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."
"This," Batman said, "is ridiculous."
It was a damned good thing that Catwoman always worked alone. She could be very exasperating. Not great for his reputation.
She was sitting on the floor, her arms bound around her torso with slender rope. Her wrists were trapped in front of her sternum. The blonde curls of her wig looked out of place against her skin. "I'm glad we agree," she said. Catwoman was referring to the art. Batman was referring to what she'd done to it. It was a deliberate misunderstanding.
"This may be the pettiest thing I've ever seen." Every canvas was ruined, in tatters, long clawmarks running through them. A cat ruining the curtains.
"I was performing a public service," she said loftily.
"According to whom?"
"According to good taste."
Somehow this always seemed to end up happening with her. Discussing it as if she could be reasoned with.
"Where's the statue?" he asked, knowing she'd never tell him.
"On its way to where it belongs," she answered.
She was baiting him into saying 'it belongs in a museum'. He wouldn't, so the joke would lie in wait without a punchline to disarm it.
"The police are on their way," he said instead, a warning and an ultimatum.
She started to say something, then bent her legs and buried her face in her knees to sneeze. It was, as before, a very dainty little sound.
"Next time don't jump in the harbor," he added.
"Next time don't chase me into the harbor," she countered. The stubborn set to her jaw was belied by a brief shudder.
He would not be guilted.
She sneezed again.
He resisted the temptation to sigh. Separating his cape from the rest of his costume, he draped it over her shoulders. An expensive and glorified blanket. She was wary when he knelt beside her to wrap it tighter around her, since she couldn't do it herself. "Don't break and enter with a cold," he said.
"Do you take a break every time you get a cold?"
"I don't get colds." They could hear the sirens now, getting closer.
"How'd you pull that off?" she asked, though she clearly didn't believe him.
"Sheer force of will," he said as he stood. Catwoman laughed, bundled up in his cape on the floor. The sirens came to a stop outside the museum. "I believe that's your ride," he said.
"Be seeing you," she called as Batman headed for the roof.
He gave it about a block before she made it out of the car. He suspected her of letting herself get caught, in the same way that she suspected him of letting her go.
He wasn't, necessarily. The only alternative was that he carry her to the police station himself. That wasn't happening.
Not after last time.
If there was one thing he was good at, it was learning from his mistakes.
"I thought you uninstalled Snapchat right after you claimed your username."
Bruce took his phone back out of Dick's hand, set it back on the desk where he'd left it before. "I did," he said, not looking up from his paperwork.
"So why are you getting Snapchat notifications?"
"I reinstalled it," Bruce said shortly.
"When I kept getting yelled at for never checking Snapchat."
Dick laughed, because of course he'd find that hilarious. "Nickie or Adia?"
Dick laughed again, fell backward into the couch in Bruce's office. His legs dangled off the armrest, not quite upside-down. "Who's the notification from?"
"None of your business," Bruce said, though he set his pen down, picked his phone up to check. He didn't think his face had given anything away when he'd seen the name and tapped to see the picture, but Dick shot up immediately.
"That was almost a smile!" Dick accused, nearly leapfrogging over the desk in his quest to look at the phone's screen. Bruce didn't bother trying to hide it from him, since the username wasn't visible. Dick frowned. "It's just trees," he complained, having apparently expected something more salacious.
"It's Guayabo de Turrialba," Bruce corrected, setting his phone back down.
"Did Diana send it to you or something?"
"No. If I ask you to show me your homework right now, how well is that going to end for you?" He picked his pen back up, turned his attention back toward work.
"Great," Dick said, clearly lying. "But I guess I can go double-check that I have everything in order, first."
"You do that," Bruce said, even as Dick darted out back into the hallway.
He picked his phone back up once he was alone, turned up the volume and tapped again to start a video. Trees again, no sound but bird calls and the chirping of crickets. But it moved forward, until he could make out an Agalychnis callidryas trying to hide on a leaf. She didn't get very close before it jumped away. Overlaid was an emoji of a frog. It didn't seem to suit the scene.
He wasn't going to reply. She never seemed to mind. Read receipts didn't count as encouraging her.
At least he'd have plenty of warning before she came back to Gotham.