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Stray

Chapter Text

On the beach, close to sunset, a dog runs
toward us fast, agitated, perhaps feral,
scrounging for anything he can eat.
We pull the children close and let him pass.

Is there such a thing as a stray child? Simon asks.
Like if a mother had a child from her body
but then decided she wanted to be a different child’s mother,
what would happen to that first child?

The dog finds a satisfying scrap and calms.
The boys break free and leap from rock to rock.
I was a stray man before I met your mother,
you say, but they have run on and cannot hear you.

How fast they run on, past the dark pool
your voice makes, our arms which hold them back.
I was a stray man before I met you,
you say. This time you are speaking to me.

Stray, by Elizabeth Alexander (1962)

 

1.

 

He watched the boy's parents fall. That was how it all began.
They fell, and then there was a great deal screaming and raised voices, and afterwards, the sound of sirens. All the while, the little boy was frozen there, in the centre of the ring. He looked like an exhibit at the zoo, almost, to be gawked at and prodded.

He remembered that feeling.

He walked towards him. Knelt down by him, so close that there was blood staining through the knees of his pants. “Hello,” he said, his voice low, “My name is Bruce.”

 

*

 

The man in the leather jacket looked at her, wide-eyed. “Who?” he said.

Selina suppressed the urge to shake him by the shoulders. She looked over her shoulder. They were coming. “Catwoman. I told you."

"That's your real name?" He said, looking skeptical.

Selina sighed. She was quickly losing her patience. "Obviously not, you idiot. Like I said, I need to borrow your bike. It's urgent.”

The man opened his mouth, closed it again. He looked not unlike a goldfish. His fist clenched the handle of his bike protectively.
They were on a busy square, on a sunny Saturday morning, and three black SUVs were hot on her tail. She could see them coming up. The men in the cars did not look pleased, to say the least. And they had guns. She heard a warning gunshot, and then screaming.
God, Selina was tired.

“Listen, I'll have it delivered back to you by the end of the week. I swear. Just give it to me.” Selina said.

“No!” The man said. He was looking behind her with wide eyes. Selina turned. A man with a semi-automatic strapped to his back was getting out of the SUV. Shit.

Selina turned back around and glared at him. “My ankle,” she hissed, “is broken. I just stole the largest diamond ring this side of the Atlantic Ocean. There are two different mafias that want me dead, and the GCPD and Batman both want me in prison. My sister called me up yesterday crying because apparently I'm straying from the light of God, so I had to deal with that phone call. And there’s a stupid goddamn circus in my neighborhood that's been playing loud music all night and I haven't gotten any sleep. I am not in the mood right now. So give. Me. The bike.

The man swallowed again. There were people watching, now. “No,” he said again, his voice a little weaker.

“Oh for the love of God,” Selina muttered, wrenching it out of his grip. She elbowed his face, effectively muffling his protests, and twisted around, with a right hook to his jaw. He crumpled to the floor, and she limped towards his bike. Most people around them were just watching, frozen in shock.

“Asshole,” she muttered, as she sped off through the square, weaving in and out of traffic, and dodging pedestrians. A stray bullet or two whizzed past her, and she ducked, sighing. The diamond ring was secure in her pouch.

She needed some fucking sleep.

 

*

 

She limped through the narrow alleyway towards her apartment, her arm dangling uselessly. In the chase, one of the idiots brandishing machine guns had gotten lucky and shot her shoulder. It hurt like hell. She hobbled over a pothole, pressing her lips together. It felt like her foot was on fire.

I can't in good grace, watch you lead a sinful life anymore, her sister had said on the phone, last night. Selina had had to cover her other ear to hear her properly. The circus had been making one hell of a racket.

“You don't have to fucking watch me,” Selina muttered now. Maggie seemed to have forgotten all the shit Selina had done to keep food in their stomachs, when they were growing up. The shit they'd both had to do.

She paused for a breath, closing her eyes. It was possible she had overestimated her ability to be able to walk after breaking an ankle and getting shot at repeatedly. She found herself wishing she hadn't dumped the bike near the docks.
She took another ragged breath, as a shard of pain sliced through her foot. She braced herself, pushing her gloved palm flat against the wall. She was just going to sit down for a while. Just a little while. In the alleyway.

Look what you've come to, Maggie said, crouching next to her. She was in a pristine nun’s habit. Her face was serene, but stern. She looked like that statue of Saint Teresa that the orphanage used to have. Calm. At peace. It used to be near Sister Linda's office; she'd have to go there whenever she got into trouble, and sister Linda would give her five sharp raps on the back of her hands with her wooden cane, that crazy psycho bitch.
Soon enough, Selina had started associating Saint Teresa's face with the pain on her knuckles.

Selina started laughing, despite herself. She was still clutching at her shoulder, and her hand was coming back wet, now. Wet with blood.

You’re crouched in a dank corner of a terrible neighborhood, and you're broken, Maggie said, her Saint Teresa face on, looking all reverent and forlorn for her sake, Look at you, Selina. You're just broken and it's so goddamn sad.

Selina smiled then. It was all in her head. Maggie would never swear. Not Saint Magdalena. It was too beneath her.
“Get off your fucking high horse, Maggie,” she mumbled, sliding down the wall, until she fell.

 

Someone was shaking her. Someone little. “Hey miss, you need to get up,” the voice was saying. It was a child's voice.

Selina squinted, trying to sit up a little. “Mags?” she mumbled.

“Huh?” the voice said.

Selina opened her eyes, blinking slowly. The light had changed. It looked like mid afternoon, now. Shit. Shit. She'd passed out.

She looked around, trying to figure out where she was. It was the same alleyway, except now she could hear police sirens. Shit.

There was a wide-eyed little boy crouched down next to her, obvious concern on his face. He had a mop of dark, curly hair, and bright blue eyes. And he was wearing something that looked like… a circus costume.

“Are you okay, miss?” The little boy said.

Selina ran a hand over her face. “You hear that too?” She said, “The sirens?”

The boy nodded quickly, his eyes getting wider. “Are they looking for you?” he said.

Selina thought about lying. “Look, I–”

“I think they may be after me,” The boy said, his voice hushed. His eyes were even wider now, if that was possible.

Selina blinked. “What?” She said.

“Please,” The boy whisper, grabbing her hand. He didn't even notice it was wet with blood. “Please, you have to help me.”

She cleared her throat, pulling her hand free from him grip. “Look kid, just go back home, okay? No one would send five police cruisers after one kid.”

They're after me, not you, She thought of saying. She shook her head instead, getting to her feet slowly. “Go back home to your family. I have to get going.”

The boy's lower lip trembled. “I don't have a home anymore,” he said, his voice small.

Selina stared. “I don't–”

The boy burst into tears.

Selina sighed, trying to awkwardly pat his shoulder a little, except she was only getting blood all over him, so she stopped. “Okay, okay, little boy, I'm sorry, alright?"

He just shook his head, his shoulders hunched and shaking.  

"Oh Jesus, you can come with me, just– just, you know. Please stop crying.” Selina said, staring at him, horrified. 

The boy sniffled, rubbing at his eyes, “Really?” he said.

Selina rubbed at her brow. “Yes, really. And also because I need help walking home.” she said.

The boy's smile was watery. He had little dimples, one on each cheek. “Thanks. I'm Dick, by the way.”

“God,” Selina said, groaning as she started walking, “I'm sorry, kid.”

“It's okay,” Dick said, his smile becoming bigger, “I like it! I don't like being called Richard. It sounds like an old man's name, you know?”

“Sure,” Selina said, inhaling sharply as she tried putting some weight on her ankle. That was a bad idea.

“Let me help!” Dick said, scurrying over to her other side and putting her arm around him. “Here, you can lean on me.”

“Um, thanks,” Selina said. She leaned out from behind the alleyway, and quickly ducked back in. There was a squad car right outside. Dammit.

She rapidly removed her goggles and mask, and shoved them into her pouch. She had to think fast. “Dick?” She said.

“Uh huh?”

“You need to do me a favor, okay? There's a Goodwill a block from here, over by that end,” she said, pointing. Then she started rummaging in her pouch again, until she found two crumpled twenties. “Go buy me a dress. It doesn't matter how it looks, just make sure it'd fit me. I'm a size small. And…” she paused, looking at him, “is that a circus costume?”

Dick nodded, and suddenly his lower lip was trembling again.

Selina quickly took out another twenty from the pouch. “Here,” she said, giving it to him. “Go buy some clothes for yourself. I'm going to wait here, okay?”

Dick peeked out of the alleyway, looking at the squad car that was standing by. “But they're going to find me,” he said, his voice small.

“Dick,” Selina said, slowly, “I don't think they're looking for you.”

“They are! I ran away and–,” Dick sniffled, “they just are, okay? I know it.”

“No, they're not,” Selina said. She hesitated, “Children in Gotham go missing all the time. No one sends squad cars after them. Trust me, I'd know.”

Dick looked at her, wide eyed. “You mean, the man in the suit, he doesn't– he doesn't want me any more?”

“Which man?” Selina said, feeling lost.

“The nice man in the nice suit! I for– I forgot his name, but he said he'd seen it happen before, and it'd happened to him and he was going to take care of me now, and then I heard the police sirens and,” Dick paused, looking forlorn, “and I got scared and–and I ran away.”

Selina rubbed at her brow for a second. “Dick, I don't know what you're talking about. Here's my deal, okay? You get the clothes, and I'll get you away from the cops. Then we'll go find your parents, or,” Selina added, when she saw his face beginning to crumple, “that nice man, okay?”

“Okay,” Dick said, his voice small. Then he squared his tiny shoulders, a look of determination on his face. “I'll help you, catlady!”

Selina smiled, but just a little. “Selina. My name is Selina.”

Dick grinned a toothy grin. “I'm going to help you, Selina.” he said, and then scampered off, out of the alleyway. 

 

*

 

They reached her apartment after a long and painful walk. Selina bit her lip, climbing the last flight of stairs. God, it was like someone had stuck a rusty knife deep into her ankle.

Dick was trailing after her, a concerned look on his face. “You okay, Selina?” he said, for only the hundredth time.

“I will be,” Selina said, gritting her teeth, “once I'm not fu– freaking walking anymore.”

“Okay!” Dick said, skipping the steps two at a time. He was wearing the brightest blue shirt Selina had seen in a long time, coupled with silver hammer pants. In hindsight, it had not been the best idea to send him clothes shopping. The boy had… a unique sense of fashion.

“We're supposed to blend in, not stand out,” She'd hissed at him, when he'd come back wearing those clothes.

“Oh,” Dick said, “I just really liked those. No one's let me shop for myself before,” he said. His blue shirt had little tassels on it, for Chrissake.

“I can see why,” Selina said, “you look like the 80’s hip hop scene threw you up.”

“Is that a good thing?” Dick asked, sounding hopeful.

“No,” Selina said, “absolutely not. Where's my dress?”

“Oh!” Dick said, rummaging inside a little plastic bag, “here. I didn't know if you'd like it but,” he held up a dress. It was a little wrinkled, and the sleeves looked too long but it was… pretty. Floral. Not really Selina's thing.

“I don't know what ladies like,” Dick admitted, “but my mom, she wears dresses like these. Wore dresses like these, I mean,” He said, his brow scrunched up.

Selina took it from him, slowly. Carefully, so she wouldn't get any blood on it. “It's fine,” she said. She didn't ask any questions.

Dick had nodded jerkily, and that had been that. And now they were in her apartment. And her leg was about to give out from under her. 

Selina sat down on the couch, leaning back until she was staring at the ceiling. “I can't do this anymore,” she said. Maggie had been right. It was a shit life.

“What?” Dick was walking around, looking at things. Her apartment was tiny– it had one bedroom, a shower, and a kitchenette attached. And a tiny broom closet of a hall.

“Nothing,” Selina said, sitting back up, “come here.”

Dick walked over to her, sitting down on the couch.

“Are you hurt?” Selina said, taking off her boot slowly. If she stayed really still, and she tried not to move her foot, maybe–

“Fuck!” She yelled, squeezing her eyes shut. Oh god oh god oh god.

“Uh, maybe you should see a doctor,” Dick said, sounding scared.

Selina shook her head. “No, no doctors,” she said, gasping, “I need a splint. Dick, there's a med kit under my bed. Go get it.”

She heard rapid scurrying of feet, and then the sound of something scraping against the floor. “What does a splint look like?” he yelled from the bedroom.

“Just get the whole kit,” She yelled back.

Dick rushed back with the whole kit. “Do I– should I, I don't know what to do,” he said, looking nervous.

Selina shook her head. “You don't have to do anything,” she said, opening the kit. She took out a splint and some gauze, and took a deep breath.

“Stop being afraid,” She muttered. “Come on. Come on come on come on.”

She thought, irrationally, of that statue of Saint Teresa. That awful serene face. And now her knuckles were hurting too, because she was one of those Pavlovian dogs, was what she was. Shit. 

“Fuck it,” she said. Then she grabbed her ankle. The pain was unspeakable, but she got the splint lined up, and then she started wrapping the bandages around it. She was crying, she realized, taking large, gulping breaths, and crying.

Dick looked terrified.

She wrapped the bandage around her ankle one last time, tying it as tight as she possibly could.

“Okay,” she said, breathing hard. “Okay.”

Now, onto her shoulder. She pushed down one of the straps of the dress, twisting to see the gunshot wound. The bleeding had largely stopped, but she was going to have to fish the bullet out.

“Dick, there's a bottle of whiskey on top of the fridge. Can you reach it?” she asked, wiping at her face.

Dick walked towards the fridge, his eyes on her the whole time, like he was afraid she was going to bleed to death if he looked away.

“Dick!” she snapped, and he blinked, almost like he was waking out of a trance.

“Whiskey,” he said, “right. Is it that big glass bottle with the black cap?”

Selina nodded. She fumbled through the med kit, looking for a pair of tweezers. “Can you climb the counter?”

Dick nodded. “I can climb almost anything,” he said. He pulled himself up onto the counter, and then stood on his toes, grabbing the bottle of Jack. He leapt off the counter and onto the couch in two bounds, handing it to her.

“Are you–” she paused, opening the bottle with her teeth, “are you an acrobat?”

Dick nodded.

Selina splashed some of the whiskey on her shoulder, gritting her teeth. “Shit,” She said, trying not to yell. It was possible she was raising her voice, just a little. “Shit, shit, shit.”

She splashed some of the whiskey on the tweezers too, just in case. She brought the tweezers close to the hole, and then stopped. God, it was going to hurt so much.

“Come on, you fucking coward,” she muttered herself. To Dick, she said, “you might want to look somewhere else.”

When Dick didn't move, she pointed to the window. “Go look at the traffic outside,” she said.

Dick hesitated, and then went to the window.

She took a few quick breaths, and grabbed the tweezers. And she dug the bullet out of her shoulder, swearing like a sailor the whole time. Dick was standing at the window, but he'd turned his head, and he was staring at her, wide-eyed.

She leaned back on the couch, and closed her eyes. The bullet dropped to the floor with an almost soundless clink.

There was a silence.

“I'm really sorry,” she said, after a while, “that you had to see all that.”

The couch dipped, as Dick sat next to her. There was a longer silence.

“It's okay,” he said, faintly, “it's not the worst thing I've seen today.”

Selina opened her eyes, looking at him. “What do you mean?”

Dick pressed up against the corner of the couch, drawing his knees up to his chest. Then he wrapped his arms around them, trying to draw them in tighter. It almost looked like he wanted to make himself as small as possible. Like he wanted to disappear.

Then he looked at her.

“My parents died,” he said. “I think it was in the morning. I saw them.”

Selina looked at him. “What?” she said.

“I saw them fall,” he said, and he was crying again, “I saw their– you know, their heads smash against the ground. There were– there were parts of their brains on my shoes.”

Selina sat up. “At the circus?” she said, very quietly.

Dick nodded. He was still curled up in the very corner of the couch. He was crying so quietly now that she could only see his shoulders shake.

“They were trapeze artists. They never used a net. They were that good.”

“Did they fall?” Selina said, even quieter.

Dick shook his head. “No,” he said, hiccupping, “no, they wouldn't. Someone messed with the rope.”

Selina got off the couch, and crouched next to Dick, careful not the put any weight on her bad ankle.
“Dick,” she said, her voice low, “how old are you?”

Dick looked at her, peeking over his knees. His eyes were red and swollen. “I'm ten years old.”

“Well then,” Selina said, her voice soft, “you're a big boy. And you're old enough to know that you need to tell someone about it, right? The–”

“The nice man in the suit?” Dick said, hopefully. “I forgot his name, but he was really tall. And big. He looked like he could punch whoever messed with the rope.”

Selina paused. “I don't know who that is, Dick.” she said. “I think he might just have been a bystander. Not much he could do in a situation like that.”

“Don't take me to the police,” Dick said, frowning, “they can't be good guys, if they came after you.”

Selina was silent. After a moment, she tilted her head, and smiled at Dick. “How do you feel about eating something?” she said.

She cooked him dinner, chicken parm and some crackers that she found in her cupboard. Then she scooped him up from the couch, limping to the bedroom.
Dick put her arms around her automatically, making a sleepy sound, and she had to blink hard. It just reminded her of Maggie, was all.

“I have a friend,” She whispered into his hair, soft and curly against her cheek, “I'm going to talk to him, okay? I trust him more than the cops. You sleep here, while I go find him.”

“Okay,” Dick said, sleepily, pressing his face into her neck.

Selina paused, for a moment. Touched his hair. “Okay,” She said, setting him down in her bed. The room was dark, and cool. She put the covers around him.

She was closing the door to the bedroom when he spoke. 

"Um, Selina?"

Selina paused.  

"Do you– do you think we should say a prayer for my parents, or something?"

Selina blinked, frozen. "A prayer?"

She could see Dick nod. 

"Do you want to?"

In the darkness of the room, Dick's silhouette looked very small. "I don't know," he said, sounding unsure, "maybe it's the right thing to do."

"Okay," she said, clearing her throat. "We'll–we'll say one together, okay?"

She walked back to him and knelt awkwardly by the bed, kneeling heavier on her uninjured leg. She clasped her hands together.

Dick was looking uncertain. "We never really did this. I don't know what to say."

"Um, you just have to talk," Selina said. She still felt frozen. 

Dick screwed up his face. "Dear God," he said, "My parents are with you now so please take care of them in heaven and tell them that I love them a lot and I miss them. Amen."

"Amen," Selina whispered.  

Dick was still frowning. "Did I mess it up? I don't know the right words. Maybe I should have said Father instead of–"

"You didn't mess it up," Selina said, quietly. 

"Oh," Dick said. He lay back down. "Good night, Selina."

"Good night," Selina said. Then she got up and left the room. Clicked the door shut quietly behind her. 

A million times. She'd done this a million times for Maggie, when Mom was passed out in the kitchen, or too drunk to walk. She'd tucked her little sister in, and read the fairytales, and sang the songs. Said the prayer. 

I can't in good grace, watch you lead a sinful life anymore.

Selina found herself blinking back tears. She sat down in the hall, her back against the door to her bedroom. The one where a little ten year old was sleeping. 

This was a goddamn mess.

 

*

 

“You're hurt,” he said.

Selina shook her head. “How do you do it?” she said, taking her goggles off. “How can you tell I'm injured from two rooftops away?”

“I'm not two rooftops away,” Batman said. “I'm right here.”

Selina's mouth quirked up, “Right. But you could tell from when you were two rooftops away.”

Batman was silent, so she guessed she'd got him there.

“Let me guess,” she said, sitting on the ledge of the terrace to take the weight off her leg, “you studied under some hermit monk in Singapore, and he taught you a secret incantation so you'd know when any of your enemies had sustained injuries.”

Batman walked until he was in front of her. She looked up at him. He was looming threateningly. Or trying to. “There are no hermits in Singapore,” he said.

“Oh yeah? What is there in Singapore?”

“A Universal Studios,” he said, and she laughed.

“I'm not scared of you, you know,” Selina said. “I know you won't hurt me.”

Batman grunted. “You're wanted by several different groups, Catwoman. Stealing O’neill's diamond ring was a foolish move. I'd advise you to be more careful, when it comes to your… night time appearances.”

Several groups? You really know how to flatter a girl,” Selina said, smiling. She reached up to put a hand on his arm. “What about you? Do you want me, Bat? I'm starting to feel special.”

Batman looked unimpressed. “Cut the shit. You've disrespected a lot of crime families, Catwoman. You're wanted. Badly injured. Things don't look good for you.”

Selina grabbed a fistful of his cape, and tugged. Batman didn't budge.
Selina sighed. “Alright. Come sit down,” she said, "I can't really stand, anyway. I need your help, okay?”

That got Batman's attention. She knew it would. He hesitated, and then sat next to her.
“What is it?” he said.

“There's a boy. He's only ten. Name's Dick. Richard, I think. He was in the circus, and he saw his parents–”

“Fall to their deaths,” Batman said.

Selina looked at him, surprised. “You know about this,” she said.

Batman’s eyes were flat and white through the lenses. “He's been reported missing. Richard Grayson. Son of John and Mary Grayson. Recently deceased.”

“The kid told me they didn't fall,” she said, “he told me someone tampered with the ropes.”

“I know,” Batman said.

Selina tilted her head, “you do?”

“Yes,” Batman said. “Is he at your place right now?”

“You can't take him,” Selina said, and then frowned. “Right now, I mean. He's asleep. You should come pick him up in the morning.”

Batman gave her a long look. “I know you won't go to the police,” he said, “Finger tower. Nine AM, tomorrow morning. I'll be there. Bring the kid.”

“If you're not, and there's some two-bit corrupt cop there instead, I'm not handing him over,” Selina said, her voice a tight thread of steel. “You understand?”

Batman nodded. “I'll be there,” he said.

“Okay,” Selina said. She paused. “He's a good kid. You'll make sure he gets a good home?”

“Yes,” Batman said.

“Okay,” Selina said, taking a deep breath. “Okay.”

He was going to be just fine. She didn't know why she cared anyway. She had plenty of other problems right now, and a little boy was not going to be another one of them.  

“Let me see your leg,” Batman said.

“What?”

Batman hesitated, and she swore she could see him blush a little. “You're hurt,” he said, his voice gruff, “let me look at your leg.”

Selina shrugged, pulling off her boot. It hurt less now that she was on enough painkillers to knock out a horse. 
“I think it's broken,” she said. “my ankle.”

Batman crouched down next to her foot, putting his fingers gently on the splint.

“Hey, be careful!” Selina said, even though it hadn't hurt.

“It's not broken,” Batman said, “your ligament is torn. Ice pack and no weight on your feet for at least two weeks.”

“Oh,” Selina said, “Well, now I feel stupid. Thanks, Bat.”

Batman grunted. He was unwrapping the bandage deftly, and took the splint off. He touched her bare skin, just a brush of his gloves against her calf. It was only for a second, but she still looked at him, a little surprised. 

“Stay off that leg,” he said, clearing his throat. “And away from the crime families. I mean it, Catwoman.”

“Well, if you mean it,” Selina said, smiling. Batman didn't say anything to that either. It was a good feeling, being able to render him speechless.

“Finger tower,” he grunted, “tomorrow morning. Be there,” he said.

Then he was gone.

 

*

 

She made eggs in the morning. Sunny side up.

“I hope you're not a vegetarian,” she said to Dick, sliding the plate to him. He was still in his Goodwill clothes.

“I didn't have any clothes for you, so I went and bought these,” she said, laying out a tee shirt and pants for him. “The size should be okay.”

Dick looked at them. He was sitting at her tiny table, his legs dangling off of the extra chair she had. He was looking around a little apprehensively, at the peeling linoleum floors and the cheap plywood furniture. She really needed to move out. 

“Are you going to take me to the police station now?” he said, his voice small.

Selina shook her head, pouring out some orange juice for him. She'd stolen it from a Walmart at three in the morning, along with his clothes.

“I'm taking you to my friend,” she said, “remember the one I told you about?”

“Uh huh,” Dick said.

Selina paused. “You're not from around here, are you? I can tell – you don't have the accent.”

“We didn't really stay in one place for long,” he said, his mouth full of eggs.

“That might make the paperwork difficult. A few extra steps,” she said, thinking. “Any idea who your next of kin would be?”

Dick shook his head. “We don't have any family,” he said. “Mom and Dad used to say the circus was family.”

His voice wavered a little on that last word.

Selina nodded. “I don't really have any family either. Not really.”

She remembered Maggie praying in that small room they'd had in the orphanage, two weeks after their mother had died. Remembered her kneeling by the bed, her elbows on the mattress, her eyes squeezed shut. 

“Dick,” Selina said, her voice soft, “do you know who the Batman is?”

 

*

 

Before they went to Finger tower, they made a short detour to a Mr. Zucco's house.

“You know what a mob enforcer does?” Selina said, holding Dick's hand as she limped across the street, across to Zucco's apartment building.

Dick shook his head. He was in his new clothes now, and Selina was in a black dress. They stopped in front of the cross-walk.

“A mob enforcer,” Selina said, “is a man that harms people when they don't do what the mob tells them to do.”

“Oh,” Dick said.

The pedestrian crossing turned green. They walked across the road. “Let's say there's a new circus in town,” Selina said, “and they're doing well. Really well. Except here's the thing – this is Gotham City they're in, and to survive, they have to pay protection money. Either to the Irish, or the Italians. It's up to them.”

“But one day, the owner of the circus gets too bold, and decides that hey, he doesn't want to give a quarter of his ticket sales to the Italians. He doesn't want to give them to the Irish either. Why should he? No one should be able to take away his hard-earned money. So that's when the mob calls up their enforcer, Dick. And then an accident takes place at the circus, one that's bad enough to convince the owner that perhaps he does need protection, after all.”

They walked into the apartment building, and Selina smiled at the doorman. It was a fancy place.

“Mr. Anthony Zucco, please,” she said to him, “seventh floor. He's expecting me.”

They got into the lift. She was still holding Dick's hand. Tight.

“A mob enforcer can also be used for other things,” She continued. “Let's take the example of a petty thief. She's only seventeen, and the orphanage she lives in is burned down to the ground. She doesn't want to be sent somewhere else, so she empties the cash register from her job at the local supermarket, and she takes her little fourteen year old sister and they go rent a place in the Narrows. It's a real shithole, but they get by. She robs people, and jewellery stores sometimes. Mostly people though. Her sister pretends not to know, but it's putting food on their table, so she doesn't put a stop to it.”

“Now this seventeen year old girl starts getting really good at what she does. She gets older, and she gets even better. She moves out of the awful apartment in the Narrows, to a slightly less awful apartment in the East End. People start hiring her to do jobs. Museums, art galleries, penthouses, even a bank or two. Her sister drops out of school, and tells her that she's going to become a nun.”

Selina laughed, “An actual nun, if you can believe that. Then one day, the Italian mafia finds out about this girl’s unique set of skills. They find out about how she's supposed to be the best. And they tell her that she must rob the Irish mafia's boss's diamond ring, to settle an old score or something like that, or they're going to find her little sister, and they're going to make their mob enforcer drag her outside the church and put a bullet in her head.”

Dick was looking at her with wide eyes. The lift doors opened. They stepped out onto the seventh floor.

“I did some research last night, while you were asleep. Asked around,” Selina says, quietly, “and I found a certain mob enforcer’s address. Do you understand what I'm telling you, Dick?”

Dick nodded.

“Remember when I asked you if you knew who Batman was?” Selina said.

“Yeah,” Dick said, “and I said of course I knew. I don't live under a rock.”

“No,” Selina said, “you most certainly do not.” They came to a stop outside Mr. Zucco's apartment. Selina looked at her watch. “I was supposed to meet Batman at nine in the morning, at Finger Tower. It's currently ten thirty.”

“So?” Dick said.

“So, Batman told me to do three things, last night. He said to stay off my leg, to stay away from the mafia, and to come with you to Finger Tower at nine. And I've just wholeheartedly disregarded all three things. And it won't take him long to figure out where we went. He's going to follow us, and take out Mr. Zucco for us.”

“How do you know that?” Dick said, his eyebrows raised.

“Because,” Selina said, “Mr. Zucco thinks I've come to his house to give him the diamond ring. And when he finds out that I haven't, he's going to try to kill me,” Selina tilted her head, when she saw Dick's eyes widen, “but that's not going to happen. Batman won't let him. You know why, Dick?”

“Uh, ‘cause he's a good guy?” Dick said.

Selina laughed. “Well. I suppose. But mainly it's because he has a little bit of a crush on me.”

She rang the door bell. The door opened.

Selina smiled. “Hello," she said, to the burly looking bodyguard type who'd opened the door, "Is Mr. Zucco here? Tell him Selina Kyle has something for him." 

 

*

 

Batman entered the building shortly after Zucco pulled the gun on her.

After that, the whole thing was over in fifteen minutes.

Dick and Selina sat outside the apartment, waiting for Batman.

“Can we go get some ice cream?” Dick said.

“Sure,” Selina said.

There was a silence. It was mostly comfortable, punctuated occasionally with the sounds of fists against flesh. They listened, idly.

“You're really calm about this whole thing,” Selina said. “Aren't you only ten?”

Dick nodded. “I told you,” he said, “I've seen worse things.”

A silence.

“Hey, Selina?”

“Mm?”

“How old are you?” Dick asked.

Selina looked at him. “I'm twenty three.”

Dick fidgeted with his hands a little. “Can I stay with you, just for a little while?” he asked.

Selina was quiet. Then, “you sure you want to?”

Dick nodded.

“Okay,” Selina said, after a while. She took out the diamond ring she'd stolen from her pouch. Biggest cut diamond this side of the Atlantic. She smiled.

“We're going to need to buy a bigger apartment, though,” she said.