Author's note: this is a relatively light fic written purely for my own amusement after having watched TDKR again. It is very much an A/U that plays very fast and loose with movie timelines and plot points. Among countless omissions and modifications, I have notably excised the character of Talia.

Writing in the literary present was really fun – it lent a lot of intimacy and immediacy to the writing process. Now I find the past tense awkward. I think I'm broken.

I have not read any Batman fics so I apologize in advance for any tiresome/overused tropes that I may have indulged in.

Finally, please be aware that I enjoy (very) slow burn fics, and I enjoy open-ended fics. You have been warned.


Chapter 1: There's a storm coming

Selina doesn't make mistakes often. This one costs her.

Contrary to her initial appraisal, the six men who come after her are not common brawlers and thugs, but highly skilled combatants. And so, much to her disgust, they overpower her. She does give them a little bit of trouble, though – breaks some fingers and smashes some noses, and at least two of them will be walking funny for the next little while.

She should lose the cute "Cat" moniker and just go by Ballcrusher. It's more badass.

And so here she is. Selina Kyle, the great jewel thief, tied to a chair in an underground room, flanked by two goons, waiting for something to happen.

Well, she was tied to the chair until about thirty seconds ago, because, let's be honest, there are very few men in the world who can make a knot that Selina can't untie, and these are not those men.

Selina tilts her head casually to the left, then to the right, sizing up her captors. She is just about ready to leap up and smash together their heads when the door opens.

The hulking silhouette of a man fills the doorway, backlit by the dim hall behind him. Selina scans the figure with a practiced eye: at first glance he looks like a creatine-ridden meathead, but his movements belie that impression. He is confident and quite fluid in his motions. So not a complete meathead. She will be careful.

"Hi," says Selina as the man comes to a halt in front of her.

Selina always likes to have the first word. And the last one. It's kind of a problem sometimes.

She cocks her head and smiles prettily at the man despite the slow trickle of blood running from her freshly-split eyebrow down to her mouth.

"Selina Kyle?" asks the man.

His voice is odd, filtered to something robotic through the black mask on his face, tinged with a foreign accent.

Selina takes in the man's stance, his boots planted into the floor a touch wider than they need to be, his hands tucked into the collar of his armoured vest, and his eyes, surprisingly bright with intelligence despite his brutish appearance.

"Depends," says Selina. "Do I owe you money?"

The men at her side flinch as though her irreverent tone is physically painful. This worries Selina a bit; perhaps they are just cowardly brown-nosers, or perhaps they know something she doesn't.

The man on her left speaks up. "This is Bane. Gotham's… liberator. You have no doubt heard of him."

"... Liberator?" repeats Selina, accompanying the question with the delicate twitch of an eyebrow.

Mockery is thick in her tone, which appears to displease Leftie. He gives her shoulder a cruel squeeze. Selina decides that she will break his nose on his colleague's forehead in a moment. In the meantime, she turns her head and places her lips softly on the back of his hand.

"Don't squeeze so hard," she whispers. "It hurts."

Leftie pulls his hand back in surprise. Selina mouths a small kiss in his direction.

"Enough," says Rightie, giving her a shake of his own.

"Agreed," says Selina. Her hands are free, she stands, and Leftie's nose makes close acquaintance with Rightie's forehead. They really hit it off well. The crunch is audible, and both men fall dazedly to the floor.

The Bane guy has not moved. He seems utterly unsurprised, in fact, which annoys Selina just a little.

"Saw that coming, hm?" asks Selina as she casually rids herself of the remaining bits of rope around her wrists.

"Yes," answers Bane. His tone throws her off – it is almost cheerful.

"Why didn't you warn them?"

"Ineptitude is rewarded with punishment. It was deserved."

Selina pauses and looks at him carefully.

"I like that," she says. She shifts herself so that the chair is between them. It is a worthless barrier, in truth, but may suffice as a split-second distraction when the time comes.

Selina eyes the door, then the large figure between herself and the door. Her instincts are afire with the desire to get away. Her gut tells her there is something highly dangerous about this man. And yet he has done absolutely nothing so far, except get on her nerves by breathing loudly. Selina does not like it one bit.

She places an elbow on each corner of the chair's back and leans forward nonchalantly. It's a provocative pose, offering what she knows is a breathtaking view of Gotham's finest cleavage. Selina is impressed: Bane's eyes move downwards towards her chest with the barest, briefest flicker. So, self-control is another of his assets. Interesting.

One of the men on the ground stirs. Selina silences him with a heel to the temple and turns her attention back to Bane.

There is no reaction whatsoever to her cursory concussing of his goon. So interesting.

"So what can I do for you, Bane?" asks Selina. Casual. Like they're just having coffee. Not like she was just kidnapped and is now a little worried.

"I am looking for the one that calls himself the Batman," says Bane.

Selina is well-practiced in keeping her expression neutral, which serves her well in the face of this bizarre request.

"Are you?" asks Selina. "Why?"

"I would like to… meet him," says Bane. His words are slow, measured, and careful, coloured with that unusual accent.

Selina shrugs. "He hasn't been seen in almost a decade. I can't help you."

Bane tilts his head to one side, contemplating her. The sound of his calm, filtered breathing grates on Selina, because she herself is not calm, despite her unconcerned appearance.

"The Batman will make a reappearance in the near future. And when he does… he is a vigilante, you are a thief. He will find you, or someone else who moves in your… circles. You will bring him to me."

Orders. Selina does not take orders except from her late mother – god rest her shrivelled, crazy soul – and her stomach.

She plays with an escaped strand of hair, girlishly, playfully, as she counts the paces between herself and the door. The problem is this large thing in the way.

"Bring him to you?" Selina makes an unconvinced moue. "What's in it for me?"

"Whatever you desire," says Bane with a sweep of his hand, as if he could offer her the world at large. She tries to place the accent, those longer final vowels, those vanishing R's… whateva you desiah. Not Irish, not quite British…

The man seems to take her silence for thoughts relating to his initial question. "What do you desire, Ms. Kyle? Money?"

Selina laughs and the merry sound of it echoes incongruously in this dim place. "Don't kid yourself. You can't afford me."

This Bane guy does not like to be laughed at. Selina sees it in the minute contraction of his eyebrows, the only expressive part of his mostly covered face.

He moves towards her, unexpectedly fast, and Selina knows that she has successfully pissed him off. They dance for a few moments as Selina circles with him, keeping two feet between them but wishing it was five. Those arms are going to have some serious reach.

Oh yes, they do have serious reach, as Selina discovers as she is backed into the wall, one of Bane's large hands on her neck.

Selina holds very still, her black-booted toes barely touching the floor.

"You have decided not to name terms, Ms. Kyle," says Bane. "Very well. I am going to make you a very reasonable offer."

His breathing and speech are just as controlled as ever, not remotely marred by his exertion.

"I am offering you your life in exchange for this... favour. Is this not just?"

Bane's mask is directly in front of Selina's face. The network of vertical grey tubes make it look like the maw of some mechanical monster. In the silence that follows his question, Selina hears his breathing hiss through the mask. A puff of a medicinal smell tickles her nose. Heavy camphor. Acrid menthol. Cold wintergreen.

The tiniest smile lifts the corners of Selina's mouth. She has quick hands, and thanks to those hands there is now a viciously sharp blade pressed against Bane's groin. He notices. He is not stupid enough to crush her throat and cause her to spasm. He knows what kind of damage she could inflict at this angle. She would die, certainly, but not without castrating him first.

They lock eyes. He is surprised and annoyed, she is pissed off and shocked and – admittedly – quite frightened.

The men on the floor are groaning. Selina does not like it – this precarious stalemate is about to end, and she is going to be on the losing side. Bane knows that she knows it. She twitches the blade; he tightens his grip.

"Fine," hisses Selina with the last of her breath. "I'll bring him to you."

Bane holds her just long enough to worry her, then releases her. Once he has backed off sufficiently, Selina pulls the blade away, but keeps it readily within reach.

"This is going to bruise," says Selina, touching gently at her throat. She gives Bane a reproachful look. "I usually do the bruising."

Bane looks at her with something akin to pity, which Selina does not appreciate at all.

"Things are going to be... different in Gotham, Ms. Kyle. You should get used to the idea."

"And what exactly do you hope to achieve in Gotham?" asks Selina with interest that is mostly feigned. (Mostly, she is wondering if she could throw a knife into his eye and deep into his brain from this distance, and not miss.)

"Gotham's... reckoning," coughs out one of the thugs on the floor.

He is deadly serious, and Bane looks deadly serious, so Selina decides not to burst into hysterical laughter at this grandiose proclamation.

"If you say so," she says with a passably straight face.


Selina makes up for her undignified entrance to Bane's sewer hideout with a far more elegant exit. Mostly because anything is more elegant than being carried in with a sack over her head.

She is escorted out by Rightie, whose forehead is blossoming into a magnificent lump, and who, for some reason, seems to dislike her. Selina can't imagine why. Rightie is a big black guy, bald, equipped now with an assault rifle as he leads her out. Selina keeps pace with him and accidentally nudges him with a hip now and then. He is visibly irritated with her.

As they walk, Selina takes in every detail of the place and commits it to memory. This and that winding passage, this open area, guards leaning discreetly in shadowy corners… Selina makes a map. Not only a visual map but an olfactory one – she takes in the old-water whiffs here and there of storm drains, the more potent odours of open sewage emanating from certain tunnels, the occasional hints of cleaner air that indicate potential exit routes.

"So what do they call you?" asks Selina as the silence grows long and Rightie's irritation with her grows with it.

He ignores her.

"No name? Or do you have a hardcore name like this Bane guy?"

"It's Farad," says Rightie with a hint of exasperation. Another vaguely foreign accent she can't quite place. Middle-eastern? Persian?

Farad fingers the lump on his forehead and looks murderously at her. Selina made the mistake of underestimating Bane's men once and she will not do it again. In a group of six, they were too much for her. Well trained with excellent teamwork. But by themselves… she could take this one, one on one, no problem. He doesn't know that. She'll keep it that way for now.

"Nice to meet you, Farad," says Selina sweetly. "And don't be too grumpy with me. From what I remember, you're the one who redecorated my eyebrow. I kind of owed you a lovetap."

He gives her a hard look, then looks away. Point conceded, then.

Selina waits for Farad to focus on the passage ahead once more and pockets the wad of cash that she plucked from his pocket a moment before. It joins the piece of paper she stole from Bane when he made the mistake of getting up close and personal with her earlier.

The sound of rushing water begins to fill Selina's ears as they continue down the passage, angling downwards. They walk on until their progress is halted by a large grate. On the other side, Gotham's city lights glimmer in the springtime night. Freedom.

Farad fishes a key out of his pocket and fiddles with an enormous lock on the grate. Selina spares the lock a cursory glance. It is an uncomplicated thing. She will have it picked in two minutes if she needs to.

As Farad fusses about with the padlock, water swirls around their ankles, emptying itself in a torrent beyond the grate. The grate swings open just when Selina is about to offer to unlock it herself, sans key.

"This is where you will bring the Batman," says Farad. "No signal necessary. The sentries will see you and alert us. You will bring him down the central passage to the big room we passed. The one with the pillars."

"Understood," says Selina.

Farad all but pushes her beyond the grate and slams it shut behind her.

Adorably, he locks it up carefully and puts away the key. Selina could pet him.

"Goodbye, Farad," she says with a smile.

She looks at him over her shoulder and knows she's beautiful right now, backlit by the moon and Gotham's lights, water swirling musically around her. He pauses for a moment to look at her, confirming this, and turns away without a word.

Selina smirks to herself as she clambers out of the water and onto shore. They're all the same. She probably has a good ten or fifteen years left of this beauty, and she takes advantage of it as much as she can. After that, well – given her current lifestyle, she will probably be dead.

Selina takes careful note of the grate's location and that of the sentries who are hiding ("hiding") cleverly ("cleverly") behind some enormous hunks of broken concrete. She waves cheerily at them as she walks away. Two have good self-control and do not move, the third flinches in surprise at being sighted and ducks uselessly.

As Selina makes her way away from the industrial wasteland where the storm overflow grate belches its contents, the confident swagger in her step disappears.

Tonight was not a good night for her. Number one, she was caught and manhandled by a bunch of clowns and dragged forcibly to a place she did not want to go to. That never happens to her. Number two, she was outmaneuvered a man, one who by all appearances should have moved like a lumbering beast, but was on the contrary fast, fierce, and strong. That also never happens to her. And number three, she had her life threatened and she genuinely believes in the threat. She is afraid down to her core. This also never happens to her. Because, despite being the Cat, Selina is anything but a pussy.

The industrial zone falls behind and Gotham's familiar buildings begin to rise around Selina as she walks. She heads for the nearest sushi joint because she is hungry and angry. Farad's pickpocketed cash will pay for dinner.

It's just past midnight – closing time for the little sushi place on 47th Street, but the small Japanese lady who owns the place recognizes Selina and lets her in. Selina perches herself on one of the high stools at the bar and asks to be served whatever is freshest. The prep for the next day's lunch rush becomes her supper, and it is good. Salmon, tuna, shrimp, eel. Lots of wasabi. No rice, no rolls – carbs are for fatties.

Selina is not a nice person.

She leaves the entire roll of cash that she lifted from Farad as payment for her dinner. There's probably a few grand in there, if not more.

So maybe sometimes she can be a nice person.

The little Japanese lady bows and bows her thanks and tries to give the cash back, but Selina waves it away. There's more where that came from. Probably. Or maybe it was Farad's life savings. Who knows. Who cares.

The walk home takes double the time, because home is a safe place for Selina and she does not want to be followed there. Her instincts tell her she is being watched, but she cannot ferret out or lose the watcher despite a convoluted series of backtracks and random turns. So instead she heads to home number 2, one of a few decoy apartments scattered throughout the city. It is a fully-furnished apartment she rents under an assumed name (she forgets what, some feline pun).

Selina enters home number 2, an apartment in an older building, turns on a light, and very obviously and openly changes into pyjamas in full view of the window. Then she switches off the light. Instead of going to bed, however, she pulls her catsuit back on and exits the apartment through the kitchen window on the other side of the building.

Her suit is black because black cats are bad luck to all but themselves. And someone is about to have very bad luck.

Selina pulls herself to the roof of the building with practiced ease and it is her turn to become the hunter. A male figure retreats in the shadows on the street below. Having seen her enter the building and get ready for bed, his job done, he is now heading home.

Selina follows him from the rooftops for a few streets. At one point, in the shadows between two streetlights, the figure bends down.

She hears the low sounds of a manhole cover being moved. So it is one of Bane's sewer rats who was tailing her.

Selina drops down to street level and creeps up behind the man. The grinding sound of the heavy manhole cover masks her already quiet footsteps. She takes in the man's slight build, his wiry frame, the gun at his hip.

"Boo," she says when the man straightens up to take a breath.

He startles but, to his credit, immediately draws his weapon.

"I don't think so," says Selina, kicking the gun out of his hand.

They grapple. He is less well trained than the bunch that came before. A spy and a sneak, then – not a fighter. Selina sweeps his legs from under him and he lands on his back. His head hits the pavement, hard.

He is dazed and barely struggles as Selina pulls his hands above his head. She lifts the manhole cover and drops it onto his hands. The man does not cry out, though the pain must be significant. Selina is impressed. Where is Bane getting these guys?

Selina stands on the manhole cover, further crushing the man's hands and keeping him in place.

She squats down and looks at his upside-down face, brushing his hair out of the way with a soft touch. "Before you go back to your hole, give Bane a message for me. I will do what he asked. But I won't be followed around. The next of his rats that I catch following me, I kill. You understand?"

The man nods. His face is impassive, impressively so, considering that his fingers are being crushed by 150 pounds of iron and all of Selina's body weight. He has the same tanned complexion and light eyes as others in Bane's group.

Selina touches his face gently, like a lover. "I like to play with my kills. And I will remember your face. So mind it isn't you I see next time, or – well, I'll have a lot of fun with you."

The sneak's mouth firms into a line and he nods again.

Selina gets up and tosses his gun into the open sewer. She considers throwing him in after it, but figures he can make his own way down, and possibly keep his skull more intact that way.

She vanishes into the shadows and makes her way towards home number 3. It has been a long night and she craves sleep. This time, there is nobody following her.

At least, she thinks so.