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First and Last and Always

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You weren't sure if it was the smearing neon lights, the throbbing bass that rocked your ribcage, or the Drops you'd just laid over your eyes, but you were mesmerized, body locked in place, as he battered his way through Oz's goons. They should have parted like the Red Sea in his wake, instead they mobbed him. And it was fucking breathtaking to watch him break them. He dropped them, one by one, until Oz appeared over his shoulder, a fake show of hospitality as he led him up into the office that overlooked the club.

And just like that, the spell was broken, the music loud and pulsing as bodies writhed around you.

The Drops made the job easier, made the groping hands and leering gazes fade smoothly into the background. You hated it. Hated the drugs and the booze and everyone in here. But you had debt and they had your passport and your parents address. There really was no getting away, not when there was the off chance some cop or lawyer would get too shit faced and run their mouth for a chance to get under your skirt. So to watch the Bat snap their bones, reduce them to whimpering heaps, made a grin tug at the corner of your painted mouth.

Black clouds, heavy with rain, reflected the lights of the city back at you as you shouldered open the door of the Iceberg Lounge, sliding out into the alley just as the sky seemed to sigh, tearing itself apart and unleashing a downpour. You nestled into the hood of your coat, the click click click of your heels against the asphalt drowning out the blaring horns and shouts from the street. You turned a corner and the hair on the back of your neck rose like hackles. There was a shift in the air around you, the drugs slowing your reaction as a hand came down on your shoulder. You tripped, lurching as your heel wedged itself in a crack. Your ankle rolled, throwing you back into the man who had grabbed you. He laughed and it was an ugly sound, like something wet had stuck in his throat.

"Aren't you a pretty little thing?" He sneered. He was familiar, he had been watching you earlier as you made your rounds at 44 Below. Jack and Coke, that was him. "Let me walk you home, baby."

"I'm fine," you jerked your arm out of his grip, yanking your heel from where it was stuck in the street. The bastard reached forward, his clammy fingers brushing the side of your face as you stepped back. "I said I'm fucking fine," you spat.

He stepped closer, pushing at your shoulder as he crowded you, laughing when you stumbled. You landed hard, biting your tongue as your ass hit the wet ground. His shadow warped, stretching grotesquely as he loomed over you. With one hand you tugged down the hem of your skirt, the other digging into your pocket to curl around the switchblade you carried. The man dropped into a crouch, leering as his meaty hands reached for you. You lashed out with a shriek, your blade piercing his forearm and tearing as you dragged it back toward you. He howled, a bellow that shook the night. Light exploded in the center of your face, his fist smashing into your nose. Blood ran hot down your face, metallic and sharp as it dripped between your lips and you fell back against the garbage.

The man shouted, caught off guard, and you watched him fly backward into the cans on the other side of the alley. A new shadow loomed, broad and dark, standing over the asshole that hit you. You watched him raise his leg, bending at the knee before smashing his boot into the creep's face. The Bat leaned forward, cocking back and hitting him square in the jaw - twice. Gloved hands yanked your blade from the goons arm, blood spraying the dirty wall beside him.

The lights blurred again, pain radiating through your skull as the world began to tilt and turn like some sick merry-go-round. Colors faded, melting in and out of a comforting blanket of black. Heavy steps grew closer and you tried your best to keep your eyes open, swaying on the ground. The Bat leaned down, his face level with yours as he looked you over. You looked back, flashes of a sharp jaw and ocean eyes rimmed in black. A large hand wrapped around yours, curling your fingers over the hilt of your knife.

"Thanks, blue eyes", you slurred, blood warm on your tongue as you lost consciousness and it all went blessedly black.

The buzzing of fluorescent lights had woken you early the next morning. The ER was filled to bursting beyond the dingy curtain pulled closed around your bed. Apparently the Batman had handed you off to a nurse a few hours prior. She took the time to get you clean scrubs, throwing away your torn and tattered dress before she set your broken nose, stitched your lip, and sent you on your way. There was blood on your new coat, you realized as you slid into the back of a cab. You had no idea how you'd get it out.

The bruises eventually faded, black to blue to a tender yellow. You woke, you worked, you slept. No more drops, no more opportunities for some scumbag to decide you were an easy target.

The sun had set in an explosion of reds and pinks, fading into that deep bruise purple. You called out of work, not faking the headache that threatened to crack your skull open. The loss of the tips would suck, but nothing was getting you out of your apartment that night. You watered your plants and ordered take out, happy to spend an evening shoving greasy dumplings in your face while you watched Casablanca and inevitably fell asleep on the couch.

A soft rain fell - a drizzly curtain, not the angry deluge that came down the night the Bat saved you. You opened the window, grateful for the breeze that swept across your cheeks. The light in the alley crackled, that unstable clicking noise fading into the background as you watched the idiot kids who lived below you sneak down the fire escape. A flash caught your eye, a smear of black and the snapping of fabric. You squinted, staring at the roof of the building next to you, just making out the blue of his eyes before he turned, taking off in the opposite direction.

You closed your door, leaning back against the wood as you kicked your heels off. Your feet ached, and you winced as you padded back to your bedroom. Peeling your dress off, a barely there slip of black fabric, you settled for your softest pair of sleep shorts and an old sweatshirt. Fluffy socks followed and you sighed in relief. You didn't have the energy to wipe the glitter from your eyes, instead digging through your fridge for whatever leftovers were still edible. Flipping the light switch off, you moved towards the couch. Movement through the kitchen window caught your attention and you saw him, the Bat, perched on the fire escape of the next building over. Weeks had gone by and every few nights you caught him, silent and watching. Snorting, you set your plate down and tore a sheet of paper off the notepad stuck to your fridge. You scribbled quickly, tossing the sharpie back on the counter before moving to the window. You slapped the note to the window, holding it there.

You can come in, you know.

You caught the ghost of a grin, cutting sharp across the bottom of his face. He shook his head, the slightest movement, before he backed up and bled into the darkness.

2 am was rough, even on a good day. It was chilly, but at least the rain had stopped. Your hand clutched the knife you kept in your pocket, your eyes darting over the shadows that clung to the walls and gutters, leeching over the concrete and up the sides of buildings. Only three blocks to go and you were home, free for two glorious days in a row. A group of rowdy boys ran past the mouth of the alley and you straightened your spine, watching through narrowed eyes as they passed.

Two blocks left.

There was too much smog to see the stars, too much garish LED running twenty four hours a day, but you imagined them up there - bright and winking down at you, like you were worth their shimmering light. That was something you missed about home, being able to see the sky, no smoke and rot to hide it from view. You really had thought you were doing something when you moved to the big city a few months ago.

One block.

Your shoulders eased down from around your ears, relaxing millimeter by millimeter as your building came into view. You heard a scuffle and then a shout, bodies colliding like meteors before the cock of a shotgun sent your senses into overdrive. The ensuing crack of the blast had you ducking for cover as footsteps raced past and out into the street. There was a groan, low and long, and then the short drag of a body against asphalt, before a sharp inhale. On shaky legs you rose, turning into the alley, terrified of stumbling over a corpse.

But it wasn't a corpse. It was the Batman, gasping for air after taking a slug to the gut. The footprints that led away from his body were bloody. At least he'd gotten his licks in before he was laid out.


You crept closer, eyes darting around the alley as you dropped to your knees by his side, trembling hands unsure of where to rest. You settled for his chest, the metal of the bat that decorated it cool beneath your fingers. Indigo eyes snapped up, bright and wild with pain.

"Hey," you breathed. He opened his mouth, lips trying to form words, but all that came out was a strained gasp. You shushed him, fingertips brushing the line of his jaw. "You're okay. I'm not gonna fuck with you, okay?" You waited a moment, watching him digest your words. It wasn't like he had any other options but to trust you. You swung your head towards the fire escape, hoping he would be able to make it to the second floor without needing to be paraded through the filthy lobby of your building. He reached up, his hand coming to rest over yours. "I live right there. Well shit, you know that."

His eyes flashed with embarrassment and he groaned, twisting to one side. You stood, holding out your hands and praying you would find the strength to lift him off the dirty ground. For a moment he was skeptical, until you rolled your eyes and took his hand, jerking him up with all your might. The Bat hissed in pain, a sharp inhale that rattled through you as you draped one thick arm over your shoulder. Shuffling steps led you to the janky metal staircase and you braced yourself for the slow trek up, up, up to your window. Which was locked. Fuck. You absolutely did not have the money to replace a broken window, grimacing at the consequences of caring whether Vengeance lived or died in the alley below your apartment.

It took what felt like hours to get him up the stairs, quietly coaxing him up each step. You held back a whine as you pulled your coat sleeve down over your fist and punched through the shitty single paned window that separated your home from the dirty Gotham air beyond. Quick fingers pried open the latch and the window swung open, the Batman dropping like dead weight to the floor on the other side.

You managed to drag him to the couch, the old cushions sinking beneath his bulk. He groaned again, blue eyes fluttering shut as his face bunched up in pain. Blood flowed down over the strong line of his jaw and for a moment you were terrified it was coming from his ears. He wouldn't survive that kind of head injury here in your shitty apartment. You were a waitress for fuck's sake, not a doctor. Your hands shook, a myriad of possibilities spinning like a top through your mind until you were nauseous. Making your choice, you ran to the kitchen and grabbed a bowl, filling it with warm water. Next was a clean rag before you dug the measly first aid kit from under the sink and returned to his side, praying whatever was happening under the mask wouldn't need stitches.

"Fuck, fuck fuck," you chanted, debating your options. Finally, hands trembling, you reached for the mask. Small fingers slipping under the ridge, you made contact with warm skin. The Bat's eyes flew open, his teeth bared in a snarl.

"I know, I know, I'm sorry!" You said in a rush, words tripping over themselves. "I have no idea where this blood is coming from." You hoped he would see the sincerity in your eyes. "Look, dude, you saved me once and I've gotta repay the favor, okay. You could be the Penguin under there and I wouldn't give a shit, wouldn't tell a soul." He eyed you warily, his large hand coming to rest over yours again, fingers tensing. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out save a soft rasp. After what could have easily been eternity, he nodded, gripping you tight as you both pulled the mask over his head.

He was pretty. That was your first thought. Those stormy blue eyes you'd come to know from a distance were shocking against the grease paint smeared over his high cheekbones. His face was all lovely angles, a razor sharp jaw and a straight nose that sat atop a pouty mouth. Dark hair was pasted to his pale forehead, sweat and blood matted in the strands.

"Hey, pretty boy," you murmured, hoping a joke would lighten the moment. He snorted at that, a sad attempt at a laugh, before his eyebrows knitted together in pain. "I'm gonna get you cleaned up, okay?" You scrubbed gingerly at his face, the water in the bowl turning a dirty rust color as you made progress. The blood hadn't come from his ear, thank fuck, but from a split on his forehead where it must have collided on impact with the shotgun blast. You cleaned the wound up as best you could, fixing little butterfly bandages to the gash to hold it closed. You ran the damp cloth over the rest of his face, washing away all the dirt and decay of the city that had stuck to his skin. The silence stretched on, comfortable despite the circumstances, and you decided it couldn’t hurt to tell him your name.

“I’m Bruce…,” he murmured, that low voice less constricted now.

“Nice to meet you, Bruce.” You dropped the filthy rag back in the bowl, the water sloshing over the side. He looked at you like you were crazy, as if he were waiting for something. You raised a brow, unsure of what he wanted from you. “Am I supposed to know who you are or something?” He smiled then, wide and real despite the pain, and it was so fucking gorgeous it made you heart twist around itself.

“Most people do,” was all he said.

“Well, I’m not most people,” you said with a haughty look. He just raised an eyebrow at you. “Fine, I’m not from around here. I only moved to Gotham like 5 months ago. Right around the time you stopped that guy from completely smashing my face, actually.” His eyes went tight at the mention of that night, his lovely mouth pulling into a thin line. “Thanks again for that, by the way.”

“Anytime,” he ground out and you chuckled at his tone. And then you just sat, brushing the hair away from his forehead. He leaned into your fingers like a touch starved cat, his eyes closing and shoulders shifting into a more comfortable position.

“I, uh, need to shower. There’s filthier things at 44 below than there are in that alley.” You tugged a blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over him. “You’re safe enough here to get some rest.” He didn’t say anything, just looked up at you through those impossibly long lashes. You smiled down at him, pressing a kiss to your fingertips and dropping it against his cheek before pushing off the couch. You took a step and he - Bruce - grabbed for your hand, giving it the smallest squeeze before dropping it.

You ran the hot water until steam filled the small box of your bathroom, scrubbing the makeup and stray freckles of blood from your cheeks before stepping under the deliciously hot water. Your thoughts all twisted together, wisps of smoke that disappeared before you were able to make sense of them. All you knew was that the Bat was actually Bruce. And Bruce was shy and sweet and so beautiful it almost hurt to look directly at him. Replaying the way he gazed up at you, sooty lashes resting against his cheekbones when he closed his eyes, you scrubbed your hair and washed the night off your skin, wrapping yourself in your fluffiest towel and making your way toward your bedroom. A glance into the now dark living room showed a vaguely person shaped lump on your couch and you couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off your face at the sight.

The sun shone from a crack in your bedroom curtains, blinding as you woke the next morning. You rubbed sleep from your eyes, meandering through the silent apartment, stopping in the kitchen to hit start on the coffee pot. On silent feet you made your way into the living room. The couch was empty, the blanket folded and set on the coffee table. You sighed, disappointment flaring hot before burning out. Of course he wasn't still here. He had superhero things to do. But the Bat - Bruce - had been here, he’d felt safe enough to stay through the night. And he'd left a note.

I would tell you to stay out of trouble, but I think you are the trouble.

You smiled at his chicken scratch script. You smiled for hours, even after you pulled the collar of your sweater over your mouth to hide it, even after you got ready for work, painting your face in a mask of your own.

Two days later a gruff old man showed up on your doorstep, his faded coveralls identifying him as Phi*. He handed you an invoice and told you to expect some noise from the fire escape, his mustache twitching in irritation when you told him you had no idea what he was talking about.

"It's all taken care of, lady. Some guy named Alfred called and paid. That's all I know. Now are you gonna let me fix the window or not?"

You just held your hands up in surrender, turning away before he could see the smile that had broken across your face

The receipt laid out an itemized total, a note at the bottoms reading:

Hoped to save you the trouble.

You sat up, your heart pounding in your ears as you tried to shake off the light doze you'd fallen into. There it was again, the tap tap tap against the window by the fire escape. You slid from the couch, crouching down as your fingers curled around the switchblade you kept within reach - always within reach now. Again, a soft tapping sent skitters of fear up your spine as you stood, molding yourself to the wall beside the window. You heard the latch click, the soft wine of the old hinges that held the new window closed. Pulling in a breath through your nose, you waited, hitting the release on the small blade and standing as still as you could manage. A boot landed heavy against the wood flooring, the rain water dripping down a black clad leg. Your fingers tightened painfully against the metal in your hand, your heart beating staccato. A second boot broke the threshold. You pushed off the wall and wheeled around, your hand steady as you jerked the knife up. A black glove came down hard on your forearm, squeezing until your fingers spasmed and the knife clattered to the floor.

"It's just me," Bruce grunted, pulling you flush with his chest. His grip loosened infinitesimally before you shoved at him.

"Jesus Christ, Bruce! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" He snorted at that, bending down to retrieve your knife and set it on the rickety dining table.

"I had to see you," he murmured, his voice a rasp in the dim of your living room. The TV cast eerie shadows over the lower half of his face, making him look like the nocturnal animal he believed himself to be. He was so beautiful, so painfully fucking lonely, and it threatened to shatter your heart behind your ribs.

"Are you okay?" It seemed silly to ask. Of course he wasn't okay. He looked down at you with those midwinter eyes, stark against the smeared black of his makeup. You noticed the backpack in his hand, out of place next to the superhero getup. You pointed down the hall. "Showers in there, if you want."

Bruce just nodded, his breath was warm against your temple as he muttered. "Thank you." His heavy steps carried him off towards the bathroom.

The water started and your heart hammered in your chest. The man made all rational thoughts leave your mind, left your insides twisted and hot and aching. You chewed a cuticle, ignoring your mother's voice chastising you for the terrible habit from hundreds of miles away. Bruce was in your house. In your shower. Naked. And wet. And he had looked down at you with those sad eyes and the only thing you wanted in that moment was to kiss him, to wrap yourself around his broad frame and keep the loneliness at bay. For both of you.

The water turned off and your stomach flipped, unsure of what came next. You'd pulled out the blanket you'd covered him with that first night, leaving it out by the couch in case he wanted to stay. God, you hoped he would stay. The door cracked and he stepped out, fresh and clean and so timid you thought you might cry. He'd put on a hoodie and jeans, but his feet were bare and his hair was damp, hanging over his forehead. The simple domesticity of the moment seized your lungs and for a second you had to fight to breathe. You walked toward him, stopping just short of his space. His backpack hit the floor by your feet, sagging against the wall as he stepped closer, the smell of your soap mixed with the lingering scent of leather and spice made your head swim. You decided to be brave.

"Hey, pretty boy." It didn't come out as lighthearted as you intended, instead it was a breathy, close to a whimper.

"Hey, trouble." He spoke as if it hurt, quiet and edgy.

Your fingers found his and you backed him up slowly, toward your bedroom. Once you crossed the threshold, shaking fingers found the zipper of his hoodie, sliding it down, each click of the metal teeth louder than the last. He shifted out of it, stepping closer and leaning in. His hands came up to cradle your jaw, holding you like you were something precious, fragile as spun glass, and his lips touched yours. You couldn't help the moan that bled out at the contact, fingers tangling in the fabric of his shirt as you fought the need to burrow under his skin. Bruce broke the kiss, pressing his forehead to yours, his fingers trailing down your neck and your arms to curl at your waist.

"What do you want, Bruce?" It was nervous, vulnerable.

"Can I touch you?" It was scared, hopeful.

You nodded, a whispered yes quick off your tongue as he kissed you again. It was needy this time, his teeth catching your bottom lip as his hands burned the skin beneath your shirt. He pulled the fabric over your head, trailing softly down the center of your chest before wrapping his arms around you. He buried his face in the space between your neck and shoulder, teeth grazing over your pulse point. You hissed and he bit down, sucking a bruise to the surface. Pulling back, you grabbed for the hem of his shirt, tugging it off gracelessly. You licked the dips and hollows of his collarbone, scraping your teeth over his pec as you undid the button of his jeans. He brushed his thumbs over your nipples, pebbled behind the thin fabric of your bra, kicking his jeans off and dropping to his knees in front of you.

"Fuck," you sighed, fingers tangling in his hair as Bruce mouthed at your breast. He slid the flimsy straps off each shoulder, undoing the clasp with trembling fingers. The fabric fell between you and he *devoured* you, all teeth and tongue and soft suckling sounds. Pulling your nipple between his teeth, he sucked harder than you'd anticipated and your knees went weak. One hand slid to your back, splaying between your shoulder blades and holding you still as he scraped his teeth over the swell of your breast. His other hand spanned the globe of your ass, slender fingers digging bruises into the soft flesh beneath your barely there shorts. Your hands trailed down the back of his neck, nails digging into his shoulder and he groaned at the bloom of pain, resting his forehead against your sternum as you did it again. "Come here," you murmured. He stood, towering over you, heat slapped across his cheeks, his lips swollen and tender.

You tucked your fingertips beneath his waistband and waited, staring up at him from under your lashes. His eyes were glassy as he looked down at you, a hand coming up to stroke sweetly across your cheek. He nodded and you tugged at his boxer briefs, letting them pool at his feet. You didn't let your eyes wander, dropping to your knees before you gently grasped his length. He twitched in your hand, long and thick and weeping at the tip. You knew you wouldn't be able to take all of him, but you'd be damned if you wouldn't endeavor to do your best. Bruce groaned at the first pass of your tongue, the sound strangled, almost shocked, as his fingers tangled in your hair. You wrapped one hand around the base of his cock, the other braced against the thick muscle of his thigh, and twisted your tongue against his swollen tip.

"God damn," he ground out from behind clenched teeth, his grip tightening in your hair before relaxing again, fingers unwinding. He looked down at you, wild eyes darting over your face and naked chest as if he couldn't decide where to settle. You hollowed your cheeks and his head dropped back, the tendons in his neck flexing with the effort to not thrust down your throat. 'Please, please, please.' He was muttering, his hips canting forward as if he couldn't help but try to bury himself within the wet heat of your mouth."Stop, stop…fuck."

You were yanked to your feet, large hands wrapped around your biceps as he pulled you against his chest and he was kissing you as if he would crawl inside of you. Your hands found his chest and you pushed lightly. He landed on his elbows, bouncing once on the mattress and looking up at you in something close to awe. You hooked your thumbs under the waistband of your shorts, tugging them down over your hips to fall at your feet. Bruce leaned back, his eyes devouring your frame as you came to rest over his hips. You bent, kissing the scar that bisected his left pec and he shivered beneath you.

"Do you want this?"

"I want you," he answered, his hands coming to rest against your jaw, thumbs brushing over your cheeks. You kissed him, softly this time, your fingertips tracing the angles of his face as if trying to memorize them. If this was the only time you could have him like this, you would remember every single second. You brought his hand between your bodies, placing him where you needed it most. Calloused fingers rubbed lazy circles against your clit, his mouth dropping open as he watched you roll into his touch. He toyed at your entrance before sliding a finger inside, leaning forward at the soft sigh you released, and brought his hand to his mouth, groaning at the taste of you - salt and sweet and divine. You whimpered and he was touching you again, plunging his fingers deep, curling forward and driving you close to the edge. "You're so beautiful."

"You're beautiful," you breathed against his temple, scraping your teeth over the line of his jaw, your thighs quaking. "Bruce, please." You felt him notch the blunt head of his cock at your entrance, the first teasing nudge making your eyes roll back in your head.

"Do we, we need…?" He slid through your folds, drenched and aching and it took you a second to snap to his meaning. You sighed, your back arching of its own volition as his fingertips danced over your spine.

"I'm…safe," you murmured your breath hitching as he nudged your clit. You sat up, mesmerized by the flex of his stomach as he tried to stop himself from thrusting into you. You jerked your head to the bedside table. "My pills are in there and I haven't been with anyone since before I moved here."

Something flashed across his eyes, hot and a little nervous. "I'm safe." He watched you, bottom lip pulled between his teeth as his hands found your shoulder blades and pulled you forward. His mouth found yours, licking at the seam of your lips and you blossomed for him. "It's just you, only you." You moaned then, his words melting what little rational thought you had left.

He choked, his gaze locked where your bodies met as you sank down inch by inch on his length. Fuck. It was too much. You thought he would split you open, his hands on your waist the only thing holding you together as you stretched and fluttered around him. He touched places within you that you hadn't even realized were there, a pain so good it slowly melted into pleasure as you rocked back and forth. He grabbed your hips, fingers biting into your skin. "Hold still," he gritted from behind clenched teeth. You braced yourself against his chest, palms flat against the hard muscle. Just you, only you. It clicked and something twitched behind the cage of your ribs, aching sweetly at the vulnerability of his words, of him laying so trusting beneath you. You reached forward, brushing the hair from his forehead, smoothing your hand over his cheek and down the column of his throat. He swallowed, the muscles bunching deliciously.

"However you want me," you whispered against his lips, clenching around him and shivering at the way he arched his back, at the almost pained groan that exploded from him. He rolled you, laid his entire frame over your body, as if he couldn't get close enough. He curled around you, thrusting forward and you raked your nails down his back as your body tried desperately to stretch and mold around him. You bit down hard on his shoulder and he cried out, sharp and brittle as he throbbed inside of you - fucking you so deep you could hardly stand it. His hips snapped and it was fucking delicious, overwhelming, and it had you wound so tight you could scream.

"Bruce," you panted, nails digging into the scarred muscle of his broad back. "Touch me." He buried his face between your neck and shoulder, teeth sinking in to the delicate flesh there. His hand snaked between your bodies, trailing over your clit in quick circles that stole your breath. You felt it, that smoldering ember sparking into something hot and dangerous as it ebbed and flowed in your belly. "Please," you whined. "I'm gonna cum." His back went straight at your words, his hips stuttering, but you held him tight as he brushed your clit, as he hit that spot so deep in you that your vision went white, and you fell apart beneath him in a shatter of starlight. He unleashed himself then, as if your soft admission of pleasure broke something vital inside of him. His fingers tightened in your hair, jerking your head back as he crashed his mouth to yours, tongue ravaging as his calloused fingers scraped against the back of your neck. You just clung to him, aching and clenching, still desperate for more, for whatever he would give you. Pulling his bottom lip between your teeth, you groaned into his mouth, 'you feel so good', and that was all it took for him to tumble down, down, down, dragging his lips over your temple as he moaned your name, cumming in hot ropes before collapsing on top of you.

Bruce rolled off of you, dropping with a huff to the mattress. For a moment you both just stared at the ceiling, catching your breath and waiting for your pulses to calm. His hand was warm on the skin of your stomach as he tugged you closer, nestling you into the space against his side. You went willingly, nuzzling his chest as you settled into him. His heart thundered beneath your cheek, his rib cage expanding with each heavy inhale. The bruises from the shotgun blast that had brought him into your home for the first time had faded to a sickly yellow. You traced the watercolor outline with a shaky fingertip. His hand found your chin, tilting your face to his and kissing you feather soft.

Bruce smiled against your lips. It was warm and open and vulnerable.

It felt like a start. It felt like a promise.

It was raining again, your umbrella a poor excuse for shelter as you stomped through puddles and held the paper bag from the bodega close to your chest, the treasure of chocolate and diet coke within too important to get soaked in the downpour. You turned the corner, ducking for cover beneath an awning just as your umbrella gave up the ghost, folding outwards and upwards and showering you in raindrops.

Heavy footsteps sounded from your left, the black of shadows twisting into a familiar shape. Your smile matched his, warm in the freezing rain.

"Hey, trouble."