Who: Bruce and Selina What: Misery. Where: Wayne Manor. When: Let's say recently. Warnings/Rating: Angst?
It was inevitable.
Little things piled up, but it wasn’t enough. Bruce was so deeply submerged in his blissful ignorance, as was near everyone else thanks to Crane’s drug, that it didn’t take much effort to cling to his facade. Oh, there was Harley’s insistence that things were wrong, but he chalked that up to insane ramblings. The suicide rate was unnaturally high and climbing but that was a blip, an oddity, something he would fix. Of course. Nothing in Gotham ever stayed broken and it would be fine, because everything was fine, and it had never been any other way. Even when he went out at night, when he donned the persona of Batman, there wasn’t very much crime to fight; he was more of a guardian than anything else, a symbol of just how far his city had come.
But it was inevitable, as Crane should have realized, and if it wasn’t this it would have been something else; the possibilities were endless. The pieces fell into place and he wasn’t aware enough to see it coming. An alley, between rooftops, where Batman was at the exact moment a gun was fired. That sound, distant was it was, was what drew him down, but it was the second gunshot in close proximity that cut through him like a knife and brought him to his knees for reasons he couldn’t explain. He brought his hands to his ears but the sound echoed, so loud, one and two and a scream cut short on the night air. He didn’t understand why, didn’t understand what was happening, but he felt something there on the cold, hard ground, something he hadn’t felt in so long (only a week or so, but it felt like an eternity).
He was suddenly very, very angry, and he didn’t know why. Beneath the gunfire and the scream Bruce heard something else; the very, very faint sound of a child crying. He squeezed his eyes shut and there, in the darkness, he saw what the sounds matched; a man, falling, a woman screaming before she too fell, a shadowy figure with a gun running away, away, leaving a little boy behind to mourn. It occurred to him, then, that the boy was him, but that didn’t make any sense. He’d never seen anyone get shot, after all. His parents had died in a car accident, and he hadn’t even been there, but the more he thought about it the more wrong it seemed. Wrong, all wrong. Lies.
Somehow, he got up. He moved, and his anger grew, a wild thing in his chest, and the facade he’d wrapped around himself had begun to fall apart by the time he reached the Manor. Gunshots still ringing in his ears, and Bruce knew now. Like being doused in icy water he’d woken up, the rose-colored glasses torn away so he was forced to face reality. Dirty, gritty, and broken. And it didn’t take much to connect the dots, to find the most likely perpetrator. Somehow nearly all of Gotham had been convinced that they were living in a utopia, one where Jonathan Crane was director of Arkham, trusted, liked. Harley and Ivy had been unaffected, he remembered that, and both had pinpointed him as being the one responsible. Drugs, it had to be, and there were only a limited number of ways he could have had them dispersed. He’d have to stop it, somehow. Find the source and put an end to it all. He’d always known Crane hadn’t changed; that anger was a reminder of the hatred he felt for the other man, hatred that ran deep.
He knew what he had to do. That burden of responsibility, which had been absent until now, returned, heavier than before. Bruce withdrew to behind closed doors, with his new, unwanted knowledge sinking teeth and claws into his skin. For a brief, shining pinpoint of time he had been happy but it was all a lie. Pretend. Not real. Everything he’d ever wanted, and the only way he could get it was in a fantasy concocted by a madman. When this ended all would be as it was; he would lose Selina, of course, she would hate him as before. His family would revert back to hating or distrusting him, or both, and the monotonous misery of Gotham would return in full force. They would all know, just as he did, that none of them could ever be happy. The city wasn’t a utopia, it wasn’t good; life would go on.
But he didn’t want it to. Part of him wanted the lie back, wanted to pretend to be happy, but the logical part of him knew that wasn’t possible. It knew what he had to do. Bruce had no idea who, if anyone, would believe him; he didn’t even know if it was worthwhile to attempt to convince them of the truth. Maybe he should just put a stop to it himself and let the drug wear off, let them come back to reality on their own.
Somewhere in his mind, he knew he had to pinpoint the method of dispersal. He had to find out how this had happened, because something had. Something was wrong, something was wrong, he kept repeating that to himself. He should investigate. He should, but instead Bruce sank down into his chair, head in his hands, and closed his eyes. Surely a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt. His head was still a little fuzzy, and he fought the urge to cling to the blind happiness which had consumed him. No, he couldn’t. As much as he wished this was all a nightmare, it wasn’t, and he had to be strong enough to accept that.
Selina was still feeling under the weather. If anything, she felt worse. She'd been sleeping more than normal and, sometimes, she would wake in a sweat, jolted from terrible nightmares about a very different Gotham, one where she was alone and isolated, and where things were nothing like they were in reality. The nightmares were bright and vivid, and it was fever, of course, but she was always left shaken and shaking. And, despite being exhausted, she'd eventually begun avoid sleeping at night. No sleep; no nightmares. Simple. The kitty cat liked simple solutions.
It was one of those nights, and she was working in the opulent Manor room that she'd appropriated as her study months earlier. There was a little boy at one of Gotham's orphanages that kept occupying her thoughts. He wasn't like the other children at Gotham's very well funded and well managed orphanages. Where the other children were happy, chubby and bright, he was quiet, thin and pale. He didn't seem to fit in with the others, and he clung to walls and hid in corners. He was five, and she'd visited him a half dozen times in the past few weeks. She was making inquiries, and she was considering giving him a home. She was in the middle of an email to that effect, when she heard the door to the next room over.
She looked at the clock; it was early for Bruce to be home.
Normally, she would have been out on patrol with him. But she'd been staying home lately, and no one worried about her fighting off a silly little cold. Why would they? She stood, drawing the sleek black silk of the borrowed robe over the equally expensive (and equally borrowed) silk pajama pants she wore with a thin tanktop. She padded across to the other room, and she only knocked once before opening the door. Oh, the kitty cat wasn't one to wait for permission to enter. Any other night, she would have climbed in the window, just to surprise him. Any other night, but not tonight.
"Bruce?" she called quietly, knowing he was in the big chair he was so fond of. Her voice was a quiet purr of a thing, something that was conscious of the quiet darkness of the sleeping Manor, and something that was equally conscious of the pounding in her head that wouldn't abate. She wound around the chair, arm along the back, and all the grace of a cat, despite not feeling at her best. She was a warm, fond smile in the semi-dark, mossy green eyes and upturned lush lips. She didn't wait for an invitation before perching on his knee, and concern quickly flickered and faded in her eyes, a reaction to his posture. "Hard night, Mr. Wayne?" she asked, intimacy in the way his name curled on her tongue.
The knock jolted him from his thoughts, and Bruce barely had time to look up before the door opened. He felt off-balance, unsteady, and entirely unprepared to face anyone. Time, he needed time. Time to finish absorbing the truth, time for the drug to keep wearing off, time to create a convincing enough facade to fool those around him until he could cut the drug’s dispersion off entirely. But there wasn’t time; Selina was already in the doorway, and all he could do was stare at her like a fool before he caught himself and looked away. She was sick, he remembered, and he hadn’t been worried. Why would he be? He’d forgotten the bomb entirely, forgotten the surgery, and so there had been no inclination to insist she rest or see a doctor. He would have to fix that, somehow, without arousing her suspicion.
He waited for her to come without saying a word. No greeting, but neither was there any demand that she leave. Half-armored still and all in black, he was torn between pushing her away and pulling her close. The clock was counting down, now, and she wouldn’t look at him the way she was for much longer. “Yes,” he said, an attempt at straightening his posture coupled with a weak smile. “How are you feeling?”
His stare didn't register as anything out of the ordinary; she was accustomed to being stared at. And she didn't realize that she looked pale and tired, because she didn't see that when she looked in the mirror. She saw health, even though her body told her otherwise. But she was warm when she perched on his knee, feverish, and she reached out a hand to thread her fingers through the hair at his temples, a graceful twist of wrist and the touch affectionate. "You know, as much as I like seeing you in that suit, I wouldn't mind if you took the rest off," she told him, giving him a curious look when the best smile that he managed for her was a weak one. "Was everything alright tonight?" she asked after a beat. And of course everything was alright; why wouldn't it be? But there was something in his expression that sent shivers along her spine, and she tugged at the edge of the borrowed robe in an attempt to ward some unspoken thing away.
It was easier to concentrate on his question about how she felt, though it wasn't like him to worry about things like that. "I'm still fighting off this cold. I think I'll take the rest of the week off." From patrol, from her charities, and she shifted her weight to his thigh, where she could use his upper arm as a cushion. "It's nothing a little lazing around in your bed won't fix," she assured him, a purr at the end of the sentence and something intimate in the way the words curled around her tongue. "Assuming you still want me there, Bruce," she added, her tired smile all warmth and confidence and the unshakeable belief that, yes, he did want her there.
He could feel the warmth radiating from her body even through what was left of his suit, and he knew it was more than just the heat of close proximity. The temptation to shrug it off as unimportant was there, still lingering, and he fought to overcome it. As much as Bruce wanted to keep his perfect lie he wouldn’t do it at her expense and, really, it was already as good as gone, fading wisps he could barely see. “I know,” he said of her not minding if he removed the rest of the suit, fondness creeping into his tone despite the faint guilt that stirred in his belly. He knew he shouldn’t have slipped an arm around her waist, just as he knew he shouldn’t have leaned into her touch, but he couldn’t help himself. As for her question of how the night had been he avoided it, for the moment at least, giving a brief half-shrug to stall for time.
So long as Selina thought her sickness only a cold and in doing so failed to take it seriously, he knew her health wouldn’t improve. Part of him wondered if this drug-induced oblivion would even last a week, but he shuffled that thought to the back of his mind along with the others of blood samples and antidotes and purifying the water supply. “Good,” he told her, doing his best not to sound too worried lest she realize something was amiss. “Maybe I should have one of my doctors take a look at you,” he suggested, oh so carefully, “just in case.” Of course, there was a chance any private physician he found would be similarly affected, but it was better than no medical care at all. It shouldn’t have, he shouldn’t have let it, but the purr at the end of her sentence about lazing around in his bed warmed him, and the thought of losing this, of going back to the way things were because of his stupid mistake, was worse than any physical pain he’d experienced. But then again, Crane had always been good at knowing just how to hurt him.
“Of course I do, Miss Kyle.” His response was automatic, unthinking, and he hated himself for going along with the lie even though he doubted she would believe the truth. He remembered her question about how his night had been, though, and his expression sobered. “I… found something tonight,” he said cautiously. “Something I need to take care of. But I will. You don’t need to worry about it.” Not that she would.
She dragged her fingers through his hair for a few seconds longer, her tired green eyes focused on his features, and she smiled a warm smile as those fingers subsequently dragged down along his cheek and jaw. The touch was a caress, a softness, and there was nothing of the many-walled Cat in the press of her fingers against his skin. "If you know, then why are you still sitting in here, half decked in kevlar?" she asked patiently, as if there was no rush in the expected response. And, really, who cared about things like convention and bedtimes and expected behaviors. As far as she was concerned, he could wear that suit to bed. She'd just prefer it if he didn't. "Not that I don't find the kevlar very, very attractive, Bruce," she said, shared secrets in the way her lips curved more.
If he sounded worried about her little cold, well, she didn't notice. "I don't even have a cough," she told him, when he suggested she see a doctor. "But if you want to fuss, I won't stop you. But only because it's you." Anyone else would have gotten an earful if they even suggested she was weak. But she trusted him, and she wanted him content, and if he felt better having a doctor come out to the Manor, well, fine. It wasn't as if she had plans to go anywhere. She rubbed a hand at her neck unthinkingly, fingers beneath her long hair and sliding without notice over the red, infected stitches there. "You know," she added, the purr in her voice an indication that she was about to tease inappropriately, "I might have already gotten you sick, and the doctor might recommend you stay in bed too." Her grin said she'd do whatever she needed to in order to ensure precisely that outcome. After all, she wasn't averse to bending the rules to get what she wanted.
She chuckled at the speed of his response, and she leaned closer and pressed a slow kiss to the edge of his mouth. "Good answer, Mr. Wayne," she began, another brush of lips before his expression sobered. With effort, she sat back and regarded him. No, she wasn't worried, not precisely, but that expression was an unfamiliar one. "What did you find?" she asked. It couldn't be too serious, whatever it was. And whatever it was, they would fix it. Together. They always did.
He would never have this again. Her fingers in his hair, trailing along his cheek and jaw, it would all be nothing more than a memory soon enough and that knowledge was a cold, heavy knot in the pit of his stomach. “To get the kevlar off, you would have to move,” he explained. “And I don’t want you to.” No, not yet. Without even realizing it Bruce had allowed his hand to rest just above her knee, the contact tucked away, remembered, as insignificant as it was. He managed another smile when she teased about finding kevlar attractive, and this time he was a little more successful in making it convincing. He’d always been so good at pretending, and now that it was necessary he found himself struggling with it; he needed to do better. The damage was already done, what harm could a few more lies possibly do?
Having expected her to protest, he was relieved when she accepted his request for a doctor easily. He remembered that Luke had been told the surgery was a success but he presumed there had been no real time for recovery, not when the drug had kicked in so soon afterward, and that her ‘cold’ was likely the result of infection. “I just want to be sure,” he said. “I care about you too much to risk your health.” And he cringed inwardly at his own hypocrisy, since he’d been willing to take a risk before, when Gotham was on the line; trying to convince himself that it was less of a risk than it had truly been didn’t excuse his behavior. He knew that. But there was no one to call him out on it, at least not now, and so long as she lived in ignorance it would be much easier to get her medical care; another reason to keep the truth from her, at least for now. Upsetting her when she was already unwell would only make things worse and while he could rely on Luke, should worse come to worst, he could afford much better (and more discreet) doctors than the boy could. “I wouldn’t dare go against a doctor’s recommendation,” he told her, deadpan, indulging her even though he couldn’t afford to waste time lazing about. “I suppose, if it comes to that, you’ll have to put up with me taking up space in bed.”
Lie, he had to lie. He’d seen what had happened when Harley had attempted to tell them all the truth; he had to assume the same would occur should he try. The last thing he needed was the wrong person being alerted to his awareness. The brush of her lips was a short-lived distraction, and he sighed. “Just a small drug operation attempting to establish roots. It’s nothing, really,” he assured her, the lie falling easily from his lips. “I’ll handle it. You, Ms. Kyle, need to rest.”
She began to argue that moving wouldn't be a problem, but then he said he didn't want her to, and she graced him with a smile that was all warmth and lowered walls. That smile didn't see the light of day often, even is a safe and harmless Gotham. Good parents and a good life still didn't make for a trusting kitty cat. Distrust was in her blood, but there was none of it in the smile she gave him, tired trust and pleasure at his admission. "Well," she said, elegantly lifting her feet off the ground, slippers left behind and her bare toes perching on the cushion between his thighs, "when you put it that way." She didn't do anything to dislodge his hand from her knee. In fact, she just leaned a little closer. "I suppose you can keep it on a few minutes longer. Though, I am partial to what's beneath." And maybe this had all started out with Batman. After all, she'd been determined to get his attention, the man in the cowl and cape that protected a city gone safe and tranquil. But she appreciated the businessman just as much. And one thing was for certain; he was never, ever boring.
She chuckled tiredly when he said he cared about her too much to risk her health, and her hand slid around the nape of his neck, fingers sliding into the short hair there. "Look at you, admitting to caring about me too much to risk me. Tell me, Mr. Wayne, do you think about that when I'm jumping off a roof after you?" It was an honestly curious question, and her mossy green eyes were appropriately catlike in the lowlight of the room. She'd never stopped to wonder if he worried about her. After all, even Gotham had its dangers and anyone could fall off a roof. Maybe he worried? And she thought that charming. It made her grin go warmer, and something like dread danced along her spine. But she shook it off, because what was there to fear? Nothing. With this man? Nothing. Her entire career - vigilante and otherwise - was founded in knowing how to read a situation, how to read a person, and she knew this man like she knew her own fur. But he was agreeing to listen to any and all doctor recommendations, and the serious moment passed. "It's a good thing for you that I don't mind you taking up space in our bed," she assured him, and she leaned in to kiss him, a brush of lips and a pleased purr of a sound. "If you think I'm trying to get you sick," she admitted against his mouth, "I am."
When he spoke of the drug operation he'd found, she frowned - but not because she didn't believe him. No, she frowned because they'd rooted out any similar threats, and she didn't like the idea of anyone being bold enough to do that in their city. "Did they think we wouldn't notice and stop them?" she asked, that frown carrying into her tone. Gotham was, she felt, as much her city as his. Sick or no, she wanted to know what was happening. She rubbed at the back of her neck again, even as she straightened from her lazy and comfortable lean against him with a whine of pain that didn't even register in her consciousness. "I could make some inquiries?" she offered. "I was trying to find out about Milo anyway. The little boy in the orphanage I was telling you about? I think I want to bring him home." Just like that, and she didn't worry that he was going to tell her no. After all, he liked bringing lost little birds home. It was what he did.
He couldn’t remember ever having seen her smile the way she did just then, and he got caught up in staring before he could think better of it. After this, when loneliness settled in again, Bruce didn’t want to forget even if it would have been easier to wipe this entire experience from his mind. There was trust in her smile, trust that he didn’t deserve. Trust that he doubted he would ever regain, if he’d even had it in the first place. That was questionable. “A few minutes,” he echoed in agreement. There was nowhere to move when she lifted her feet, resting them on the chair cushion and altogether moving closer than she had been before; not that he wanted to move, necessarily, but this felt wrong somehow, as though he was leading her on. And maybe he was, even if that wasn’t his intention. Not really. A small part of his motivation might have been selfish, but for the most part he believed this was best. If there was any discomfort, he hid it well; he didn’t even move his hand from her knee.
There was no way to answer that truthfully. None, and he tipped his head back just a little to look up at her. Did he think about that? He thought he had. Once, he’d been certain that he never would have risked her for anything. But he was wrong, and he should have known himself better; it had nearly cost her her life. What made it even harder to answer was the way she looked at him, seriousness instead of teasing in her gaze. “A part of me always does, I suppose,” he said, after a few beats of silence. “I know you’re capable. I know you can take care of yourself. But… I still worry.” That much was true, at least, though he was relieved when she returned to less serious matters. “You’re playing dirty, Ms. Kyle,” he told her accusingly, but there was no real chastisement in it, and he kissed her back without thinking, knowing full well that she couldn’t actually get him sick.
The fact that she believed him was a relief, yes, but it also came with a healthy dose of more guilt. “Maybe,” he said, pausing when she rubbed the back of her neck and whined in pain. She didn’t even seem to notice, which spoke to the drug’s strength, and the timing really couldn’t have been any worse. He wanted to feel for himself, and so he slipped his fingers beneath her hair, careful and light, tracing over the stitches even though he knew they weren’t healing as they should; she wouldn’t have had a fever otherwise. She’d need antibiotics at the very least. “You don’t have to,” he said, smooth and effortless. “It’s not a very sophisticated operation. I know all that I need to.” He froze when she started talking about Milo, a little boy she wanted to bring home to a place she didn’t even live. When all this ended and reality returned, would the child really be better off? Would Selina still want to raise him when she didn’t even have a permanent residence? And he couldn’t look after a child himself. One son was dead, his daughter wanted to die, he barely knew Cassandra and Tim, and he was certain Dick and Jason no longer trusted him. No, the last thing he needed was to add to his broken, dysfunctional family, but how could he tell her no without raising suspicion?
“Milo,” he repeated. “Yes, I remember. You want to adopt him?”
She had no idea about the turmoil in him. Normally, she might have noticed something in the gray of his eyes, but not just then. Just then, she liked the way he stared, and she laughed a soft and feminine laugh. "It's a good thing I like being stared at," she told him, unabashed. As for him worrying, that just made her smile go fonder, and she dragged her nails lightly against the nape of his neck. "Relax, Bruce. You're always there to catch me when I fall." And that rang true down to her bones, and it made her ache at the same time, though she had no idea why. After all, if there was something she remembered it was him always being there when she found herself in trouble. No, that chill was probably just the very, very stubborn cold and nothing more.
But playing dirty stole those concerns, and she sighed at the end of that kiss, her fingers tracing the shell of his ear as she sat back. "You like it when I play dirty. You'd be bored to tears otherwise," she said confidently. And she was confident about this, about them.
His hand on the back of her neck, beneath the cascade of her hair, didn't surprise her. She couldn't feel the stitches, and his touch didn't elicit any fresh pain, not beyond the constant throbbing at the base of her skull. She closed her eyes, and she tried to focus on his words about the drug operation. "If you're sure," she managed, but the frown lingered. "I just hope this isn't a sign of things to come. Who would even think to run a drug operation out of Gotham? They had to know we'd catch on. We don't even have a market for that kind of thing here." Drug use? In Gotham? It wasn't as if they were living in Metropolis.
When he froze, she felt it, and she opened her eyes and looked at him, intelligence in the green gaze that regarded him for a moment. "He's not doing well at the orphanage," she finally said, sure she'd imagined the way he'd tensed. "He's not happy like the other children." She said the words like they were truly shocking. Why wouldn't a little preschooler be happy? After all, Gotham's orphanages were almost as good as having living, breathing parents. "I thought he might like a big house and a backyard." She wasn't asking permission. Oh, no, the kitty cat wasn't the type to ask, but she did want to know his opinion.
She stood, slipping free of the hand along her back, and then she leaned over him and pressed a long, long, slow kiss to his mouth. "Take that kevlar off, and you can tell me what you think in bed, Mr. Wayne."
There was a brief moment in which Bruce thought she might see something in his gaze that would tip her off, but as he scrambled to come up with a cover she laughed, the sound quiet and unworried, and he swallowed down his panic and covered it with a smile. As for him always being there to catch her, well, that wasn’t true, and he wondered if she felt anything as she said it, some sense of unrest beneath the tranquility. As certain as he was that not trying to convince her of the truth was best, a part of him still remained unsure; but he was used to that. He was used to doubts, however small, however deeply buried. Almost too late he realized his silence had stretched on, and he sought to remedy that. “I know,” he assured her. “I would never let you fall.” The words tasted bitter on his tongue even as he said them, and he hated himself, hated that it was a lie in the first place.
But not everything he said were lies, even if words were spoken under false pretenses. “I do,” he agreed quietly. “And I would be. You’re right. The one thing I never am with you is bored, Selina.” That was truth, even if he had no right to be saying it at all.
Up until that moment there was, admittedly, a lingering sense of doubt, a belief that he was wrong, that Gotham really was as perfect and good as everyone seemed to believe it was. There had been times, before, when he’d come close, when he’d faltered, but he had always fallen back into happy oblivion; he might have been able to do so again even now, but the feel of stitches under his fingers solidified reality for him and loosened what was left of the drug’s hold on him. He wasn’t imagining those scars. Those were real. The bomb, the government and Lex Luthor and rampant crime, that was real. And he knew, then, for sure. He knew. “I’m sure,” he told her. “I’m sure it isn’t a sign of things to come. It’s just a bunch of criminals getting ahead of themselves. They’re not very smart.”
This unhappy child was likely one of the few not affected by the drug, and while Bruce felt a pang of sympathy for the boy he knew her adopting him wasn’t the magical solution to make him happy. But it would be fine, somehow. “Whatever you think is best.” He saw the intelligence in her gaze, and he knew he had to be careful not to let too much of his true reactions show. Which would have been easier if she hadn’t expected him to still act like the happy, ignorant Bruce he’d been mere hours ago.
He had to draw the line somewhere, he knew he did. He should draw it here, now, but he couldn’t find the words. He tried, as she kissed him, to think up some excuse to slip away, but he had to tread carefully. “Alright, Ms. Kyle,” he said slowly, and his mind didn’t rest, didn’t stop telling him this was wrong; it was as though he was on autopilot as he stood, as he began to remove what was left of his kevlar.
Something about his reassurance left her feeling strangely empty. The kitty cat didn't like the feeling. It felt like her fur was being rubbed the wrong way, and she stared at him a moment after, trying to figure out why. After all, she believed him. That belief, that trust, it wasn't new, and she didn't know it had been newly shaken. "I know," she finally told him, because she wasn't going to be scared of a silly little feeling that meant nothing at all. "I know you'd never let me fall," she echoed, as if she could make the words feel right by repetition. And there was something serious in her gaze. Not recognition, but something that wasn't the lightheartedness of Gotham. "You know, I always trusted you. Maybe I shouldn't admit that," she added,a slow smile, all grown-up and knowing how hard trust was to come by. Even in this pretty Gotham, she knew that trust was hard.
She sensed something different in his voice when he said he wasn't bored by her, and she wondered if she was imagining it. Of course she was, wasn't she? And doubt wasn't high on Selina's list of favorite things. She didn't like how insecurity felt, and her back went a little straighter, almost defensively. Oh, she was always comfortable around him, relaxed and no reason to distrust this man that she slept beside. After all, sleeping next to someone was the ultimate show of trust, wasn't it? But the reaction wasn't one that she could hold back, and she was glad to be on her feet a moment later, after that kiss, and after his agreement about Milo - agreement that didn't feel like agreement at all.
She stood there, and she looked down at him, and she wondered if she was sicker than she realized. She never felt this way with him, like there was something she needed to be careful of, like there were things she should keep to herself. She watched his hands on the kevlar, and normally she would've helped him. Hands quick and nimble, and she was good at getting him out of that suit. She was better than he was at getting her out of hers. He tended toward impatience and tearing, but she was just fast.
But she didn't help. Instead, she waited a few seconds, and then she made her way back to their bedroom, sway of hips and her hair sliding back and forth against the silk of the borrowed robe. She climbed into bed wordless, and she sat against the headboard and watched the door, waiting for him to enter. She rubbed idly at the back of her neck, and she spoke once she heard his footfalls approaching. "If there was something wrong, you would tell me, wouldn't you?" she asked, and her voice sounded sad, even to her own ears, which she disliked. She'd never needed validation with him, and she didn't like that she needed it now. After all, she wasn't a little kitten that needed Bruce Wayne to tell her that he loved her, was she?
He met her gaze carefully, steadily, pinpointing that seriousness as something that didn’t quite belong in this happy new Gotham that had everyone fooled. It wasn’t suspicion, exactly. It wasn’t knowledge. But it was enough to make Bruce think that maybe the drug wasn’t strong enough to completely dull her senses. Maybe they all had their moments, maybe all it took was a push--a sound, a sight, a single word--to snap out of it completely. “No,” he said, a hint of something sad in his tone. “You don’t have to hide something like trust from me. I trust you too.” Not that it mattered anymore. And he noticed that straightening of her spine, defensiveness that was more her than most of the behavior she’d displayed so far. Walls and distance, he was used to that. Once she came back to her senses it was doubtful she would even speak to him again. There was guilt as she looked down at him, and he lowered his gaze, focused entirely at the task at hand, in order to keep his expression from becoming too transparent. Yes, he was slow. Slower than necessary, maybe, but there was relief when she left and climbed into bed, giving him a moment to himself. He had a chance to breath, to wrap himself in pretense, and he managed it. One night, he could get through one night, and in the morning he would call his doctors and do what needed to be done about the drug.
Shirtless and barefoot, kevlar free, he entered the bedroom quietly and paused when she spoke, one hand lingering on the doorframe. She sounded sad, and he ached to hear it. “I would,” he told her, remembering to move and climbing into bed next to her. “Nothing’s wrong, Selina.” He closed his eyes and pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “You’ll start feeling better, and tomorrow I’ll fix the drug problem.”
She didn't like the sadness in his voice. Even through the haze of Gotham's bright and beautiful reality, she could hear it. It was at odds with everything the kitty cat believed, and it was at odds with everything in her life. It made her wonder what she'd missed. Oh, she wasn't blind enough to think everyone in Gotham was happy. Relationships fell apart, people divorced, and people died. Those were normal things, and no one stayed sad about them for very long, but they happened. She wondered if something like that was happening here. Had she missed some sign? It made her feel vulnerable in a way she absolutely hated, and by the time she was sitting in that bed, asking if he would tell her if something was wrong, she was turmoil and fever mixed. She rubbed at her face, her fingers shaking in a way they hadn't done before this evening. She was quiet as he climbed into bed, and she was silent as he kissed her shoulder. She didn't move after, either, not immediately.
It was a few seconds later, and she touched a hand to his cheek, though it was with much less certainty than earlier. "On second thought, I'm not tired. You sleep. I'll be in my study for awhile." And she wasn't worried that there was anything wrong with him. No, her mind didn't go there. It went to things that were, maybe, worse than him being off.
Maybe, just maybe, Bruce Wayne had grown tired of her.
She slid away from the wall, and she let her legs hang off the edge of the bed. The robe was over there, and over there seemed impossibly far away. She told herself it was just the cold, her sudden desire to just collapse somewhere. And maybe it was. Maybe she'd been fighting it, and maybe she'd just gotten too tired to fight it any longer. Or, maybe, it was this, and the rapidly encroaching feeling that, illogical as it seemed, he didn't want anything to do with her. Oh, she didn't bore him, that was true enough. In fact, she thought it might be the only true thing he'd said all night.
She forced herself to her feet. "Sweet dreams, Mr. Wayne," she purred. And she was impressed with herself, that she'd managed that much.
He'd done something wrong. Bruce knew almost instantly, picking up on that shift in her behavior as dismay washed over him. Once, he'd been so very good at pretending. Maybe it was how he felt about her, maybe the guilt was just too strong. But whatever it was, she wasn't blind. There was less certainty in her touch, her fingers shook, and he knew her not being tired was a lie. She must have been exhausted. He watched her slide away, watched her struggle to her feet, and that purr was so like the old Selina that he wondered if he shouldn't just tell her the truth after all.
"Selina, don't." He wasn't tired. He wouldn't have slept if she did leave. "You're not well. You need to rest," he told her, sliding out of bed on his side and rounding around to head her off. "Please."
The fact that he cut off her exit was the only reason she stopped moving. And maybe there dampness in her eyes, though that didn't make any sense. After all, when did she ever have anything to cry over? She brushed at one eye with the back of her hand, and she told herself it was just the cold making her feel sentimental. She could live without the Bat. Of course she could. It wasn't as if her life revolved around Bruce Wayne. She repeated that to herself a few times, and then she reminded herself of who she was. All this, the Manor, the man, the potential child, none of it was necessary. She was fine without any of it, just like always. And that made her pause, because where did that come from? She actually waved her hand in a little dismissive gesture at the thought, willing away with a graceful flick of narrow wrist.
And her smile came a moment later, lush and oh so convincing, and where had she learned to do that? But there were cracks in the veneer, because she couldn't remember ever having to play this little game with him. After all, he was the person she was always honest with, wasn't he?
"Bruce, I'm fine. The study is five feet away, and you obviously don't feel like my company tonight." She said it strong, spine straight, as if it didn't matter at all. And maybe it wasn't a perfect facade, maybe she couldn't do anything about the sadness in her eyes, but at least her voice didn't warble. She took a step forward, then another, and she touched a hand to his cheek, fingers still tear-damp. She kissed him then, slow and something like goodbye, and she took a step back. "Go to sleep, Mr. Wayne."
There were little things that suggested threads were beginning to unravel, even if she didn’t understand why. His mind was still hazy, puzzle pieces drifting that hadn’t yet fallen into place, but for the most part Bruce was clear-headed; he knew she hadn’t reached that point yet. Perhaps she was making excuses as to why her eyes were damp, and he watched her brush at her eye with a sort of weary sadness. The smile that followed, oh, it was so very familiar; it was what he’d seen time and time again when she tried to throw up her walls when he got too close. He should accustom himself to it. Were she to ever willingly be in the same space with him again, it was undoubtedly all he would get. It was more than he deserved.
“You’re not fine,” he said without thinking, frustration crawling along his skin. “Nothing is fine.” Everything was so very wrong, but in a way it had always been wrong and he had to bring that back. The dark grittiness he wished so badly he could chalk up to nightmares was what he lived in, what they all lived in. And it had nothing to do with not feeling like her company, but what did it matter? None of this was real. Something in his posture changed when she kissed him, a reaction to the taste of finality, salty like tears, and he shook his head. Resignation set in and he took a step back. “I don’t have time to sleep. Just-- try to rest, Selina. I’ll have one of my doctors come by in the morning.” Money was the best incentive to stay silent, second only to blackmail; he’d make sure whatever physician came not only didn’t mention the stitches, but also refused to take no for an answer. He took another step back, rubbing a hand over his forehead. “I’m sorry,” he said, suddenly, without warning. “I’m sorry, and I do care about you. I have for a while now. And I never… I never wanted things to turn out the way they did.” He sighed. “I know that doesn’t make sense right now, but… it will. And I might not get another chance to say it.” Not to her face, at least.
He smiled, then, a weak, flickering thing, and he turned towards the door.
She tried to make sense of his assertion that things were not fine. Alright, so he thought there was something wrong with their relationship; there was the confirmation. Bold and direct, and at least he'd admitted it. And then the shake of his head in - she thought - response to his kiss, well, it was less than surprising. Finality, that was what she saw in that movement, and she managed to make her smile easier when he told her to rest. "Oh, I have a doctor I can call. It's fine." And she knew she did have a doctor, even though she didn't precisely remember why she had a doctor. "Don't worry your handsome self about it. After all, I can take care of myself." And some little voice told her that she was accustomed to taking care of herself. People couldn't be depended on, and she had no idea where that came from. But it felt true, just like his distancing felt true. And then he said he cared about her, and she laughed a hard laugh, something mirthless and very, very ill suited to Gotham's bright happiness. "We've backpedaled to caring in the span of one evening? Well, that puts me in my place, doesn't it?" she asked, sharp and brittle, and she couldn't keep the hurt out of her voice then, no matter how she tried. And wasn't that sweet? The way he ascertained that he didn't want things to turn out how they had, but he was still standing there, breaking things off with her.
She wanted to stop him when he turned toward the door, and she had to force herself to retreat into the closet. Clothing. She needed clothing. The Manor suddenly felt so small, and she was like a caged thing within its walls.
Sick or not, she was going out. He could send her things in the morning.
There was nothing to say. Nothing to insist on, when she wouldn’t listen, nothing to convince her of when she believed in a reality that didn’t exist. Bruce could have told her that there was no backpedaling, because in actuality neither of them had ever told the other 'I love you'. There had been no such confessions. Maybe there might have been had he not made such an idiotic mistake, but what was done was done. He couldn’t change the past. “You don’t understand,” he told her quietly, sadly. “But you will.” A repetition.
He would call his doctor regardless, unaware that she didn’t intend to be there. But maybe it was better this way. He left the bedroom, gathered up his kevlar, and went to the Cave to take some of his own blood and start running tests. Anger was what drove him, anger beat out a steady rhythm in his chest that echoed in his ears; he didn't fight it. He welcomed the anger like an old friend, and it left him more clear-headed than he'd been in weeks.