Who: Selina and Tony What: Making a pretty scene for the press Where: A Very Stark Charity Affair, Marvel, New York When: Recently Warnings/Rating: None
Marvel New York wasn't Gotham, but it was close enough that settling in was so very, very easy for Selina. It helped that she'd been there before as a kitten; she knew where all the important things were. The best jewelry stores, the museums with the worst security systems, and the easiest banks. It took weeks to slowly and quietly amass enough to set herself up without attracting attention. A painting in Manhattan, a necklace in Long Island, a bank in the Bronx. Gotham was dirty and hard, and it taught kittens to scale buildings and learn to fly with whips and courage, and this city was easier. It was less smoggy, less cruel, less home; but it was easier. Easier to get fake papers, and easier to set herself up in a penthouse in Manhattan. Easier to avoid the slinky black that had earned her a name back home. Easier to steal things without the fanfare that she normally thrived on. Easier to fill a closet with designer dresses. Easier to leave the kitten she'd foolishly been behind.
And that was all dramatic, but you couldn't change everything about a cat.
The penthouse was small, but opulent. A studio with the best Italian leather, and there were only five cats prowling the space at the moment. Silk bathrobe and a great view, and she still itched to go out and be herself. But there wasn't a suit amid all the black in her designer wardrobe. And when the kitty cat couldn't scale rooftops, well, there was only one other option, wasn't there?
She hadn't seen Tony since she'd aged up from a tiny kitten with cropped hair and a chip on her shoulder, and she'd seen the announcements about the Stark Charities event that was on the calendar. And wasn't that just sweet? Maybe it was time to say hello. Black tie, and at least wrangling an invite would be interesting. Except it turned out to be so very easy. A quick stop by the event planner, and the older gentleman who was buying his $5,000 dollar ticket was so very eager to help a newly arrived socialite meet new people. Lunch led to an invitation, and that was that.
Easy. New York was easy.
The night of the event was cool and crisp, but it had none of Gotham's overlying dark, and Selina wondered if this place would ever feel like home. Oh, she still intended to go back to Gotham to take care of things, but her original intention had been to stay here, where she could have a bed and a bathtub, all without needing to worry about the Suicide Squad every time she walked through the door. But it would have been nice if memories faded. That hadn't happened so far. Maybe she was asking too much of herself. It was the holidays after all, though that hadn't ever meant much in her world. Not in this Gotham, and not in the one she'd grown up in.
Her host picked her up at eight, his tux as impeccable as the black Town Car that his driver opened the door to. She wore slim, floor-length, uninterrupted black with an open back, and her gloves were long and silk. Her hair was in a loose twist that was held in place by a very diamond, very old Wayne heirloom of a hairclip.
Well, it was time to see what kind of spread Tony Stark put out. She smiled a lush red smile. At least the evening shouldn't be a boring one, that was for sure.
Tony was so distantly attached to the charity event that boasted his name that he couldn’t have said what it was for until he arrived and read the sign out front. It was being held in a huge department store closed for the evening, and Tony didn’t even know the people who had planned the thing, but he took a great delight in choosing these events at random just to show up and see eyes pop. The general opinion of the crowd was that you could not expect Tony Stark to show up to anything until he actually did, and even then you couldn’t depend on his presence being anything more than a five minute mirage before he disappeared with the cream of the female crop.
Tony had definitely not been the social butterfly this season, but it wasn’t because of his wardrobe. The latest generation of biometric sensors still weren’t working the way he wanted, and he’d had to do another makeshift extraction surgery with pliers late the night before. Fortunately, long-sleeved tuxes and heavy coats were in vogue during the Christmas season, and Tony assembled an eclectic look that he knew would distract from his face and hide his arms, lots of satin in odd places and black where there should be white. The unnecessary sunglasses kept the flashes out of his eyes and added a certain I-don’t-know-it’s-nighttime appeal, and Tony loved eclectic and appeal.
He pulled up onto the sidewalk in his chosen vehicle for the evening, a lately purchased Tesla prototype the color of Cap’s suit, and left it in the middle of a crowd of fleeing socialites as they fell over each other in the path of his headlights, bounding like startled deer. He was already talking, in part to the crowd and flashing cameras, and partly to himself as he exited the vehicle, leaving it with key in for the nearest flunky to handle--or steal, as the case may be. “Wow, look at that woman go, I didn’t know you could run like that in Versace. Hey, you look nice, how are you, didn’t recognize you with that new hair style… or the old one… Hi, great, wonderful to see you, sorry I left my invitation in my mailbox but I’m not sure where it is, you don’t mind, do you, great, wonderful.” And he swept into the ballroom like a miniature whirlwind, without escort but already surrounded by light, sound, and people.
The interior of the department store had been decorated for Christmas already, though the mundane racks and displays had been rolled off the carpets to make way for the dance floor and the ice sculptures. Models in the newest runway attire were standing in glass boxes made of ice, the walls of which were gently melting into the special platforms they were standing on so none of the rich folks trod in ice water. The party planners kept running full tilt at the Winter Wonderland theme by running a very gentle dusting of snow out from the closed upper floors of the department store, not enough to get anyone wet, but just enough for the occasional socialite to shiver under Jack Frost’s manufactured touch.
Tony escaped from most of the press at the door and wandered through the crowd in a pretty much direct path to the bar, keeping up his running commentary as he went.
The interior of a department store was an interesting choice for a 5,000 dollar a ticket gala. After all, anyone could come to the store during regular hours, and the wealthy loved going places that were only accessible to them. But Selina was certain the fact that it was afterhours had a certain appeal to the socialites in this door. After all, very rich people were the same everywhere, weren't they? Thinking they were better than every little ant beneath them. She wandered to the bar with her date, only half listening as he talked about his very impressive antecedents. The poor man; he didn't realize that wanting to be there made him so much less interesting than he would have been otherwise. Boredom, even, would have been preferred to his prattle and name dropping, all which explained how he had acquired the invitation.
She asked for a martini, and the bartender slid it to her with a dimpled grin and a wink. A glance at his watch told her the bartender didn't have any money, and a quick peek at his shoes told her that he probably didn't care. Bargain store and name-brand copy, and she smiled more warmly at him than she had at her host for the evening. She twirled the stick that held two impaled olives, and she very much hoped the bartender wouldn't be the most interesting thing to happen all night. She sipped her drink, the dry juniper coating the back of her throat, and she considered ditching the dress and the heels and looking for another kind of fun. After all, it had been a very, very long time, and the bartender was attractive.
But then there was a hush, and the hush was followed by murmurs. The sea of silken black and diamonds parted, and Selina smiled a red-lipped, lush smile. Took you long enough. She waited for Tony to belly up to the bar, and she would have known him anywhere, even after years of not seeing him, even without hearing his running commentary. She waited, and then she turned, arm on the flat surface and an annoyed huff by at her date at the lack of attention to his person. "I was starting to get bored," she purred, the corner of her mouth tipped upward, her grin all mirth and knowing. Her martini glass was on the bar, and she slid red-tipped nails around the rim. "But, really? A department store? What am I supposed to steal here?"
Tony ordered himself a martini, extra dry extra olives, because he was feeling contrite enough to pick olives out of his glass and chew on them for no real reason except to have something to do with his hands. Tony was having a lot of trouble keeping his hands busy lately, and he was only three steps into the door when he felt the rush of frustrated boredom coming on. It felt like forced ennui, angry confusion and an inability that came with him not doing enough. Sometimes it felt like dread, like seeing a storm oncoming, and sometimes it just felt raw. He was hoping maybe a martini or four would fix the problem, and if that didn’t work, he could try a shot of adrenaline.
Janet started singing about nasty boys and Tony tapped his fingers to the hard Eighties snare as he waited for his drink, having successfully fended off a predictable Iron Man question from the overeager tray-waiter, who had been absolutely sure that he stood in some kind of liquid iron shower and put the armor on that way. Tony hadn’t heard that one before, actually, but having bit into the spinach puff, he’d decided knowing hadn’t been worth it.
The feline purr cut right through Janet and the molten iron shower, and Tony stood up straight, pushing away from the bar in an overdone imitation of shock. It was a performance, but everything about Tony was a performance in a place like this. He whipped right around in exaggerated ballerina style, chin first, then shoulders, then the rest of him, leaning forward intently. It was obvious that ultimately it hadn’t much mattered what she looked like, with a voice like that. He didn’t even look hard at her face.
“Just think, early Christmas shopping and a party all at once. At midnight I hear everybody gets a ticket and they put half-off TVs in the back. Whoever is surviving at the end of the party wins the TV.” He lifted his own martini glass in his hand and leaned onto the bar once more, a perfect conversational lean that was all suit satin and tinted glass.
The abrupt shift in his expression once he finally took a close look at her features was almost comical. He did a double-take with his entire body. Flashbulbs popped.
Selina knew the exaggeration was just that, exaggeration. After all, no one had a better understanding of conning the world than she did. Her entire life was pretense, and it had been since she'd begun smiling angelically at the people who ran the orphanage, all while tucking a percentage of her pickpocketing spoils into the stuffed belly of her teddy bear. Since then, it had all been about being something she wasn't, and she could appreciate the show. She'd mostly left the third-person behind, but she still called herself a cat, and how could she begrudge him a twirl and sunglasses without being a hypocrite?
"Televisions are impossible to steal," she said, lifting her fingers from the edge of the glass with a grace that pretended to be born of etiquette classes and days spent balancing books on her head. Her mossy green eyes darkened with memory, something about stealing the television of very, very poor people. She'd gotten her hand slapped then, only a teenager and still not entirely sure who she hated best. But her smile never faltered, lush warmth that she'd perfected since her impulsive days as a kitten. "And no one here," she continued, waving that arm slowly at the collected marionettes in black and diamonds, "would ever stoop so low as to win something." Her gaze shifted from the crowd back to him, and she ignored those flashbulbs entirely. After all, she'd padded her way into enough Wayne Charity affairs to be accustomed to the media's obsession with very rich, very unattainable men.
"You haven't changed... much." Oh, he was a little older than she remembered. But seven years was a long time, and she'd tried not to think about him too much after she killed him. She'd never been one for dwelling; she'd almost convinced herself that she actually believed that. But nothing good ever came from dwelling, and that was true. As for him, he seemed a little edgier, but that could be the past playing tricks on her.
Tony stared at her. He was surprised, and he knew people were watching, so he simply froze perfectly in place where he was, a halfway lean in midair, toward the bar, his hand still outstretched for the glass that had not quite manifested where it belonged. There was a big theatrical blink of his eyes and then he whipped off the sunglasses so he could see her clearly in the tinsel refractions. “Oh my God. Are you on eight now? Or did you use up more lives getting old?” He dropped his eyes in an intensely obvious scan of her from toes to top. “...And gorgeous?” Tony lifted the folded sunglasses over his head, then put them over his eyes, then pulled them away again, like an old woman trying to see. “Seven. Six. Five lives?”
Tony waved his hand above his head, as if her cynical statement floated, like one of the millions of near-invisible bits of lights, somewhere in the air above them. He brushed it away. “Ridiculous. Everyone wants to win. If I was to say the next person to buy a drink exactly like the one you’ve got in your hand wins a thousand dollars, this Joe right here would make enough in tips to pay his rent for a month. Wouldn’t you Joe? Can I call you Joe? I’m going to call you Joe. This is a good martini, Joe.” Tony sipped.
Nobody standing there knew whether or not to take him seriously, but at least ten people turned to see what she was holding in her hand, just in case.
“I’m on my fifth life, at least, which accounts for my raging charm and smoldering good looks.” He tipped the wide oval glass toward him, expert on its frozen surface, not spilling a drop.
She liked the stare, and she liked the surprise, and she smiled genuinely for the first time since that stupid escape from Arkham. Oh, well, with the exception of the ship's party, but that hadn't actually been her, and Bruce would never be the kind of man to kiss her hand without her suggesting it first. She considered handing him that drink, the one his fingers hadn't quite made it to, and then she decided that she would just enjoy the theatrics a moment longer. After all, Gotham was practically devoid of theatrics, which was unfortunate for a town where a Bat was the law. And with Tony, the comment about getting old didn't even sting. He wasn't a tiny little bird, one she'd had a kitten's crush on. No, he'd always been a man, and she gave him a grin that was all banked confidence when he said she was gorgeous. "You haven't lost your touch," she purred, though he'd never once tried to compliment the kitten she'd been. But then, she suspected he was the kind of man that tired of being batted at by kittens, no matter how big he played up his little midlife crisis.
She watched him wave his hand over his head, and she wondered what had made him more extravagant. Was it dying? Because he could pretend that hadn't affected him at all, but she knew better. If it had affected her, it had surely affected him. But maybe it was the setting. Most of her visits with him had been in his Tower, or while he was decked out in red and gold. She looked around, lazy-bored indifference, and she realized he and Bruce had this in common. She was smiling more warmly when she looked back at him, something intimate in the grin that could only belong to an older Cat. "But wanting to win is so gauche," she insisted, and a few of the gathered women agreed, which only made her smile more. She hated these people. "Needing to win is even worse. Don't you agree?" she asked the bartender with a lean against the smooth black of the bar. She intentionally did not call him Joe.
She let the gathered audience see what she was drinking, but she didn't look at them. No, she watched his little display with the martini. "Fifth?" she finally asked, the warmth back in her gaze. "Have anything exciting planned this time around? Or are you going to be very, very dull, like the four times before?"
“Dull. I’m never dull.” Tony was having the private conversation as if fifty ears and several cameras were not bent purposefully in their direction, and he was very good at pretending to be unaware, so good at it that he forgot he was pretending almost immediately. He watched her intently over the rim of his glass, and there was no sign that this was at all different from the routine he’d given to a hundred other women at a hundred other bars under the solemn gaze of a hundred other ice sculptures. He tipped up on the martini, his scarred fingertips the only part of him that wasn’t as smooth as oiled silk. The vision of her looming out of his past didn’t cast a very long shadow. She seemed incredibly vibrant, and she wore her stunning sexual maturity well. There was something about her that was all fur and naked skin, and Tony wasn’t the type of man to be all concerned about thinking about it.
He wasn’t actually planning to move in on Bruce’s girl, after all.
His brown eyes warmed in the same way, nothing clinical, all crow’s feet and smiles. Abruptly he put down his glass. “Dance with me.” There was no noticeable dance floor, just a clearing surrounded by the glistening ice sculptures and the chilly frozen models, but clearly they expected dancing when the attendees had a chance to get drunk. Hopeful early tipplers were lingering around the open space under the influence of the DJ. Tony paid absolutely no attention to what the man was playing, and he put aside his martini glass and swept right past Selina’s date to wrap her up in an exceptionally intimate embrace, as if they were already starting to waltz. He began to back her toward the empty space, and people drew back as the DJ scrambled to transition to something suitable. “Did you just come to visit me, kitten?” You could tell he really enjoyed using that nickname. He thought it was funny as hell as he said it, and he grinned wide.
She gave him a look when he said that he was never dull. It was amusement and something intimate that made camera bulbs flash, something that said she knew perfectly well how not dull he could be. And for a man she'd never slept with, well, that was more perceptive than the kitty cat usually allowed. Getting close was weakness, and that was a lesson Gotham taught kittens before they even knew how to retract their claws. But there wasn't a chance in hell of her managing distance here. Not when she could remember him carrying her back to his door, off to die, like it was yesterday. Seven years, and that particular memory hadn't faded even a little. And wasn't that just annoying?
She watched him tip back that martini, and she wondered why these hero types had to wear tuxes and tipple drinks and waste their time with people who didn't give a damn. But maybe it was necessary, and all for reasons she didn't understand. She knew he didn't like these people. She knew he didn't like them any better than she did, if for different reasons. And she knew Bruce didn't like them either, and yet they all played this little game in pretty fabrics and rocks that shined and smiles that weren't even close to being real. As for him moving in on her, she didn't even consider it. Oh, it wasn't that she didn't think he was a lothario, and it wasn't that she thought he found her unattractive. No, he wasn't Damian, not this man. But she was fairly sure there was a very, very boring redhead out there that made his motor run. And there was no accounting for taste, was there?
She laughed when he asked her to dance, that abruptness so fitting with his nature that she couldn't help the husky sound. "Is that an order, Mr. Stark?" she purred, all playful tease with a maturity behind it that made it seem somehow more promising than the blatantness of her youth had been. She didn't bother looking back at her date; he was only a 5,000 ticket, and she didn't see the point in pretending otherwise. Her hand rested gracefully on Tony's shoulder, and her other hand smoothed his lapel with long fingers tipped in long, red nails, and she considered his question as if it was something very interesting. Titters sounded around them, and her grin went lush, cat that found the cream and dark, dark red. "No one's called me that in a long time," she replied, a reference to the pet name. "And no, as much as I hate to deflate your ego, I didn't only come to see your handsome face."
Tony didn’t immediately need her reason for being there. He knew that he would find out, sooner or later, and he knew that it wasn’t some extreme, world-ending problem, because he kept quite a close eye on the journals (or rather, JARVIS gave him running narrations). Any dire emergency would have shown him a different pattern of behavior, and while he hadn’t taken a second glance at the man she was with, he could tell just from his level of bluster that the man wasn’t anyone truly important. Therefore Tony only gave her an enigmatic smile, which on him was fast and wicked, a flash of passing metal and chrome in a whizzing Doppler whine. He didn’t ask about her purpose.
Instead, he passed the next several minutes moving her to and fro on the dance floor that he made for them, in the center of the party that neither of them held an invitation to attend, under icicle lights and flashing cameras that would splash morning tabloids and gossip websites. Despite the number of drinks that he had and his increasingly theatrical behavior, which culminated in the appropriation of one of the models’ ice platforms, he never once used her name, nor made any direct, traceable reference to anyone they knew. He avoided the subject of their meeting, made no actual mention of his previous life (or hers) and somehow managed to fill up the entire store with his presence--all while revealing nothing in particular about his current state, or hers.