Selina had an apartment in Gotham. She just happened to prefer Bruce's bed. She assumed he couldn't mind too much, since his bedroom retained the usual cat-shaped security holes.
She never wore her suit to visit him. He'd throw a fit if she did. An understated fit, but a fit. What she wore instead was closer to what she might wear to return a relic. Nothing particularly alluring, but that was deliberate.
The trick was to never dress for a seduction, no lacy lingerie or garters. Bruce had a stubborn streak that overlapped with his competitive streak, and seduction only gave him something to resist. He derived a particular satisfaction from self-imposed deprivation.
She kicked off her boots and left her pants on his floor. Leaving a mess, making herself at home, alerting him to her presence whenever he got back. When she jumped onto his bed, she wore nothing but a tank top and briefs in black cotton.
The trick was to look comfortable. Some part of his subconscious or another registered this as a victory, as if he'd fooled her into trusting him. She didn't think he was even a little aware of this. She didn't plan to tell him. He had a hydra of issues; she'd take the one she knew how to work with over the two she didn't.
They never fucked. Almost never. Her hope was that he was acclimating to her presence. Every time she broke in, he'd slept a little closer, and he'd finally started snuggling with her sometimes. She didn't press the issue, waited for him to come to her.
It was a lot like adopting a stray. They could be the most loyal of all, if they were allowed to come on their own terms.
His bed smelled like him. Czech & Speake No. 88. Matching black bottles all in a row on his bathroom counter, labels all facing the same direction. Sometimes she nudged them to see if he'd notice. He always did.
Bruce smelled like an overgrown cemetary garden on a hot spring day after a storm.
Sometimes he smelled like he'd been rowing a burning dumpster through a sewer. But on those days he showered before anything else, came to bed with wet hair that dripped cold on her neck.
She liked to lay on top of the fur throw Bruce kept on his comforter. In the cloud forests of Santiago Comaltepec she'd slept on the back of the Cat. She'd never been sure what to call it, that creature of pure power wrapped in black fur, massive as the night and smelling of blood. The soul of all cats, and when it purred against her cheek she'd felt for the first time like she belonged.
The fur throw didn't feel like that. But it was nice.
She fell asleep before Bruce got home. She usually did. In her sleep, she slipped into the woods around the manor. She was broad-shouldered and powerful and low to the ground. She was waiting for a mouse to reappear from under a blackberry bush. Above her, she could hear the soft feathers of an owl's wings. There was nothing for her here.
She slipped into different fur. She was young and wiry, exploring neutral ground. An old greenhouse out amidst the trees. There were holes in the glass, covered with thin plastic that let heat escape. Cats curled around each other in the warmth, hidden beneath ferns. When it got too cold, they would tear into the thin sheets and take shelter inside. She sniffed curiously in the direction of a feral family of five guinea pigs. A little one slept on the fur of an old Maine Coone. That one watched her, unblinking. It knew that she was not her fur.
She slipped. She was bold and well-fed for it. She had a crook in her tail, and she was missing part of her right ear. She was very proud of it. She lurked near stone that wasn't a stone, hiding safely away from the unpaved path. She watched the Batmobile approach, a shadow in the thick tunnel of trees. When the door opened to allow it inside, she leapt after it. The door closed behind her.
It was a long and winding tunnel, and she stalked the length of it until it opened into the cave. Bats chittered overhead.
"I'm really not tired," Tim was saying. He'd changed into a t-shirt and jeans. "I can do the morning shift."
"There probably won't be one," Bruce said. He was still all in black. The cat would know him, even if Selina hadn't. It did not recognize the significance of secrets any more than the permanence of doors.
"What if something happens?"
"Statistically unlikely." Bruce was at a worktable, disassembling his belt.
"But if it does, though," Tim pressed.
"I can handle it."
"Will you come wake me up?"
She moved closer, watching them from the shadows beneath the furniture.
"I can handle it," Bruce repeated. "Go to bed."
Tim huffed. Then he knocked on the silver-domed lid resting at the desk, covering a dish that rested on a hotplate. "Alfred left a plate."
Bruce only glanced at it. "Then eat fast."
"It's for you."
"I'm not hungry."
Tim crossed his arms. "I'm not leaving until you eat." His chin tilted upward, attempting to look implacable. She came out from underneath the desk to circle his legs, and smelled the air. Salt and fat and starch.
Bruce stood straighter to look at Tim. Tim immediately faltered. "You have school in six hours," Bruce said. "Go to bed."
"... promise you'll eat?" She wound around his legs.
"You're aware that I'm the adult here."
"Are you going to eat?"
"Yes. Bed. Now."
Tim sighed. "Night, Bruce." Then he bent to scratch her back as she rubbed against his calf. "Night, pretty kitty. You coming to bed with me?"
"No," Bruce answered for her. "It has fleas."
Tim went upstairs unaccompanied.
She wound herself around Bruce's legs. He ignored her. She jumped up onto the work table. He sighed, and ran a hand over her back. "Hello, Mistoffelees."
"You're not supposed to be in here."
"You're a walking plague hazard."
"Well, then." He slid the cowl off his face. Sometimes he detached the part of it that held the glass-eyed visor, so that he could keep wearing it. This time he didn't. His hair went in all different directions, and running his hand through it didn't help. "It must be very important." Gingerly, he lifted her off the table, holding her against his chest and scratching behind her ears. "What news from the north?"
"Maow." He was sturdy and warm.
"Hm. And the south?"
"Distressing. l appreciate your courage in bringing me this information." She stretched her neck to press her nose to his chin, so he gave her a quick kiss between the eyes. He set her in his lap when he sat at the desk. She sat upright to peer at the monitors. "Are you helping?"
He took her paw between his fingers and guided it to a button on the keyboard. Her claws extended as she pressed it, and the index search interface popped up. "Good idea." She took her paws back to pull herself up onto the desk. "Careful, careful." He guided her gently away from the keyboard. She sniffed and pawed at the silver dome lid. "A-ha. I see what you're after." He lifted the lid and set it aside before returning his attention to the computer.
She considered the croquetas piled on the silver dish. She looked back to where he was typing up new database entries. "Maaaow."
She picked up a croqueta with her teeth, walked back across the desk, and dropped it on the keyboard. "Myu."
He stared at it. "Et tu, Mistoffelees."
"I'm not eating this one," he warned, setting it back in front of her. "You have mouse breath." She watched suspiciously as he pulled his gloves off, and was not satisfied until he'd actually put a croqueta in his mouth. Pleased, she stretched out to lay on the desk, and held her prize in her forepaws. She chewed at the crispy exterior.
"Shit! Shitshitshitshit shit." Bruce snatched it away from her suddenly, and she yowled in alarm, batting at his hand. "I deserve that, sorry, sorry." He threw her croqueta in the trash. Then he started opening desk drawers, searching them. She watched with raised hackles. Finally, he found a little tin of cat food, and pulled the tab off to offer it to her. It smelled like Salisbury steak.
"I know, I know. I should have realized there'd be onions."
"You think I don't know?"
"I saw him eat a whole onion, once. Raw. Like an apple."
"I know." He looked at the back of his hand with a frown. The clawmarks were bleeding. "You know I was shot at three times tonight," he informed her. "Not a scratch." He pulled a little first aid kit out of another drawer. She watched him use a sterilizing wipe on his hand, staining the whole thing red. It ran too deep to stop on its own, so he brushed a liquid bandage over it.
He offered her his hand. She touched it gently with her nose, and so he scratched her under the chin.
She slipped away back into bed.
Selina didn't know what time it was when Bruce joined her in the bedroom. She grumbled when his arms slid underneath her to pick her up, and he tucked her back under the comforter. When he joined her, he pulled her back against his chest. Warm and sturdy and familiar, his legs tangled with hers.
She fell back asleep, and didn't roam.
When she roused again, he was running a hand along her back. Warm and rough along her skin, his thumb following her spine. Along her ribs and back over her stomach, fingers splayed out to hold her close. He nuzzled at her neck, his nose buried in her hair. He sighed. Sunlight was filtering into the room through the balcony curtains.
She could feel his arousal pressing against her back. His hand moved lower.
She hugged the pillow beneath her as his fingers worked between her thighs, pressure and friction adjusting every time she moved her hips or let a sound escape her. The heavy down pillow muffled her, but his other hand stroked through her hair and pulled just enough to gently coax her into turning her head. Tiny cries and whimpers filled the quiet of the empty room, swallowed by books and plush furniture and thick insulation.
She pressed backward, all but ground against him, but he didn't take the bait. Just kept holding her still so he could touch her, and she didn't know if it was sadism or masochism that he didn't go any further.
Her climax was more of a gentle slope, shivering in his arms. She'd only just relaxed when he pulled away from her, and she yawned.
"Leaving already?" she asked, pulling the covers tight around herself as she rolled onto the space he'd vacated.
"Some of us have jobs," he said. He had an obvious erection beneath black boxer-briefs and an understated case of bedhead. Scars cut lines through the hair on his chest where it would no longer grow.
"Wouldn't want to be late," she said, watching him walk to the bathroom. "You might get fired."
"What happened to your hand?"
He glanced at it. "Don't pretend you don't know."
She stiffened beneath the covers. He couldn't possibly have known. Even he couldn't be that clever, to have figured it out without being told. "What?"
"It was clearly an assassination attempt by one of your operatives."
"Oh." She relaxed.
He hesitated. "Did you. Actually talk to the cat?"
"You just seemed nervous."
"I thought you were accusing me of something."
"Oh." He looked at his hand. "No. I was just trying to tease you about the cat thing." He lingered in the bathroom door. "Should I not have?"
She yawned again, settling deeper into the pillows. "It's fine."
When he was ready to leave, she looked like she'd fallen back asleep. He kissed her forehead when he thought she was unconscious.
She slipped into fur that was long and luxurious, wrapped around a body small for her breed. She was lounging on the roof, near a warm chimney. Light glinted underneath a solar panel, and she crept closer to it to investigate. She sniffed at a little piece of metal embedded under a shingle. There were voices in the distance, and she changed the focus of her investigation.
A balcony door was open on the second floor, the opposite end of the house. It opened into the ballroom mezzanine. She dropped down onto a rail. The cleaning service Bruce used was out in full force, their focus on the floors. Glitter and candle wax and wine, remnants of a night not long past. No more live-in housekeepers, only carefully vetted visitors that moved over weeks from one end of the house to the other. Alfred watching, alert as ever.
He noticed her immediately. "Out," he ordered, pointing back at the door, as if she were canine and not feline. She ignored him, and rubbed white fur onto black trousers. He made a sound of disgust, reaching down to grab her by the scruff of the neck. When he dropped her back out on the balcony, she swiped a paw as she fell, hooking claws in his pocket square. Immediately she grabbed it with her teeth and went running.
"Why you little—"
She jumped along the windows to scramble back up to the roof.
"Mrs. Lee," he called back into the ballroom, "I'm stepping out for a moment."
She watched from the edge of the roof, tail swishing, handkerchief hanging from her mouth.
"Oh, you are a little shit, aren't you?" he muttered as he made his way to the edge of the balcony. He glanced back to the door, then put a foot up on the railing to pull himself up, balancing on it. "I'm not interested in playing with you," he warned. "This is your last chance to drop it."
She shook her head like she was trying to break the hanky's neck.
"Obnoxious little dustmuppet." He checked the door again before jumping onto an adjacent windowsill. He pulled himself onto the frame above it, and again, and then the gutter.
Wayne Manor had very sturdy gutters. Usually Alfred wasn't the reason.
She retreated under a solar panel as Alfred pulled himself onto the roof, crouched near the edge of it. "Didn't think I could catch you, did you?"
She bounded away, dropped the handkerchief and hid behind the chimney.
"Coward!" he accused. He stepped between panels until he reached where she'd dropped her prize. He picked it up, then frowned. He knelt down to pick at the little piece of metal until it came loose, turning it over in his fingers. "This is an old one," he mused, looking out at the rest of the roof. "Must be one of Dick's." He wrapped his handkerchief around it, and tucked it in his pocket.
He moved up to the highest point on the roof, and looked out at Gotham and the lake beyond. After a moment, he sat. He rested his elbows on his knees with a sigh. A breeze ruffled the translucent white of his hair.
Slowly, she inched closer. She nudged herself into the space between his arm and his leg, climbing onto his thigh. He rested a hand on her fur.
They spent an hour or two watching the clouds together, silent. It was neither a cozy nor an amiable silence, but it was comfortable for all that it was cold.
She slipped back into bed, but only so she could get up to use Bruce's bathroom. It was absurdly large. He'd redone all the tile recently. His toilet had a lot of elaborate features she didn't think he'd ever used. His bathtub was almost the size of the hot tub he also had.
There was a fireplace.
In his bathroom.
She crawled back into bed. She checked her phone. Messages, but nothing urgent. She curled up to sleep, and she slipped.
She was young and full of boundless energy. There were apiaries far back near the woods, surrounded by wildflowers. The hum of bees and the songs of grosbeaks filled her ears. She chased butterflies with no aspirations of catching any of them. She rolled in clover and daisies and snapdragons, batted at hanging coils of sweet peas. A butterfly landed on her nose. She sat very still, looking toward the sky, to see how long her new friend would stay. When it fluttered away again, she stretched out in the flowers, and yawned.
She slipped. Further away from the house, closer to the sprawling residential streets invisible through the trees. Old houses, large houses, all of them aspiring to be as old and as large as the house at the top of the hill.
Some were newer. Someone had knocked down an old house to build a new one, a great big thing that looked like six houses stitched together, too many windows and all their shapes disproportionate. They'd paid too much to let everyone know they could afford to pay too much. Beside the quiet dignity of the smaller Victorians that surrounded it, it looked gauche. Beneath the house at the top of the hill, it looked noisy and overcompensatory. They'd cut down trees to make room for an expanse of grass a uniform length and color.
She was not a kept creature meant for houses. She stalked around the house, anyway. There were no lights or sounds inside, except an air conditioner's constant rumble. A window on the second story was open just a crack. She climbed the siding and the other windows to reach it, until she could force her head under the glass. It smelled like cigarette smoke.
Still no sounds, just the distant smell of absent people, sickly perfume and heavy cologne. She jumped to open the bedroom door.
Nothing of interest in the rooms or the halls, nothing until the rooms on the first floor meant for entertaining guests.
A portrait of Yvonne Perez, part of her private collection. Meant to have been destroyed after her death. Instantly recognizable as the real thing, because Isidora had painted bright colors with a thick brush. There was starlight in everything she'd touched. Gotham hadn't appreciated it until decades too late. Grass-stained paws reached upward, stretching against the wall and balancing on pink toes. She touched the canvas, felt the brushstrokes. There was love in the shape of Yvonne's eyes and the texture of her hair. Isidora Perez, the name she'd chosen; the name she'd been given had long ago been lost.
On these walls, Isidora's secret heart looked like department store decor. A taste of the exotic to brighten up white walls and bland furniture.
She hooked claws in the gilded frame, and pulled it down off the wall. She wasn't strong enough to tear at it as quickly as she'd have liked, but little by little, the portrait came free of the frame. She pulled and rolled it until she could carry it in her teeth, clumsy though it was.
She dropped it out the window, and then dragged it toward the woods.
It was hard to keep track of time, when she was small and impatient. The sun moved, but didn't set. Her tail lashed as she tried to keep Yvonne's face out of the dirt.
It deserved a cremation, but fire was beyond what paws could accomplish. She could leave it to retrieve later, but she thought touching it with her fingers might make it too real. These things tended to upset her, when they were real like that.
She carried it to the river.
The waters were cleaner now than they'd once been. A combination of legitimate anti-pollution measures, and filtration systems necessary to compensate for mass poisoning attempts.
She set the portrait on the water with as much grace as she could manage. Not having thumbs made things difficult. It lingered by the banks, so she waded into the water to guide the canvas into the current. When it was far enough along, she returned to shore, and watched it go. Slowly, Yvonne sank beneath the surface of the water.
Half of a viking funeral would have to be enough.
She shook herself dry, and headed back toward the hill. She'd drifted too far as it was. Better to stay close, lest she get caught in fur not her own.
She slipped. Her fur was short, and so was her tail. She watched the car pull up to the front of the house. Alfred had replaced his pocket square. She waited until he'd gone ahead into the house, the teens in the car still untangling cords and cables to gather their things. Then she trotted in front of them, the shiny shoes of their school uniforms reflecting her face.
"Jenny!" Tim exclaimed, scooping her up into his arms.
"Jenny?" Stephanie asked. "Like Jennyanydots?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?" He scratched her behind the ears. "Is that from something?"
"It's from Cats," Stephanie said, exasperated. "How can you not know that?"
"Why would I know that?" he asked, incredulous.
"Have you never seen Cats?" she demanded, equally incredulous.
"Why would I have ever in my life seen Cats?" They were still standing outside, Tim giving vigorous pets and head scritches.
"I can't believe this," she said, shaking her head.
"Seriously? Seriously. I feel like the majority of people have never seen Cats. Like, the vast majority."
"Yeah, but you?" Stephanie pressed.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Never mind," she said, rolling her eyes. "So who's naming the cats after Cats? Alfred? It can't have been Bruce."
"Now that you've said that, I'm, like, a hundred percent sure it was Bruce."
"See, that's how I know it was him. The fact that it seems like it can't be him. It's like the ballet thing, or the knitting, or whatever. He probably loves musicals and it's just never come up because we haven't had a musical theater villain."
"Your poor Batdad," Stephanie said, petting the cat still in Tim's arms. "Never gets to enjoy hobbies that aren't crimefighting."
Tim headed into the house, feline in tow. "We're not supposed to call him that."
She raised her hackles at the hiss-like sound, and Tim glared at Stephanie, hugging the cat protectively.
"He's not my Batdad," Stephanie said. "I'll call him whatever I want."
"Yeah, right," Tim said. "You talk a big game, and then he's like, Stephanie—" He pitched his voice as low as he could manage, affecting a tone of disappointment. "—and then you're crying."
"I do not appreciate your hyperbole," she said with a disdainful sniff.
"You forgot to use a coaster. He wasn't even mad about the coaster!"
"Okay, the crying was only tangentially related to the coaster situation, but also, I don't know how much that table cost! Maybe it was a million dollar table! I don't know! Gosh." She dropped her bag next to a couch, and collapsed backward into it. "Are we allowed to bring cats in the house?"
"Like it matters," Tim scoffed, sitting next to her. He set the cat in her lap, an arm around her shoulders. "After the dik diks and the capybara, I don't think Alfred can get mad about a cat."
"I miss them," Stephanie sighed, running her hand over the cat's back. She sprawled across the surface their adjacent laps made.
"I wonder if Bruce's girlfriend is here."
Tim made a face. "No."
"Wonder Woman?" Stephanie tried again, much more excited by the prospect. Tim made a disgruntled sound of confusion, gesturing to the cat. "Oh. Selina?"
"I didn't think he had any girlfriends," Stephanie said defensively. "Or else he has, like. A lot of girlfriends."
"I guess," Tim admitted. "But Selina's the only one where sometimes I come home and she's on the couch watching Spanish soap operas and eating all the Count Chocula."
"Why is there so much Count Chocula?"
"You know how sometimes you ask Alfred for something just to see if he'll do it, but then he calls your bluff way harder than you expected to teach you an important lesson about hubris and also what he's capable of?"
"Only secondhand, because you're the only one that does that."
"So you think she's here?"
"Maybe." He rested his head on Stephanie's shoulder, who proceeded to use one hand to pet the cat and the other to pet his hair. "It's like they can tell when she's here, and they want to get in and see her."
"She's got cat gravity?"
"Should I not be here?" Stephanie asked. "I didn't ask first, I don't want to make things awkward."
"You're fine," Tim assured her.
The cat rolled around in their laps, covering their uniforms in fur, before kneading at Stephanie's leg with a furious purring.
"See?" Tim said. "You have Jenny's blessing."
"We should see if Bruce has Cats," Stephanie decided, grabbing the remote.
"Noooooo," Tim protested. "This isn't fair, I can't get up without bothering the cat."
"Exactly," Stephanie said, with relish.
The cat yawned. Selina slipped away. She slept.
When she opened her eyes, Bruce was watching her. He was kneeling beside the bed, resting his head on his arms. "You've been asleep for a minimum of twelve hours," he informed her.
"Hmm." She stretched her fingers upward, her toes toward the foot of the bed. "Is that all?"
"Would you like a list of all the things that could be a symptom of?"
She giggled, rolling onto her stomach and pushing hair out of her face. Her bangs were probably a mess. He'd never said if he liked them. "No," she said, knowing he'd probably already actually assembled a list.
"While you've been asleep," he said, "I've had breakfast, gone to work, finalized an acquisition, had a brunch meeting, had a lunch meeting, caught Riddler before he could leave Arkham, played nine holes, and fired a guy that I now have to keep an eye on because I'm worried he's going to become a golf-themed villain."
"So productive," Selina teased. She rested her chin on her palms. "I've been getting my beauty sleep," she informed him. She cocked an eyebrow, daring him to say it wasn't worth it.
"I can see how that would take a while," he said. "You're very pretty." He reached down to pick up something he'd left by his feet, then offered her a vacuum-sealed plastic cup. She gasped.
"You got me boba?" she asked, taking the cup from him. She bit her lip as she sat upright, trying to hide a smile.
"Rose milk tea," he confirmed, offering her the straw. Something about the way he watched her made her feel shy as she accepted.
"I know." He reached down again. "And I stopped at that place you like," he added, setting a white paper bag on the comforter. Her eyes went wide as she tried to decide where to put her cup and straw in order to get her new treats. Bruce, unsurprisingly, had predicted this. He set an antique gilded tray in her lap. The filigree letter W in the middle of it felt gratuitous. She balanced it carefully so that she could dig into the bag. Bruce was still kneeling by the bedside; the posture reminded her of a puppy, the way he had to look up at her.
"Conchas!" she said gleefully. "And tres leche cake. You're trying to make me fat." He shrugged, which wasn't a denial. She frowned as she checked the bottom of the bag. "No tamarind spoons?" she asked. The last time she'd been in Gotham, they'd come free.
Bruce averted his gaze in a non-committal sort of way. She felt a smile creep across her face.
"Did you eat them already?" she asked.
"You don't usually want them." He was looking at one of his bookshelves instead of her.
"I don't," she agreed. "But I know you like them. I just wanted to make sure you got them." She reached out to brush her fingers through his hair. The thought of him driving home with a plastic spoon of candy in his mouth was delightful.
She started arranging her cup and her baked goods on the tray to make them fit into a pleasing square. Holding up her phone, she tried to decide what was missing without making it too obvious. She had a particular aesthetic she enjoyed cultivating in shared photos, and it involved much more careful pretension than she was willing to put forth when he could see behind the scenes.
Bruce set a pink rose onto the tray.
"Bruce." He'd set it at a careful angle, to offset the brighter pinks of her snacks.
"Take your picture."
She bit her lip again, felt heat spread beneath her eyes. It charmed and horrified her that he saw through her that easily. "Should I tag the location?" she wondered, trying to sound nonchalant.
"If you want," he said, which was practically asking her. Finding little sideways ways to claim her so he'd never have to do it outright, a tiny tag beneath a picture like a brand.
"You're spoiling me," she accused, setting her phone down to put the rose to her nose.
"We have different baselines for spoiled."
She picked up her straw, and carefully stabbed it through the plastic. "Are you going to join me, or just watch me eat?" she asked, before sipping at her drink.
"If I get in bed, I remove all incentive for you to get out of it." He stood so that he could reach over, brushing her bangs into a straighter configuration. "You're cute."
"Not when I'm eating."
"Agree to disagree."
She narrowed her eyes. Then she opened her mouth wide, and pushed as much of the bread into it as she could manage before biting down. The round loaf hung out of her mouth, and she stared at him in accusatory silence. He laughed, the bright little almost-giggle that escaped him when he forgot to stifle it.
"Still cute," he said. "Careful with the crumbs."
She pulled the bread out of her mouth, and it took longer than she wanted to swallow so she could respond. "You're the one that brought me breakfast in bed."
"This isn't breakfast." He stood straighter. "If you're coming out with us tonight, we could get a late dinner."
"If you'd like. If there's something you want, as long as you're in town."
She chewed thoughtfully on a tapioca pearl. "Coney Island Diner?"
"You're kidding." His expression of faint bafflement made her giggle. "Coney dogs. You know they're not the only place open all night."
"I like the poutine."
"Are you deliberately choosing foods that are gross, or are you just unaware."
"I am allowed to want things while still being aware that they are gross." She swiped a finger through frosting and licked it. "Just you and the kids?"
"That was the plan." He smoothed out the comforter in front of him. "I'm not really up to leaving them unsupervised just yet."
"That's fine. If you don't think they'll mind."
"I don't see why they would."
"Kids don't always like Dad's ladyfriends," she said, rolling the stem of the rose between her fingers. He ran his fingers through his hair, ruffled it in a peculiar show of... frustration, maybe? "Am I not supposed to say the D-word?" she asked.
"I don't know," he admitted. He leaned forward onto the bed, and she inched sideways. He gave in, pulling himself onto the bed enough that when she moved her tray, he could rest his head in her lap. She stroked his hair. "With Dick it was just — I wasn't trying to replace anyone. And then, with..." He swallowed whatever he'd almost said. "Tim wants me to be a replacement," he said instead, "which is... fine. I can try. But Dick, when he calls me that, it's different. It's like calling someone by their full name, it means something is wrong. So if Tim starts — I don't know. I don't want them... comparing themselves to each other. But I can't treat them the same, either."
"Does it bother you?"
"Being someone's dad."
He sighed, rubbing at his face with both hands. "It's stupid to pretend I'm not," he said finally. "I was so fucking young, with Dick."
He'd been her age. She didn't say so. She preferred it when he forgot about the difference in their ages.
"Young, and stupid," he added. "I just wanted to put a roof over his head, make sure he didn't get himself killed. That was it."
"That's a big it," she said.
"I know that now." He sighed again, a great heave of his chest. "I fucked up. A lot."
"You never answered my question," she pointed out. "Does it bother you?"
He was silent for a long moment. "Kind of."
She ran the backs of her fingers over his stubble. "Do you know why?"
"It's... big." She caught his hand to lace her fingers with his. He didn't reciprocate, but he didn't resist, either. Sometimes that was as much as she could hope for. "They deserve better."
"Better than what?" she asked. He rubbed his hand over his sternum. It was and wasn't an answer. "They had options," she reminded him. "They chose you."
"They love you."
She bent to kiss his forehead, still stroking his hair. "Cheer up, Spooky."
"Don't call me that."
"I'll call you whatever I want," she said. "So'll they." He caught her hand to kiss her wrist. "Do you have something I can wear after I shower?"
"Yeah." He sat up, pushing himself off his bed. "I'll draw you a bath."
"Spoiling me," she accused. "Have any bath bombs?"
"N—yes. Is there a specific kind?"
"Something pink," she said, admiring her rose again. "And glittery." She finished off her tres leche cake, licking her fingers clean before sliding out of Bruce's bed. Her body ached, too much time spent slack and empty.
In his bathroom, she opened the drawer he'd set aside for her. At some point he'd replaced her electric toothbrush with a newer model; a makeup palette that smelled like chocolate had appeared beside the ones he'd bought her previously. She scrubbed away the sugar that had stuck to her teeth, scraping at her tongue. She found a hair tie, and used it to collect her hair into a loose bun.
The fireplace beside the bathtub was lit, and she hummed as she climbed into the tub. The water shimmered, the color and smell of roses. "You're so fucking bougie."
"I am well beyond bougie," he said. He was sitting on the edge of the tub, and he caught her by the ankle before she could prod him with her foot.
"Should I shave?" she asked. She associated razorblades with Gotham, little rituals to induct her back into someone else's idea of personhood. It was a transitory city for her, somewhere between boots and heels, trees and skyscrapers.
"Why are you asking me?" he asked, letting her leg go.
"Maybe you have a preference," she suggested.
"If I need you to be more aerodynamic, I'll let you know."
She giggled. "I could shave you, if you'd like." She thought about it every time she watched him shave, dragging the blade over his skin.
She pouted. "Don't trust me?"
"The scruff's part of the costume," he corrected, and she laughed. "When I'm clean-shaven I glow in the dark. I attract moths."
"Oh, fine," she said, still laughing. "Here — I want to show you something."
"Come closer," she said, tilting her head back, tapping at the hollow of her throat. His eyebrows furrowed as he leaned a little nearer, cautiously concerned.
She lunged, and pulled him into the tub before he could stop her.
There was an enormous splash, water overflowing onto the tile, waves rippling against the sides of the tub. Only his shoes had been spared, hanging over the edge, and even they were probably ruined. He'd pulled himself half-out almost as soon as he'd fallen, arms spread out against the edge of the tub to support him. That had been pure instinct, but the look on his face in the aftermath was resignation. He made no further attempts to pull himself out of the tub.
"Ta-da," she said, wiggling her fingers.
He sighed. "That wasn't necessary." His shirt was clinging transparent to his skin, dark curls showing through.
"Would you get in if I'd asked?"
"It was necessary."
He kicked off his shoes, and pulled his legs into the water, turning to trap her on one side of the tub.
She was delighted, and it showed.
"You realize," he said, "that you've glitterbombed me."
The tiniest particles of reflective mica stuck to his skin, made his stubble shine.
"It's a good look," she said.
"There is no force on Earth that will get this off of my face." He was moving closer, limbs caging her in.
"It's a good thing it's such a good look."
"Batman doesn't glitter, Selina."
"I think you can make it work." She'd curled up small against the wall of the tub, affecting wide-eyed helplessness.
His knee went between hers, hands gripping porcelain on either side of her. "You're going to ruin me."
He kissed her. She cupped his face in her hands, brushed her fingers over his stubble. The heat of his mouth was persistent, delicious, nothing cautious in the way his tongue braved her fangs.
"My reputation," he said between kisses, in the spaces where she breathed, "can't survive you." He hadn't touched her yet. "Without that, what do I have?"
"Millions of dollars of specialized bat-themed equipment?" she suggested.
His hands were gentle even when his skin was rough, pulling her close, pressing her bare chest to his wet clothes. "Worthless," he said, kissing her neck, her shoulder. "The Night doesn't glitter."
"The night glitters plenty," she corrected. "It's the Knight that doesn't."
"You can't fix this with puns."
"Never stops us trying." She reached down between them, pressed her hand against the erection clearly outlined in his clothes.
"God," he groaned, and he kissed her again, harder, hungrier. "You're going to fucking kill me."
"Don't say that."
"I wasn't being literal."
"You scare me, sometimes."
"Not you. Never you."
She pushed back against him, wrapped her legs around him, rested her head on his shoulder. "Please, Bruce?"
He adjusted, trying to reach his back pocket without letting her go. She took his other hand in hers, brushed his fingers against the bump in her arm where her implant was housed, an impatient hint. "I know, I know."
"Not today, kitten."
"I've been good."
"I know, kitten, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," she said, nuzzling her cheek against his, taking the plastic wrapper from his fingers. He was who he was, precautions for his precautions, backup plans for every just-in-case. It was an irrational thing, the way she wanted him, wanted to be marked by him. Wanted to be able to smell it on her, the claim he'd made.
She wouldn't be mentioning it. Safety issues aside: it was kind of gross.
She was allowed to want things while still being aware that they were gross.
She tossed his belt to the floor, pulled at his buttons but didn't peel him bare. His hands were on her thighs, his mouth on hers, tasting her and filling her and taking his time. All she could hear was their breathing, the sound of the water on their skin and the crackle of the fire. His fingers pressed into her skin, still so careful, but all she wanted were bruises like fingerprints.
"You're so good."
"I missed you."
"So much, so much."
His grip tightened, hands on her hips, a hard thrust that rippled through the water. "Then stay."
"I wish I could."
"For you," she said, "I'd never come back if it weren't for you, just you." Her breath caught, gripping at his clothes. Wouldn't claim her outright, but when she said it, for you, his response was immediate and intense. "Just you, all for you, only you, Bruce—"
Her voice echoed off the tile, bursting out of her like the light behind her eyes.
"Gorgeous," he said, stroking her cheek.
"Pretty," she teased, kissing the tip of his nose.
"Yes," he agreed seriously.
"I'm sorry I can't stay." There were far horizons in her heart, treetops and deserts and windswept plains, stars and sunsets and skylines unscraped.
"Don't be sorry." He ran his thumb along her lower lip. "How long are you here?"
"Not sure yet." She rested her head on his shoulder. He was still wrapped in wet fabric. "I have a lead on someone selling stolen art I'd like to investigate."
"I can help with that."
"If you'd like." He rubbed his hand along her back, followed the curve of her spine.
"Why wouldn't I want your help with detective work?"
"I don't want to be presumptuous," he said, and she laughed.
"That's fair," she said, because if he'd decided to help without asking she'd have bristled.
"I have figured out a few things about you, by now," he said.
He kissed her hair. "Never."