She bought the ticket back to Gotham without needing to think twice about it. Selina hadn’t resorted to such impulses in months, especially when it concerned the grimy, slimy city she called home, but this time she made an exception. Even then, the term “home” was used loosely. Stray cats don’t stay in one place for too long.
Her impromptu departure was justified to those who cared by a simple explanation: a funeral. It wasn’t that hard to believe; the devastation that wrecked both Metropolis and Gotham had not only robbed the cities of some of its finer citizens, it had also taken the life of its beloved hero. She had apparently lost a cousin during the battle, an explanation she stuttered and sighed each time someone asked. (Why didn’t I take up acting again?) And if people thought Selina Kyle to be a sentimental sap because of it, so be it. She had other plans anyway.
Stepping out, the heavy air of Gotham City weighed her lungs down for a moment, a collection of smog and despair interwoven into the perfect perfume for a city as foul as its inhabitants. The sounds of sirens and construction workers milling away almost sounded like a lullaby to her ears, a sound she forgot to be as familiar as her own breathing pattern. It was quite different from the French Riviera.
Her rental car was small and ordinary, a stark contrast to the vehicles she used to speed through the wet streets of Gotham City. Granted, it wasn’t stolen and it didn’t belong to the snobbish, wealthy class she was so fond of, but it was a testament to her change. (If only you could see me now.) And while it didn’t take her long to arrive to the familiar path she had taken so often the past couple of years, it was still a grim moment to pass by the charred ruins of the manor she had come to admire as a palace in its prime. In her prime. In his.
The entrance was as secluded as ever, a crucible to get past the tall grass, muddy soil, and dense greenery. But once she managed that – a mission, mind you, to keep her shoes from being totally ruined – she found the crevice she was looking for. It wasn’t that easy to break in; it was almost as if he had been expecting her. He had even added new gadgets and a new security system, but it only served to entertain her for a couple of minutes before she managed to get in. The heavy door let out a breath before sliding open and she almost hesitated to take a first step inside. Then, as if suddenly remembering who she was and why she was there, her feet moved forward with a new sense of urgency and confidence. Her presence was met with silence. It was not, by any means, the first time she had been in the bat cave alone. She was sure that even he knew that. But her arrival seemed anticlimactic in comparison to her pilgrimage across the Atlantic. Selina loved to make an entrance.
The bat cave looked the same but, knowing him, there were probably some fundamental changes she couldn’t see. She caught a glimpse of a couple old suits of his, of his allies and foes. A particular purple catsuit was kept in the far end of his collection and she didn’t know whether to laugh or look away. She did both.
The former criminal wasn’t alone for long, however. She took to toying with his chair, finding it surprisingly comfortable for a man who always had something up his ass, when the sliding door opened, and in walked the man she had so missed, despised, and cherished simultaneously in the past year. He probably had a system that alerted him of her entrance, even if it wasn’t forced, and she cursed him for ruining her element of surprise.
He looked very much the same as that night she last saw him, except a lot cleaner and bleeding a lot less. The grey flecks in his hair, a recent but welcome addition to his features, prominently highlighted the fact that they weren’t in their 20s anymore, and that this wasn’t a game they could play without losing. Much like her, he was dressed in all black, from the long sleeve shirt rolled up at his elbow to the sporty, yet fine leather shoes he wore at his feet. It was near perfectly coupled with her simple black dress, black coat, and black heels. Her only significant change was a quick, impulsive chop of her hair, where long tresses gave way to the more efficient short locks. Bruce, meanwhile, stood a couple feet away as she inadvertently righted herself in his chair; his fists were balled, but not tense. Not a single word escaped him as he maintained steady eye contact. It felt familiar.
“Well aren’t you going to say anything?” was the first thing that came to her head and out of her mouth.
His response was expectedly gruff and quiet, “What do you expect me to say?”
Selina stood. “I don’t know – ‘Hi, Selina, haven’t seen you in a while. You look great, how have you been?'”
She held his gaze for a moment, then looked away towards the stack of newspapers that headlined what every news source could not get enough of these past couple of days. “I came as soon as I heard.” She paused, then amended. “As soon as I could.”
“I don’t need your comfort.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then why are you here?”
The words linger on her tongue for a second. The age-old fear of vulnerability at the face of the truth behind her feelings rises to the back of her throat. “I was worried about you.” The words sound weak to her ears. She clears her throat, daring herself to meet his gaze. His fists remain curled. “I saw you on the news, at least, I’m pretty sure it was you – not even Dick is that crazy-”
“Dick is in Bludhaven-”
“I know.” Her response is met with a quirked brow. She dismisses it with her hand, then crosses her arms; a defensive stance. “I thought you gave up the cowl? After the incident with-”
She nods. “But then, what? You suddenly had a death wish?” He doesn’t respond, causing her to sigh in exasperation. “Bruce, you’re too old for this.”
“And I’m barely crawling towards 35, but, believe it or not, I actually like living. That’s why I gave it up.” He lets out a dry chuckle, walking past her to his desk. She turns, bemused. “What?”
“That’s not the reason you left Gotham, Selina. We both know that.” His fingers start typing, the clacking sound of keys occupying the silence that loomed between them. She remembered why she despised him so much. It wasn’t like she could easily forget.
“I’m engaged,” she says, to break the silence. To make a point. “Again.”
“-And you’re invited.”
That causes him to pause. “Already handing out wedding invitations?” His typing continues. “This one’s come along a lot farther than the last one.”
She sighs, lowering her gaze to the contents on his desk and allowing her fingers to run over them absentmindedly. “Yeah, well. He’s nice.”
“That’s what you said about the last one,” Bruce murmurs distractedly.
Her skin itches with frustration, her fingers twitching to stop him from dismissing her so easily. He couldn’t possibly be this blasé at their reencounter when she was just about to lose it. “Bruce.” Her tone is resolute. She places her hands over his, leaning on the edge of desk to catch his gaze. “Stop it.”
“Stop what?” His tone is almost nonchalant as he leans back on the comfortable chair, his hands at his sides, no longer in curled fists.
“You did this last time…something…big happened. Don’t do this again. Don’t shut me out.” Her tone is leveled, a gentle plea. Selina can practically see the gears grinding in his head as he processes what she’s saying, what he’ll say. The last time he pulled one on her like this one was three years ago, when Jason died. It had taken her days of patience before he finally succumbed to her comfort and company, but much like her, Bruce preferred to suffer in isolation. It was a plague that drove them apart, an integral part of their personality that challenged their compatibility but attested to their likeness. But she didn’t let him win last time, and she won’t let him win this time, either.
Her gaze remains steady and she waits, allowing her presence to dismantle his arguments, even if only slightly. “Let me help.” It takes him a second to respond, but finally:
“I failed him.”
She processes the sentence, turning her head in bemusement. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that coming from him, but the bluntness of the statement – albeit characteristic of his curt nature – surprised her. She expected a soliloquy about failures but was met with a resigned concession. “Failed-?”
The giant boy scout she never had the honor of meeting. “Superman…” Her brows furrow in confusion as she attempts to make the connection. “Bruce, that was nowhere near your fault. You… saw that…thing, there was no way you could have taken it on your own.”
He sighs. “I should have seen it coming. I should have seen the manipulative hand pulling the strings behind the entire ordeal. If only I had stopped Luthor while I could have…maybe then-”
“Bruce.” She places a comforting hand on his, stopping him, her thumb running over his in a soothing pattern. She heaved a sigh, looking for the right words to assuage him and the situation. Selina knew words were of little importance in crisis like this, but she couldn’t stand idly by as the list of people he had failed grew longer; she could see the self-inflicted burden weighing heavy on his shoulders, causing him to bow. It was a far cry from the man she met 15 years ago. Even the Batman was at one point optimistic. “You can’t -”
The door to the bat cave slid open, successfully breaking the moment, a slender figure entering with a stack of files in his hand.
“I thought I heard someone else down here.” Alfred stepped down the stairs, a sudden smile spreading across his face upon spotting the woman in black. “Though to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Master Wayne were speaking to himself.” He drops the load of files on Bruce’s desk with a heavy thud. “Here you are, sir. Don’t ask me how I got them, I just might have to kill you,” he said, giving a pointed stare full of the same amount of mirth as his smile.
“Alfred, always a pleasure.” His smile being infectious, Selina returns the gesture.
“Likewise, my dear.” He grabs her hand gently, raising it as he appraises her changed look. “You look absolutely ravishing.”
“Thank you,” she says, casting a glance at her brooding counterpart.
“I never said you didn’t.”
Alfred’s thumb, with her hand still caught in his grasp, grazes over her ring. “Master Bruce, is there something you’d like to tell me?”
“In your dreams, Alfred.” He turns back to the files on his desktop.
“And in his too, I’m sure,” she gives the older man a wink. “His name Lucas, I met him in the Riviera a couple months back. And yes, you are invited.” She leans in to whisper conspiratorially, “Don’t worry, I reserved a seat for Leslie, too.”
He draws back with a knowing smile, “I have no idea of what you speak of, Miss Kyle, but I’ll have you know, I’m a busy man. I have things to get done before the day escapes me, as much as I may regret acting foolishly for dismissing your indispensable company.” He places a small kiss on her hand. “Until next time, my dear. And you,” his tone directed at Bruce now, “please change her mind before she flies back. This might just be your bloody last chance to make me a grandfather.”
The butler exits with a new spring in his step, leaving the two with only themselves and the weak chuckles left in his wake.
“I think I prefer it when he used to not like you,” Bruce remarked. A sense of lightness permeated the tense atmosphere. “At least then I wasn’t competing for your attention,” he teased.
“Like there was ever a competition.”
“My charm doesn’t even come close to his wit, as seasoned as I may be in the game. Who do you think taught me?”
She let out a genuine laugh. “I shouldn’t be surprised.” Silence again wraps around them like a familiar friend. Hesitation weighs heavy between the two, broken only by familiarity and the need for an estranged intimacy. Her hand makes a bold gesture of cupping the side of his face, if ever so gingerly grazing his day old scruff. It’s a look he wears well, the look of exhaustion; of days without sleep or a healthy diet, of battling himself in front of his computers as he digs for answers. It’s a look she’s come to know like the back of her hand, a look she expected to wake up to in years past. He doesn’t move away. “You’re still the same,” she says as his hand covers the one she caresses him with.
“So are you.”
“Hm. But we’re older now, now…”
“You’re getting married…”
He chuckles, “I won’t deny him that.”
A pause. A shift.
“Do you miss me?”
“You know I do.”
“I like to hear it.”
“I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.”
She holds his gaze for a moment, his face is touched by one hand, his heart by the other. Ten years ago, if someone had told her that the Bat had actually said he missed her, she would have rightly laughed in their face. Yet here they were, older but still in touch with one another, harboring an unparalleled harmony found only in nature itself. A prominent noise comes suddenly from his monitor, alerting the Bat that there’s trouble somewhere in Gotham. She draws her hand back, back into safety, the moment gone. “I should get going. My job is done here.”
He grunts in response, pulling his focus to his computer. “I have work to do.”
Selina pushes herself off the desk, offers him a chaste peck on the cheek, before turning to walk the same path the butler did before her. Before she leaves, she turns to glance back at him, a small smirk on her face. “Don’t be a stranger.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
And then she was gone.