it small before she lowered her hands, careful. Heaven forbid she be seen holding a handkerchief. Being anything less than perfect.
"Coming down with something?" he asked.
"I hope not," she sighed.
It was her own fault. No one in their right mind jumped in the harbor. A horrible escape route. If all she got was a cold she'd be lucky. He might have told her that if he'd caught her. He might have told her a lot of things if he'd caught her.
Crime, and not paying, and so forth.
"You should get some rest," he said. "Before it gets worse."
Stop breaking and entering. Get a full night's sleep for once. Save everyone a lot of time and trouble.
She raised an eyebrow. "Think I'm not spending enough time in bed?"
He'd walked right into that one. Non-flirtatious responses were difficult to come by.
"I wouldn't presume to make any assumptions in that regard."
"Diplomatic," she said.
"I suppose I might as well go, since I'm not finding any of this particularly stimulating."
"Not any of it?" That had just slipped out. Force of habit.
"Nothing I'm meant to." Her mouth curved upward. "The hors d'oeuvres are good."
"Better than nothing."
She looked down at the handkerchief in her hand. "Should I...?"
"I don't mean to keep stealing from you," she said, a joke he wasn't meant to get.
"It's not stealing if I give it to you." Shit. He'd set her up again.
"And I do appreciate you giving it to me."
He set it up. She knocked it down. If he'd been doing it on purpose he might have enjoyed it. As much as he enjoyed anything.
"I don't suppose, Mr. Wayne, you'd be interested in walking me to my car?"
Bruce scanned the room. Renaud lurking in a corner. Selina didn't want just any escort, only wanted Bruce. Couldn't foist her off. Couldn't talk to Renaud to distract him. They hated each other, he'd see right through it. Couldn't throw anyone else at him. Then they'd have to deal with Renaud. There wasn't anyone in the room he hated enough for that. Except Renaud. Maybe if Bruce put a mirror in front of him he'd try to fight it.
"I'd love to," he said, offering her his arm. She slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, steered him toward the exit nearest to where she'd parked. Her heels clicked on the tile, a steady rhythm. She pressed her purse against her side to silence the decorative chains draped along it.
"Have you been asked for a donation yet?" she asked.
"They're working their way up to it," he said. "Trying to soften me up first."
Selina hummed thoughtfully. "Well, you can have my word that I won't be doing that."
He was starting to suspect his subconscious of sabotaging him.
"Thank you, by the way," she added.
"Keeping Jack away from me." He said nothing. "I know you would have preferred to avoid me."
"I don't avoid you," he lied.
"You avoid me," she said, certain and without apparent offense. "I'm not going to jump you again." She would. She had. She just didn't know that it was him. "It was special circumstances."
"Circumstances," he repeated.
"I was never coming back to Gotham," she clarified. Which was also the only reason he would ever kiss a nineteen year old. It had seemed completely harmless, at the time.
"But you did."
"I may have found a thing or two worth visiting."
"Like masturbatory art exhibitions?" he asked as they stepped outside.
"Two out of three isn't bad. I'm not trying to stalk you, Mr. Wayne."
"I never said you were."
"You're ubiquitous. It would be hard not to run into you from time to time when I'm in town." She was becoming somewhat less measured.
"While I understand why you might be uncomfortable around me, I can't help but think it's unfair when we've seen each other—"
"Miss Kyle." This was the most words he'd ever heard from her at once.
"—often enough that I think I've made it clear that I am neither rabid nor obsessive. I might sometimes be inappropriate but it's not deliberate, you can just be very witty and—"
"Selina." He could practically hear her mouth snap shut, chin tilting imperiously upward again. "You're fine. Really."
"I'm not convinced that's obvious."
"I wanted to be sure we understood each other."
"I felt I'd made a misleading first impression," she continued, as if he had not spoken. Her heels echoed in the parking garage.
"I really do understand."
"You're not obligated to like me."
"You've never claimed I am."
"I just don't understand why you don't."
At that, he was legitimately taken aback. People assumed he disliked them often enough. It was an easy mistake to make. Until they saw him with someone he genuinely disliked. He'd assumed Selina would know better. He wasn't sure why. "I like you."
"You don't act like it." She came to a stop beside what must have been her car — a rental, a purple sports car, all curves and no sharp edges. It suited Catwoman more than Selina.
He chose his words carefully, and enunciated them as such. "I act in a manner appropriate to who we are."
She had not yet released his arm, though they'd both started turning to face each other. "And who are we?" she asked, mimicking his diction back at him.
"We are two people with nine years between them."
"You think you're capable of taking advantage of me?" She said it like it was a dare.
"I am older than you, wealthier than you, and larger than you." Somehow she had ended up between himself and her car. "Asking you to get me coffee would be taking advantage of you."
"If I were young and poor but enormous, would that be okay?"
He almost considered the question seriously. "You," he said, "are at the center of a Venn diagram of things I can't have."
"Can't have," she repeated.
"That was poorly phrased." To say the least.
"You're friends with women younger than I am."
"That depends on how you define friendship. And none of them have ever tried to kiss me." Or succeeded. Repeatedly. Usually while wearing a leather mask.
"Then this is about the kiss." She sounded triumphant.
"It set a bad precedent."
"I told you it was special circumstances."
"You keep trying to flirt with me."
"Sometimes you flirt back. That doesn't mean anything. I flirt with everyone."
"No. You don't."
"I flirt with everyone I find tolerable," she clarified. "There are exactly two people I find tolerable in this city. If I'm going to keep coming back here for work, being able on occasion to talk to one of them would be... nice."
"Nice," he repeated.
"I'm not trying to damn with faint praise."
He knew that she wasn't. She'd kissed him for nice. Selina Kyle had been all over the world, and she could think of no greater praise than nice.
And she thought he didn't like her.
She covered her nose with his handkerchief and sneezed again. It didn't echo.
"Are you going to be at the fireman's ball next week?" he asked.
"I'm actually leaving Gotham tomorrow," she said, rueful.
"Ah. Any idea when you'll be back?"
"Not really. I'd call ahead to warn you, but I don't exactly have your number."
It really would be useful to have some warning. Just not for the reasons she thought. "May I see your phone?"
She hesitated. "Really?" He said nothing, just waited. She unlatched her purse to retrieve it, unlocked it and gave it to Bruce. Her wallpaper was a painting of a cat, with icons to match.
Honestly. It wasn't as if he made all his app icons tiny bats. She could at least try to be discreet. Despite that, he opened up her contacts to add himself, filling out every field short of a picture. He drew the line at selfies. He had never in his entire life had occasion to take a picture of himself, and he wasn't about to start. When he handed the phone back, she stared at it.
"Really?" she asked again.
"I don't always answer texts immediately. I get to it eventually. Don't even bother trying to call."
She looked at him, then back at his number, thoughtful. "When am I allowed to text you?" she asked finally.
His eyebrows dipped a little. "Text me when you have a reason to text me." He didn't like the implications of 'allowed'. Her thumbs moved over the screen, and his phone buzzed in his pocket.
"So you have my number," she explained. But her thumbs were still moving, even though she wasn't looking at the screen. His phone buzzed again. "That one's just for fun." Another buzz. "And that one."
"Don't push your luck."
Despite the warning, she looked pleased as she put her phone away. "You should probably get your wallet back to its adoring fans."
"And you should get home," he agreed. "Read a book. Watch a movie. Sleep." He leaned forward just enough to press a quick kiss to her forehead. "Goodbye, Miss Kyle."
"Goodbye, Mr. Wayne."