The Gang Gets the Big G.A.E.
Roleplaying Log: The Gang Gets the Big G.A.E.
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

A charity dinner interrupted by strange cultists instigates a chance meeting between tech superstar Karen Starr and prodigal daughter Kate Kane. A tour is offered. A very GAE tour. Things, of course, progress naturally from there, as one might expect.

Other Characters Referenced: Jacob Kane, Bruce Wayne
IC Date: January 27, 2019
IC Location: GOTHAM, EVERYWHERE
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 27 Jan 2019 08:07
Rating & Warnings: PG-13 for naughty language and gals being pals
NPC & GM Credits: Jacob Kane, Julia Pennyworth, Crazy Cultists, KITE MAN! HELL YEAH!
Associated Plots

The Otisburg district may be the home of the venerable UCC Group — venerable by software company standards — but no one on the guest list for this charity dinner has qualms about traveling across Gotham City to the Diamond District, which is nice enough that its district gets put in title case.

Nice by Gotham City standards, some would say. Still, enough money is thrown around here that, between private security and sufficiently motivated police officers, there's a virtual guarantee that this will be a well-tended affair for people who want to congratulate themselves for doing a little good in the world.

Or take the edge off, as the case may be. UCC once stood for Ultimate Computer Corporation before its rebranding and sleek logo redesign. Ultimate Computer had about as much interest in community responsibility as any other corporate-client-focused tech company, which is to say none until the last few years. Even dinosaurs have to admit that caring about social and environmental problems is cool now. If they don't, they may not ever figure out why they keep losing employees to companies who pay competitively and aren't an embarrassment to mention at a dinner party.

UCC's years-long sojourn to the land of a kinder, gentler, more personable company has arguably built to this night. Its massive donations to social services in Gotham are the centerpiece of its assertion that it cares about the communities in which it operates. The responsibility for the forced quality of some smiles in the room lies with one woman: Karen Starr, erstwhile software engineer for UCC and current rising tech superstar whose company is starting to post numbers that are making even the majors take notice. Karen's involvement was initially a major win for UCC, which lacked a charismatic young face for their initiative, but she since proved herself to have a way of… encouraging things.

The donation amount may have an extra zero on it that would not otherwise be there if not for Ms. Starr's persuasive techniques. On the bright side, the Starr Foundation has a new budget to throw around to Gotham orphanages and school programs.

The dinner is taking place in one of the several stately old ballrooms offered by the Diamond District's hotels, which are more than familiar with catering to the pomp of the business world. The art deco stylings have been tastefully updated with new windows to accentuate the view and recessed lighting to allow for a cheerful ambiance without compromising the architecture's prominence. Many out-of-towners visit these ballrooms for events, and most of them expect to see art deco or gothic or both, or at least something that seems Gothamy. (Gothamy, for the record, was added to the dictionary in 2014 largely due to interior design students and Instagram.)

The buy-in for a seat here will be added to UCC's charitable donation at the end of the night for the company's final total. More than that, it comes with several things a socialite may care about: a chance to be seen walking in, an environment to mingle with other socialites on the usual event circuit, and an open bar. The open bar has been seeing some work this evening.

With the plates cleared away, the evening has drifted into the part of the show where terrible, rambling speeches are made by people who typically communicate to their employees by email. The open bar's busyness begins to make sense. That the last speaker of the night is Karen Starr herself was either a fit of passive-aggression on the organizers' parts, or a hope that she would keep people in the room until she spoke.

Either way, the survivors of the evening are now witness to Karen's former boss — previously a department head, currently on the board — introducing her and moving to greet her as she strolls out into the dance floor in the center of the room. He moves in to try to kiss her on the cheek even though it means tiptoes for him, but Karen — smile unflinching — grips his shoulders and guides him into a hug instead. She takes the mic and steps away as he shuffles awkwardly for a moment and then moves to rejoin the other speakers who are now standing at the edge of the dance floor.

The lights converge on Karen. She's been on enough magazine covers that it would be shocking for anyone here to have not seen her before, but in person is always something else: in heels she is a tall woman, but more eye-catchingly a broad one. Her backless halter-neckline dress is not the choice of someone who is afraid to advertise their bodybuilding.

"I usually hear that I don't seem like the Gotham type," she says. She is the first person this evening who knows how to hold a mic so that it doesn't catch breathing noises. "I don't know what it is. A sunny disposition, maybe."

It's late enough that even polite charity dinner humor get chuckles. It helps that anyone who cracked open those magazines with her on them has probably read about her reputation as a hardass. Karen's smile briefly becomes brighter — a show-woman's gesture to show that she's in on the joke.

"But Gotham has always been a second home to me. I didn't just work here, my friends are from here. People I consider family are from here. The Gotham I know raises survivors, and no one survives alone. That's why…"

Karen hesitates and glances toward the windows.


"If you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later."

The room is sterile, white. Like a pretty little picture out of a fairy book, that looks enchanting until you actually get inside and take in the overpowering stench of chemicals and ionizing air.

In the center stands a sarcophagus, a gilded treasure of irregularity in a sea of sameness. A man kneels before it as it begins to hiss open, the sound of moving, mechanical parts incongruous with its archaic appearance. Bizarre.

Nonsense.

"It's been done as you've asked, Mother. The adherents know their role. They will not waver. But… is it truly alright, sending so few for a task like this? If you would like, I can send for Abbot—"

"Tut tut, child!"

The voice within the opening sepulcher is melodious and yet off-putting, like a song sung just faintly off-key. Something shifts within; pale gold ringlets bounce within the dark like dawn dancing between the shadows.

"Everything has got a moral, if only you can find it!"

"… Of course, Mother." The man's head bows more deeply, gaze affixed to the sea of white beneath his feet. "We'll proceed, however you wish."

And from the secretive shadows emerges a pale white hand. It rests cold on the man's cheek, long, scarlet-lacquered nails a bright contrast to the pallor of everything else here.

"Begin at the beginning," whispers that sweet voice, a warm contrast to the cold of her caress. Her forefinger glides smooth as silk across the man's cheekbone. "And go on till you come to the end…"

And the long, red line of a razor thin cut decorates the man's cheek as his High Mother's words fill his world as much as her caress' subtle sting. A delighted smile blooms in the dark depths.

"… then stop."

~-~

"I honestly don't see why I'm the one who gets to be saddled with this, sir."

A closet opens up to a sea of colorful fabrics that stands in stark contrast to Katherine Rebecca Kane's otherwise dour expression as she rifles through a sea of opportunities, looking for the one thing that stands out. Bandages wrap around her midsection, a fresher injury from a fresher fight in Atlantic City.

"If Catherine is so excited about this charity, why doesn't she go?"

«"Because she's excited about it for you, Kate."» The voice that comes over the speakers inlaid in Kate's penthouse apartment is gruff. Authoritative, but in that calm, subtle way that one gets when they've become truly comfortable with taking charge of things. When leadership becomes as easy as sucking in the first breath of air in the morning.

«"She said you've been looking stressed lately. That this would be something to let you unwind a little."»

"Right. Because when I think of destressing, I think corporate backpatting and overwrought excuses to schmooze."

«"Kate…"»

"I know. … I know." Lips curl into a frown. The pale young woman bows her head, rubbing at her eyes. "'Do this as a favor to me.' Right?" Leaning against the close entrance, the redhead frowns, running a hand through her short mop of red hair. "You owe me one, sir."

«"Thank you, Kate. Try to enjoy yourself. And — Catherine asked me to remind you that this is a black tie event."»

A pale hand reaches into the colorful recesses of that wardrobe. Undecorated lips twitch in a dry smile.

"Understood. I think I've got just the thing."

~-~

As reminded, Kate Kane arrived at the UCC Group's gala with a black bow tie.

That it comes complete with an ostentatiously maroon tailcoat, vest, and slacks really makes no nevermind to her.

As far as she's concerned, she followed instructions to the letter.

The Kane heiress is a fashionably late arrival, early enough that her arrival doesn't quite go unnoticed and thusly (hopefully) stave off her step-mother's criticisms, and late enough that she can avoid some of the preliminary glad handing.

She didn't intend on staying long. Doesn't intend on staying long. Put in her dues, see if the drink selection at this particular hotel is still as good as she remembers it (and it was so good she barely remembers it, which is promising), get in a few, obligatorily kind words, and leave after she signs the appropriate checks. Simple. Perfunctory. Perfect for the sour disposition she's in.

But as is often the way of these things, circumstances change when we least expect it to.

Kate is making herself comfortable at the refreshingly open bar reacquainting herself with their selection of liquors (they are as good as she remembers it, which is doubly promising), when she hears the introductions. She blinks, slowly; Karen Starr, the man announces, and for some reason, the name sounds familiar to the redheaded heiress. Green eyes turn — and it's a testament to how distracted she's been that she only puts two and two together on who, exactly, is helping to host this only once her powerful presence is on center stage.

Kate's vivid gaze squeezes in a blink as Karen begins to deliver her speech. Dark red lips part, a soft, "huh." escaping from between them in the Kane woman's exhale as she listens, drinks forgotten for the moment. Brows lift. 'A sunny disposition,' Karen says; despite herself, a sardonic snort flares past Kate's nostrils at that. And it's just about when she starts to stand —

The Gotham I know raises survivors, and no one survives alone. That's why—

CRASH

That everything, obligingly, goes to hell.

Circumstances, after all, often change.

It's just as Karen's gaze turns towards those windows that three pairs of booted heels -smash- through the glass, shattering it into countless shards that rain over the proceedings as a trio armed to the teeth with strange-looking weaponry and tactical gear literally crash the party. The effect is theatrical, of course. It's designed to get attention, and grab it, as any showstopper ought to. It's not necessary…

… because the moment people start to flee, the sounds of weapons firing towards the back cut them off prematurely.

There's a scream, as one of the security guards falls to the ground, holding a gunshot wound courtesy of his partner. Several more of the security hired for the evening start to pull their weapons — all of them installed at key points to keep -anyone- from leaving. Security, it seems, isn't quite so secure.

"Behold, the vile person will speak villainy, and His heart will work iniquity!" roars one of the intruders who crashed through the window, one larger, strange, silvery rifle thrumming with power. A tall man, bald, riddled with ugly scars across his scalp that seem to precise and purposeful to be from accumulated injuries — like decorations, rather than blemishes. "No one move, no one speak! We're only here for one of you — but understand, whatever happens here, you brought this all upon yourselves!"

And through the haze of confusion, Kate has already begun to slip between panicking partygoers, expression already twisted into a grimace.

"'Unwind,' she says. For fuck's sake."

Kate Kane has begun to suspect her step-mother might be trying to get her killed.


Karen Starr half-lids her eyes as she watches the tactical gear goons bust through reinforced security glass on their swing-in. Normally it might be questionable for a completely normal businesswoman to respond to such a thing with annoyance, but no one is looking at her right now. She can state this as a fact.

Or, at least, Power Woman can. Power Woman can hear grass grow in a different state, and conclusively calculating that not a single pair of eyes is on her for this briefest of moments is an adjacent feat. Power Woman was also advised to perhaps tone down her prodigious super-sensory feats for just one evening so that she could see off this ridiculous sum of money destined for helping people without being tempted to fly out the door and rescue someone getting mugged.

It's Gotham. There's always someone getting mugged. Case in point.

The muscles of Karen's jaw visibly clench down as a shot is fired. Her gaze shifts slightly. The guard isn't visible where he dropped to the floor behind the crowd, but she doesn't need that kind of line of sight to see. The bullet missed major arteries and organs — his heart's racing but, in her official opinion as someone who's seen and heard a lot of people get shot before, he'll be okay.

Still, her free hand curls into a fist. The microphone makes a faint popping noise. Okay, maybe both her hands are getting a little fighty.

Whatever happens here, you brought this all upon yourselves. That phrasing. Oh, that phrasing. If they're speaking of things people brought upon themselves, just wait until they see what they've won.

But that's the word: wait. A Power Girl of many years ago would have gladly ditched her secret identity right here, right now to blur into superspeed and deliver blunt-force judgment to everyone currently waving a weapon around. Today's Power Woman knows that she can't give up the good she's doing as Karen Starr — and that maybe this situation doesn't need a Kryptonian.

Maybe. MAYBE. She couldn't relax her fist if she tried.

Karen thumbs the mic off with her other hand. She turns and walks across the dance floor to the remaining UCC board behind her, which, to their credit, is most of them.

"I don't know who they're looking for but stay calm," she says, shoving the mic into her old boss' limp hands. "The police are coming. They're here for a quick robbery or a kidnapping or they're not leaving at all."

At least that's how things would work in a more cheerful world. Karen glances over her shoulder at Scarhead and the Boys, narrowing her gaze. Now she's listening: she can hear the hotel staff getting wise and someone already getting on the emergency line. In moments, unless something truly hideous is happening elsewhere in the city — or somethings, because Gotham — she should hear sirens. But she's also watching, leveling her combined sensory supremacy on remembering everything unique about these idiots.

A thought leaps in her head. If she could get close, then maybe, with some plausible deniability—

Karen leaves the UCC board amid stammering replies, pushing into the crowd of panicking partygoers.

Her expression is admittedly more of a glower than a grimace.


Katherine Kane could certainly confirm that she is one of the many not looking at Karen Starr right now, if one were to ask. She has many other more pressing things on her mind. Of course, even if she could answer, there'd be no one to ask anyway.

They all, shockingly enough, have many other more pressing things on their mind too.

Survival is probably key amongst them. It might be surprising, the sort of things people do when their backs are against the wall. Some panic. Some grow meek in the ways that would assuredly have people yelling at the screen in sheer frustration during a horror movie, and others turn to other varying degrees of compliance, perhaps believing — hoping — that they mean what they say. That they only want one. And maybe, just maybe, that one will not be them.

And then… there are the people who choose a more proactive approach to survival.

Kate is lost easily in the crowds, snatching up a cocktail mixer before she abandons the bar for the cover of the panic, but she knows it won't last long. Already these armed thugs — whoever they are — are rapidly starting to sift through and force the party goers into some semblance of seized and terrified organization with a zealous brand of competency. She catches glimpses of them relieving their impromptu prisoners of belongings — wallets, jewelry, purses — the first clear sign that they likely have no intentions of following their claims. And behind tightly pressed lips, the redhead's teeth grit together. Not much time. If she knows the Gotham PD — and by now, she thinks she knows them fairly well — it won't take them overlong to respond to a problem in the Diamond District, and then it becomes a matter of just how suicidal this particular flavor of up-and-coming extralegal entrepreneurs are. Until then, she needs to find a way to distract them, or defuse the situation entirely.

Inwardly, she curses, even as she weaves past the notice of one of those hired goons masquerading as security. She should have brought the uniform. She didn't think. She needs a more efficient delivery system. She needs a drink, too.

She'll settle for making these people regret coming here, for now.

And so, Kate first makes her way towards that injured security guard, towards the fringes of the grand ballroom-turned-equally grand hostage situation. There's one of them nearby, overlooking an exit. Sharp, calculating eyes level on him for two or three seconds of silent scrutiny before Kate drops into a crouch next to the fallen guard. She checks his pulse, quietly inspects his wound in these moments of distraction; comes to a similar conclusion as Karen, without the benefit of Powerful Senses to discern it from a comfortable distance. The bullet went clean through. Losing blood, but should be fine. If he can get help, preferably sooner than later. Her gaze turns back towards that 'security guard' currently blocking any chance of egress. She looks down at the drink shaker in her hand.

The bored scowl enhancing the lonesome guard's rough features is ruined with a lemonfaced scrunch of confusion as he feels something bump against his foot. He looks down. Blinks at the expensive cocktail mixer delivered at his feet like it was already Christmas Morning and he'd truly been a good boy. Leans down to squint.

The last thing he sees is a flash of red before an arm compressing tight around his throat slowly and silently chokes the consciousness out of him.

The unconscious guard is slumped against a nearby wall as Kate begins to quietly whisper instructions on escaping to a nearby, understandably shellshocked and disturbed couple. In the distance, not that far away, she hears voices. Angry voices. She sees and hears the ramping glow and thrumming build of a strange weapon starting to charge. She looks up.

Her glower is more of a grimace as she catches sight of one of the men in tactical gear, leveling his rifle at a member of the hotel staff.

"Shit."

~-~

There are many things the more reserved and tactful Power Woman can learn simply by having powerful observation skills and/or super (power) senses. For one thing, the heartbeats of Scarhead's cohorts seem to vary wildly, from the heady, fast-paced rhythms of excitement to the staccato bursts of one more anxious, nervous. The scarred man, though? Nothing. Not too fast. Not too slow.

A perfectly even heart rate, even in the midst of all this madness.

His movements are taut, coiled, deliberate. Like someone who's been trained. The two who accompany him, a man and a woman both with shaved heads themselves, feel similarly if to a lesser degree. They are also the only ones that seem to be carrying any kind of advanced weaponry, oddly out of place with their otherwise spartan aesthetics — judging by the sight of them, and the trace scent of ozone, some sort of plasma rifles, maybe. Otherwise, the rest don't seem to have that kind of restraint, or fun toys, to them. There are three dressed as security guards, manning every exit — wasn't there four, why did the one in the south's breathing go so shallow? — and maybe two or three others helping to corral the party goers, more wild and rambunctious and certainly not of the same quality.

Old Scarhead just makes a face at the sight of them all in action.

"The standards of Gotham's covens are abysmal," mumbles the woman at his side. "Or did they send us the dregs, hoping we would fail?"

"It doesn't matter," hisses the scarred man, his voice as unpleasant as the acrid stench of asphalt. "Remember. We are the weapon waiting to be drawn. Both of you, spread out. Find her."

"Unto Cain." "Unto Cain."

And with that, Scarhead and the Gang split, his accompanying posse making their way into the panicked masses to start taking personal items from anyone they find. Mostly forms of identification, which they both inspect in turn. Sometimes anything that looks like it might be worth value, not even, necessarily, out of want — as if the simple act of taking from someone was as rote and natural as breathing.

The aptly-named Scarhead stays towards the shattered windows, weapon in hand, brown gaze impassive. His stare turns towards the UCC board members perhaps a minute or two after Karen has left them behind. His look practically screams a promise of 'you're next.'

They are professional, efficient, a stark contrast to the rest. And it might have continued like this, too —

"What do you think you're doing?"

If not for the fact that they're also observant, to boot.

The Male Minion following Scarhead has his rifle trained on a member of the hotel staff, holding a phone. The good news is, Karen can hear sirens.

The bad news is, that weapon is beginning to churn a charge of plasmic overkill in the depths of its barrel. The staff member's lips part.

"No," interjects the man. "Don't bother." That rifle lifts. And the man's next words sound almost like a recitation of scripture as his index finger itches towards its trigger.

"For in my hand I hold Murder, and thus hold Murder over all who walk this Ea—"

KRRRSSHHHH

The raucous sound of metal rebounding off marble floors fills the air. Scarhead and his cohorts have just enough time to look in the direction of the sound to find an upturned table and its plates of food spilling ungraciously across the floor.

And the pale, tuxedo-wearing woman who knocked it over.

Scarhead's eyes widen instantly.

"Twice-Named—"

But Karen, at least, has an opening to get in close.

Plausible deniability.

If things don't completely go to hell.


It is an ugly truth about how Power Woman operates that the crowd melts away into an indistinct blob in times like this. That isn't entirely true, because nothing is indistinct to a Kryptonian fueled by a yellow sun. The reality is that people in large numbers tend to react in familiar ways and usually in groups. Ideologically, Power Woman cares about every single innocent person in this room. She wants to help them. Functionally, she is an old friend of the great squiggly breed called the Panicked Crowd, and that's how she files it away in her mind.

She's subconsciously keeping track of everyone. Reflexively; maybe that's a better word. Right?

Right. Her, panicked crowd, and idiot criminals who do not yet know how deeply unpleasant their evening is going to get. Karen can commit to that: an unpleasant evening.

Karen Starr does not disappear so easily into the crowd. More than a couple inches over six foot in her heels, iconic bright blonde hair in a messy bob, broad shouldered — it's not an easy con. Still, the composite feeling of her advanced senses working at Kryptonian speeds allows her to suss out where the guys with guns are going to focus before they're totally there. By the time Karen breaks into the crowd, she's noticed a rough pattern in how they're working through the room.

Among other things. Fake security is composed of either newbies or freelancers. Team dramatic entrance is made up of vets — or maybe they're drugged up, or mind controlled, or highly-advanced robotic or magical simulacrum. Can't discount anything. Mind control is surprisingly popular in Gotham. She always figured it was because—

Karen slows her movement as an insecurity guard turns and begins working his way in the direction she had planned to move in. Her gaze shifts sharply from him to the milsurp squad with the plasma rifles. Yeah, plasma rifles. The stink of ozone is fresh enough on them. Plasma rifles aren't exactly hard to come by for certain organizations and their teeming children, but when Karen sees people lugging them around while robbing a high-profile event in the rich part of town, she thinks—

"The standards of Gotham's covens are abysmal."

—Intergang. The Interpol of crime. Branch in every city. Or coven, apparently. Maybe Gotham has covens because it's Gotham.

With this bit of exposition decided, the situation promptly begins to deteriorate.

The first problem arises when Karen's attention splits as she notices the sounds of physical struggle and someone mentioning escape. Her otherworldly vision pierces through the crowd once more, allowing her to focus on the woman with white skin and red hair like someone jacked the color sliders as far as they'd go. Vampire? Also Gothamy. The mystery woman is already moving on with discipline that Karen can feel and hear in how she breathes, how she moves, how her heart beats.

"Huh," Karen exhales.

It's a huh too much. The smell of ozone flushes the room with a renewed reek as one of the cannons charges up. Karen tenses in stern readiness. Identity be damned, she'll speeding bullet across this room and hurl every single one of them into the ceiling hard enough to leave full-body bruises. She holds herself back long enough to see where Scarhead is going with telling Baldo to stand down, trusting her ability to be there faster than they can pull the trigger — but it seems like the leader is just claiming the ritual execution for himself.

Well, Ms. Starr, Power Woman thinks. It's been real.

~tablecrash~

Karen feels the entire room freeze for an enormous, silent moment. Criminals, panicked crowd, and alien superwoman CEO all turn to look at the woman in the amazing tailcoat tuxedo. Not everyone thinks the purple tailcoat is amazing, but Karen does because you should see Kryptonian fashion sometime. Somewhere, a glass breaks.

"Twice-Named—"

Power Woman only yells ENOUGH CULTY BULLSHIT in her head because she's still in stealth mode. How does Power Woman do stealth mode? The same way she did it when people called her Supergirl: move so fast that no one can see her.

Lights strobe across the room. A siren wails, and not from a police car. The sprinkler systems snap-hiss into action and pour down stank, stale water onto all the rich people. Karen Starr sprints ahead — very visible at normal human speeds, for the record — pushing three people out of her way before she breaks the crowdline surrounding the plasma gunners. Her heels are quietened by carpet save for the last two clicks on dance floor before she gets to Scarhead's back. She's already rearing back, arm raised.

KLONK

Karen Starr, noted fitness enthusiast, has plausibly sent a hardened criminal slumped dazed over his plasma cannon with a suckerpunch to the base of his skull. Baldo turns and muzzlesweeps the crowd as he wheels his gun to face her. He pulls the trigger—

The gun makes a pitiful little whine. An impotent puff of smoke rises from the barrel and nothing else. Karen raises her eyebrows in question. A fraction of a second later, he's crumpled into the ground with his feet in the air as his gun, perhaps short-circuited by the water, tumbles through the air behind him. Across the room, a fake security guard lifts his semi-auto pistol and pulls the trigger to receive only a dry click. Karen pretends not to notice. How would a normal person notice?

By being right next to them. A man looks from the not-guard's gun to the not-guard with cautious realization. The not-guard, noticing the attention from his peripheral vision, turns and levels his pistol at the bystander who couldn't help getting on the wrong side of the compliance/noncompliance line.

Click.

In Gotham, more than a few rich people have personal bodyguards, or even take some self-defense courses themselves. Remember the raising survivors thing? It's a real shame every single gun in this room appears to be jammed. Papers will call it a freak occurrence. Someone will theorize they all bought from a bad gunrunner. Maybe someone will invoke divine intervention. The answer we were looking for, however, is a blonde woman flying around the room at faster-than-sight speeds shooting microscopic lasers from her eyes to jam mechanisms in every gun present. Close.

Scarhead, still dazed, makes the first fumbling attempts to extricate himself from his unfortunate engagement with both the floor and his rifle. Karen places her heel directly onto his spine. The stiletto digs into flesh as she shifts her weight experimentally. She is not a light woman.

"Hey there," she says, her tone conversational. "Looks like you didn't plan this one out so great. First time?"


Showstopper.

It's a word that floats past Kate's thoughts as everything in the ballroom goes deathly quiet and all attention turns on her. It's one of those things that she's gotten accustomed to. Sometimes, you think incredibly random things when you're pretty sure you're about to die. Neurons firing off in a haphazard panic making connections you wouldn't be making if you weren't at least sixty to seventy percent positive this is the end.

Right now she's hovering just around that sixty mark and that means her random thought is showstopper.

Pale fingers curl mildly into the tablecloth of that strewn mess they have created as Kate thinks about how strange it is that one word can have such completely opposing meanings. The showstopper that causes the grand success, or the one that causes the tremendous failure. As the scarred man wheels on her, gun in hand, she wonders which one it's going to end up being this time. It could have been anything. It could have been something useful. But it's this.

Thanks a ton, stupid brain. It's been real, is Kate Kane's final thought —

KLONK

There's a few things she'll remember noticing later, just before the KLONK. She can't help it. She's built herself from the ground up to notice these things: the pop of glass in the distance. The brief strobe of lights. The wail of a fire alarm prefacing the downpour of automated sprinkler systems responding in an automatic way. Fat droplets of tepid water are just starting to mat down the short scarlet of her hair by the time she notices the paired click of heels and an exceptionally tall woman advancing on him from behind.

But for right now, all Kate really thinks in the moments after that showstopper, as she offers a half-assed sort of half-wave to the falling Scarhead, is,

Damn.

and then, a bit later,

She's fast. (she has no idea)

In that order. Kate knows her priorities.

Green eyes focus on Karen for a moment, as if she could quietly communicate gratitude with the distance between them with looks alone. This, of course, only lasts so long, because they're still in the middle of a rapidly deteriorating hostage situation, and things are, as noted previously in this sentence, deteriorating. Rapidly. Kate is expecting, is bracing, physically and mentally, for a firefight. A plasma fight.

It never comes. The first, bald-headed minion of Scarhead attempts to turn Karen into so much ionized ash, only to have his weapon spit and fizzle impotently. Kate's brows lift.

A fraction of a second passes.

"Fine. I don't need-" begins the man.

Another fraction of a second later, he's on his ass, gun scattering across the increasingly water-slicked marble.

There are more clicks of weapons jamming. Kate pretends not to notice, but her thoughts are racing. Once is good luck. Twice is a strange coincidence. Three times? Four times? More?

It isn't until she hears the click of a weapon next to her that she wheels about, pivoting sharply and powerfully on her right foot as the not-guard turns his nonfunctional weapon on a (probably, in this moment at least) innocent civilian. There's the click. And then there's Kate, grabbing his weapon and giving him the strong left hook of someone who's lived with a boxer their whole life, staggered just enough that it looks like she's putting a bit more effort into it than she ought to. Trained, but rusty. She doesn't want to give off the wrong impression.

Either way, it's a good lesson in why boxers wear mouth guards, at least, as the imposter security topples over, bloodied mouth missing a few front teeth.

Kate, hand reddened, grimaces as she shakes out her fist, the man's jammed gun held in the tight grip of her right. She turns towards one of the bodyguards who was preparing to gun down the man with his own weapon — because of course, this is Gotham — and grips him by the shoulder.

"I need you to get these people out of here. Direct them towards the south exit, it's clear that way. Alright?"

Of course, it being Gotham, now that it seems the tables have turned the situation is a bit more of a mixed bag. Some enraged partygoers and their attendant bodyguards go after the fake security teams, which just helps incite more panic amongst those who don't as violence breaks out sporadically amidst the ballroom. Some try to flee.

A few, used to this, are already at the bar, just rubbing their heads and nursing drinks they had to make themselves (the horror) as they wait for the police to arrive.

And Kate? Without a word, Kate tucks that pilfered gun into (magnificently) maroon tuxedo coat. Something to look at later. She looks towards Karen, currently heel grinding Scarhead's spinal column like a pro. See seventeen lines up for thoughts on this matter. The man struggles, but is effectively pinned to the water-drenched surface beneath him. Something resembling a snarl issues past chapped lips. First time? His voice is smothered, but rote.

"Hhf… hhhf… 'And the First spake thus, 'To your gates I came thirsty, and with water would have left contented. But ye have shown me Greed, and this I shall name the Third Lesson; and ye have shown me the sign that thou art its slave, and not its master.'' … 'And the First spake thus…'"

And that's about the long and short of what Karen gets out of Scarhead, repeated sputtering like a mantra. The other bald man twitches only faintly across the ground. Two accounted for. But the third…?

The third, the woman, slowly backs up towards the shattered security glass they arrived from, having steadily made her way closer and closer to there throughout the growing chaos. Her weapon hisses and whines uselessly. She casts it aside with a frown as she looks towards her fallen comrade, her fallen leader, to Karen. To Kate, now approaching her from the peripherals of her vision.

The woman frowns. Her gaze locks on Katherine Kane's, as if intently studying her for a handful of moments.

And then she tilts backwards, tumbling out of that shattered window like she was weightless.

"Wait-!" Kate shouts, running to grab her; but it's too late. She disappears out past those shards of glass. And as Kate leans out it, soaked down to the bone by those sprinklers…

… she finds no sign or trace of the woman at all, not even as a decoration on the street below.

"… enough with the culty bullshit. Ugh," she mumbles, because she's tired, and not nearly drunk enough.


For a moment, Katherine Kane focuses through the tension to offer a look to Karen Starr, respectively an eccentric heiress and a self-made technologist. Worlds apart. Karen, by chance, chooses that moment to spare a glance toward the safety of the woman who caused the distraction. They lock eyes. Hers are a bright blue, like a clear sky in the summer.

This is when Kate discovers that Karen has a lopsided grin when she's feeling cocky. It's good to get some things out of the way early.

But then there's Baldo to take care of, which is pleasantly detailed elsewhere. As a refresher, it involved fists and someone getting put on their ass. We rejoin Karen as she is grinding her heel into the spine of a man who is getting increasingly biblical. The corners of Karen's lips turn fractionally downward. If a demon hops out of a portal at the end of this she's going to be officially displeased with her evening. It's only when he wraps around to the beginning of his speech again that she allows herself to hope it's his version of pleading the fifth rather than summoning Eater of the Innocent #856.

Karen doesn't look up when the third criminal makes a run for the window and does her spooky disappearing act. She heard it all, and hearing for her is better than most people's seeing: the pause, the drop, the escape, the…

…culty bullshit. She allows herself a brief, amused noise buried in the back of her throat, coming out with a breath like 'snrk.' Everyone around her may be rattled, but no one died and the worst injuries were related to what the attackers suffered being subdued. It's practically a party again.

The sprinklers slow to a trickle and shortly thereafter shut off entirely. It is then that the reality sets in of being soaked while there's an enormous, broken window letting in all of that beautiful Gotham-in-December weather. Karen squeezes her eyes shut and exhales. At least she didn't wear white.

-=*

The denouement went how these things usually go. It's a dubious credit to the Gotham City police department that they are very practiced at cleaning up the scene of a recently-stopped crime. The building was locked down, the attackers were carted off, the injured were given medical attention, and key people were interviewed. That all the guns failed at the same time — even the conventional weapons — almost immediately became the centerpiece of questioning. But, in a city full of weird happenings in a time of weird happenings, it's something that the authorities were willing to let rest for now.

After all, they're not going to test everyone in the room for metahuman potential. They're rich, and this isn't New York.

Karen Starr counted as a key person. She spent the better part of the hour after the police arrived waiting in a side room to be interviewed, and then being interviewed, and then waiting to be released. The last bit may have been because she lingered alone in the room with her coffee in hopes that enough partygoers would leave, thereby freeing her from the responsibility of having the same conversation with them over and over. Oh gee, that really was something, was it. Yes, I work out. Yes, I was afraid. No, I don't recommend anyone do what I did. She definitely doesn't recommend anyone do what she did.

Bit by bit, the crowd was released. The emergency response presence thinned as people were called elsewhere. The hotel staff performed triage for the water damage, but the majority of the problems would have to be assessed and addressed by a professional team in the morning.

-=*

Finished with her coffee excuse at last, Karen opens the door and makes the short walk down the side hall leading back to the ballroom. She surveys the damage with her own eyes. Of course she was able to watch and hear it all through the walls, but there's something different about seeing it up close like this. Kal… Clark impressed that upon her. It was so much easier for him to be human. To appreciate the limitations.

The carpet had already come up, rolled up and stacked against the walls alongside laundry carts full of tablecloths and racks of folded tables and stacked chairs. A few members of hotel staff are left speaking with the few police investigators left, while a brave trio are using a ladder, some tape, and a plastic sheet to try closing the busted window for the night. Karen spots several coats laid out on one of the few tables left standing and makes for that direction. She can already see hers because, well. You know.

"Ms. Starr?"

A twentysomething staffer with sandy brown hair intercepts her as she's walking. She glances at him to establish she's listening, and because no one expects fully-formed conversations at this hour.

"We brought the coats up because coat check was closing for the night, and because… things. We're closing down the ballroom soon, I mean, not immediately, but soon," he says, pausing to figure out how to continue this sentence he's written himself into.

Karen hits the edge of the table and nudges a coat aside to pick her own up: black, wool, long enough that only her calves are cold if she buttons up. "Do you mind if I hang out on the balcony for a little bit? I want to be the last person from the party to leave. I feel a little responsible."

The staffer closes his mouth, opens it again, and then continues to hesitate. Karen slips on her coat, shimmying it onto her shoulders. The staffer is further distracted from moving forward. Karen returns her attention to him, offering a smile, conciliatory smile.

"Right over there?" she says, pointing to the double doors leading out. "Won't be out of your sight. I'll know to scram when the lights turn off."

"Sure," he exhales.

"Thanks."

Karen leaves him be, heels clicking on the bare floor until she pushes open the door and disappears into the night.

A light dusting of snow has settled on the balcony from when it was last cleaned, which was probably immediately before the event. It's a broad, spacious stone affair that is made comfortable for standing conversation groups in the summer with potted plants. No such luxury now. Karen's way to the railing is left clear. She leans forward, hands on the stone, and then reconsiders this choice long enough to retrieve her gloves from an exterior coat pocket.

Now there's wool gloves on stone and not bare hands.

Karen looks out into the night, down the boulevard with its extra dose of street lighting and smattering of traffic. The sounds of the city spread around her, eager for audience. Screams. Shouts. So many compared to Metropolis. Batman and his kids really must be tireless to keep a place like this livable. It's not the first time that Karen has wondered, more seriously than she'd like to admit, if Gotham is cursed.

That redhead took one of the guns. It's an unusual choice with few potential motives that come off flattering. Another problem for the pile.


Dripdripdrip.

Amidst whatever god-forsaken panic is (rightfully) possessing the gaggle of Gotham's finest socialites, Kate Kane receives a lopsided grin. It's hard to say what it is that inspires that lively smirk in response. Maybe it's the adrenaline pumping through her veins. Maybe it's a nervous reaction. Maybe it's just a simple matter of the mirror neurons in her brain compelling a response.

Regardless, it's there and gone in a flash before the next moment takes over.

But in that moment, at least, Kate feels more comfortable in a life and death situation than anyone has any right to be.

~-~

Many moments later, Kate Kane stands near an open window as the sprinklers finally sputter and die. Which does not stop the water from enthusiastically dripping from her sodden clothes.

Or the winter wind that bites her down to her sopping bones.

"Well," Kate muses, looking down at herself at that precipice between high class comforts and a long drop to everything beyond it,

"Shit."

Kate feels less comfortable now and privately wishes she could rewind time to several moments earlier, where at least she wasn't aware of the season. But such is the way of things.

Drip, drip, drip.

~-~

Drip… drip… drip.

A perfectly purple tuxedo tailcoat hangs wet and sad off the back of a bar stool, the depressing companion of a redheaded heiress as she whiles away her time taking full advantage of the hotel's after-party open bar policy.

She's not sure if that is actually a thing, but she made a pretty good argument in favor of it, and ultimately, the bartender was just too tired to care. Which is why, generously relieving the man of duty, Kate sits comfortably alone, dressed down a bit more with her bow tie undone and hanging from her neck and the first few buttons of her wing-tipped dress shirt undone and nursing a perfectly strong sampling of scotch as people filter in and out of the hotel ballroom one after the other. Procedurally.

Gotham being what it is, she had been one of the first up for questioning. She had also been one of the quickest out. Perfunctory and obligatory. Kate had explained the situation as she, as a law-abiding member of Gotham's upper crust, understood it. Some rote questions followed. The rest, like the bulk of the iceberg beneath the surface, consisted of gladhanding and compliments.

So sorry you had to go through all of this. It's alright, I choose to live in Gotham, Kate said.

The Kanes are such a pillar of the community. Very kind of you to say so, Kate acknowledged.

Your father is a great man. I'm fairly fond of him too, Kate agreed.

And your mother does so much for the city.

Step-mother, Kate corrected.

Customary apologies for not being able to help more later inevitably brought the eccentric heir of the Kane family back here, draining the contents of her glass with the old familiar sensation of whiskey burning its conciliatory way down her throat. She could have left by now. Should have left by now. She considers the possibility for a moment, the possibility of returning home, staring at the emptied glass in her hand.

And ultimately makes her decision by snatching the bottle of scotch she secured for herself and pouring another drink to drag along the time with.

More people come and go. Kate seems blithely oblivious to their passage, or to the scars left behind from the havoc. The gift of peripheral vision, though, and an ideal vantage point from her purposeful position at the bar means she sees every last person that exits back out into the ballroom. Most are people she knows already, nobody overtly suspicious. A few she marks off quietly to look into. Those cultists had to have some help arranging this, as botched as it managed to go.

The thought draws green eyes back to her coat, hanging limply, sagging just slightly to the right by the grace of an extra few pounds of pistol resting within the interior breast pocket. Her brows scrunch up in mild thought, expression otherwise impassive as she draws her glass to her lips…

… and then pauses, as she notices a distinctively tall silhouette pass by just out of the peripherals of her vision.

Green eyes shutter in a brief blink before tilting in the direction that blonde figure walks, balcony-wards. Most of the rest of the party-goers have filtered out by now. The Kane heiress considers joining them. She should get back to her penthouse, have that gun examined.

Then she thinks of that grin.

And quietly, she drains the contents of her glass, grabs another and the bottle, and slides out of her seat.

Leaving that jacket behind, sad and alone.

…………………………. drip.

~-~

If asked, Katherine Kane would absolutely confirm that Gotham is cursed. Maybe it was some mad noble who did it. Maybe it was demons. She heard something about rich socialites who have an owl fetish once when she was a kid while her father was warning her about the perils of the Wayne family.

Either way, cursed or not…

"That's one hell of a right hook you've got there."

… at least it keeps things interesting, when you're in the most dire need of a spark of interest in your life.

For someone like Karen, she probably heard Kate's footsteps long before she actually arrived. Maybe she even heard the beat of her heart, steadily coasting off dwindling adrenaline, get louder and louder. Either way, the destination brings her to the same endpoint: Kate, leaning against the balcony entrance frame, holding her two glasses and her scotch with rolled up sleeves and an easy smile.

"I think we might be the only ones who can't take a hint about when a party's over," observes the redhead, head cocking to the right. "I've been busy lamenting the sad state of my coat, so in the meantime I thought maybe you could use some company in tempting death by hypothermia. Besides…"

She lifts those glasses, demonstrably clinking them together with a growing smile.

"… at least someone here ought to toast the conquering hero, right?"

See again, hell of a right hook.


That's one of the few weaknesses of the Kryptonian experience: rarely do you get to experience life's pleasant surprises.

Karen waits for the door to open. It makes enough of a noise to be plausible, so she takes the opportunity to pretend to notice Kate with a glance over her shoulder. She decides on a thoughtful look. It looks natural. It doesn't take anything at all to feign what's already there.

She turns to face the striking picture arranged in the door frame, leaning up against the railing with her hands resting upon it on either side of her. Her coat is tied at the waist with her belt in a simple half knot, leaving it partially open for lack of buttons and clasps and zippers and all those other necessary reinforcements.

Karen matches Kate's smile, more subdued this time and much more even. It's a quieter moment. No one's even getting punched. At least, Karen seems largely amenable to the idea of strange, impulsive women offering her alcohol in the freezing night. When Kate calls her the conquering hero, Karen glances away and makes an amused noise on her next exhale. Her smile shows teeth as it tugs more in one direction.

"Boxing," she says, looking back up to Kate's face now that her expression is more settled. She raises her hands and gently taps a fist into the open palm of her other hand. "A family friend taught me when I was younger. My dad was a little… obsessive about wanting me to be able to handle myself."

Karen reaches over and taps the edge of the railing next to her to show that she's not opposed to Kate joining her. Sometimes clear signals are best. She crosses her arms afterward because, y'know. There's a light dusting of snow on her shoulders already.

"It wouldn't have meant a thing if you hadn't made a distraction first. I wish I could say that was my first time being mugged, but I guess it was the most dramatic." Karen raises her eyebrows. "Conquering heroes, then?"


Thoughtful works. Thoughtful is good. It inspires interest, but not invasiveness. Curiosity, but not questions.

The kind of interest and curiosity you'd ever want, in this line of work.

And for Kate Kane, she seems to swallow the pill of that expression just as easily as one might expect, thought for thought. Her stance is a far cry from the woman who had been working her way methodically through the crowds — more lax, now, as the excitement of the evening bleeds away with the passage of time. Unperturbed, like someone who has all the time in the world, one leg crossed over the other from her leaning perch, expression eased into a breezy state of affability, the only real signs she was even embroiled in a heated, potentially life or death scuffle comes in the damp mess her short red hair has been reduced to, and the matching disarray of her clothes.

Still, she wears the mess pretty well. Fits her like an unconventional glove.

It's an easy sort of confidence that carries into the way she pushes off her post and meanders her way towards Karen's proximity when the opportunity is offered. The winter chill bites at her almost porcelain-pale skin, igniting her nerves into an inspired tingle that numbs its way down to her fingertips, but she ignores it for now; it's a preferable state to trying to brave the outdoors with a coat already soaked through. She doesn't answer her newfound companion's explanation immediately; instead, she settles her back up against the railing of that balcony, setting those paired glasses upon the surface so that she might unscrew her bottle of (debatably) ill-gotten alcohol and pour out its amber contents with the casual cant of her wrist.

"Looks like we've got something in common," she finally remarks, breath spilling in voluminous white plumes from her darkly-painted lips as she casts her glance Karen's way. Setting down her bottle on the precarious perch of the balcony, Kate proceeds to lift her hands, fists curled and presented in a defensive stance. "Dad taught me a thing or two, too. Similar reasons. He was probably was hoping it'd help me get into less trouble, and not more." She casts a small grin Karen's way, white teeth flashed like someone sharing a private joke.

"But here we are."

The Gotham socialite rolls down her sleeves in the aftermath of her short-lived pantomime, a mild deterrent against the cold of the winter night. Snowflakes drift a lazy path to nestle in the red muss of her hair. She plucks up one of those glasses, and wordlessly sliiiides it across the smooth surface of the railing until it can bump lightly against Karen's elbow.

"Guess we make a pretty good team, then," Kate observes off-handedly, voice tinged with faint amusement. "A regular dynamic duo." With that, she takes her own glass, raising it in offering of that promised toast, appropriately amended:

"To the conquering heroes."

Only afterward does Kate take a sip. She knows objectively the warmth of it is an illusion, but, well.

It's a comforting one.

"Kate," she introduces afterwards. "Kate Kane." She could extrapolate who Karen is pretty easily — she was the gracious host of the evening, after all — but she'd rather not spoil the introductions. So instead, she says:

"Consider me the informal representative of the Gotham Apologists Ensemble, here to try to apologize and convince you Gotham isn't as bad as it seems."

She waits, just the right amount of time after this. For the joke to land properly:

"Sometimes it's a little worse."

Timing, after all, is everything.


Karen doesn't have drunk-o-vision, but her preternatural senses give her enough information to connect the dots. She can hear the minute slurring in Kate's words — carefully counteracted enough to speak of vast powers of holding liquor — and the flush of blood nearer the surface of her skin. Her heart pumping a bit too fast, maybe, but they did almost get shot.

She doesn't use x-ray vision. That's rude. As a rule, she avoids aiming it at people without consent unless there's a pressing need related to someone's safety. Of course, that loophole comes up… often. Very, very often.

But Kate's an adult and Karen isn't going to be the boss of who's allowed to hang out in the snow without a coat or gloves. She looks sidelong at the other woman as she makes her way through the ritual of pouring nightcaps. Her gaze dips briefly to watch the pantomime, which earns a faint, subdued smile, the kind that hints at a memory jostled loose by a familiar gesture.

"Here we are," Karen agrees.

When Kate slides the glass clean into Karen's elbow, she pushes herself off the balcony so that she can stand up straight and take the glass into her gloved hand. Looking out into the glow of the city is more fun than into the ballroom she's been in all night. She brings the glass nearer to her face so that she can dip down and smell the… vintage? Is that the right term? Honestly, it always smells like alcohol to her, but it's a gesture she picked up and won't put down as long as it makes her look like she knows her way around fine things.

(She knows more than she is willing to admit to herself. All this fancy living leaves a mark.)

Kate proposes a toast. Karen, gladly interrupted from her process of confirming that the alcoholic alcohol contains alcohol, turns enough to offer up her own glass to add to the commemoration. That means they can move onto the drinking portion of the activity, which Karen can handle much better than the smelling portion. It burns down her throat, the aftertaste lingering on her tongue and rising in the back of her nose in that familiar moment of 'was that the hint of vanilla the bottle was talking about?'

She only takes a sip. Alcohol doesn't hit her like normal people, and she doesn't want Kate to try keeping up. Fortunately, Kate's moved on to introductions. Karen sets her glass on the balcony with her hand curled around it while the concept of the Gotham Apologists Ensemble is introduced. She parts her lips to respond, but ends up walking right into the comedic timing.

That Karen's smile is more pronounced in her eyes than in the tightness of her lips hints of her finding this more amusing than she wants to let on. But, performative primness is its own kind of joke, and Karen doesn't seem to mind that there's a laugh behind her voice.

"Glad to hear nothing's changed," she says. "I lived here for a few years out of college."

But Kate probably already knows that from the hint of such backstory in the speech earlier. Karen offers her hand to Kate to make introductions formal, especially because she's about to reveal her own secret knowledge.

"Karen Starr. I remember hearing about you. Society gossip is a small world, sometimes." Karen pauses momentarily to put on another thoughtful look, though this one in service to theatrics. "I guess there was also a Kane bridge a couple miles from my apartment."

The next pause seems more natural, to let Kate respond, but there's a certain presence in Karen's expression that hints that she's not finished. The slight parting of her lips, maybe, accentuated by a little puff of vapor as she breathes out. The searching look in her eyes. She tilts her head fractionally to the side.

"Do you want my gloves? I'd offer you my coat, but I'm not sure there'd be room for both of us in here."


Karen faces out towards the city where she once lived. Kate leans her back into the railing, facing the ballroom where she nearly died. It seems to suit her fine right now, elbows propped gingerly on the stone barrier between her and a long drop and sudden stop with a slow, relaxed exhale. Come tomorrow, she'll probably find many reasons to regret having loitered outside in a Gotham winter with no protection to spare against the chill.

Right now, slightly inebriated as she may or may not be, she has many reasons she to regret -not- loitering outside in a Gotham winter.

The vague scent of alcohol on the Kane heiress' breath betrays her to those acute (cheating) senses of Karen's just as much as the slight slur to her words, the vaguely looser way she carries herself. But it's the way she presents herself that makes all the difference. The restrained quality in the way she arches a single, vibrantly red brow when Karen sniffs at her liquor. The way the entertainment just sparks in her eyes like someone sharing a joke rather than making one out of the person they're talking with. The easy way that, "Wow, look at you, like a regular connoisseur," flows past her lips with just the right amount of teasing to underscore the otherwise lackadaisical delivery. Her capacity for alcohol tolerance is vast indeed. Don't worry, though.

She's working on it.

"So, what's the verdict?" she asks when Karen takes her sip. "I'd hate to think I started this whole apology tour on the wrong foot." She hefts the bottle for a moment with her free hand, peering at it with a scrutinizing squint.

"I mean, do you taste that hint of vanilla? Because I sure as hell don't."

It seems, at least, Karen's devious use of peer pressure to moderate Kate's own consumption of scotch works for now; the redhead sets that glass aside with a soft 'tink' against stone as the blonde does, instead choosing to indulge in humor instead of alcohol for a moment. The smile in Karen's eyes, the laughter in her voice — they inspire a little twinkle in the intense greens of Kate's gaze, an unspoken understanding that burgeons into the appreciation behind her blooming grin when Karen finally speaks.

"Makes things easier, then," she decides, off-handedly. She remembers what Karen said, of course. But still,

"I've lived in a lot of different places, but living in Gotham is kind of like riding a bike. You never really forget the motions." She weighs her choice of words for a moment, before slumping her weight back a bit more haplessly into her propped elbows.

"Or maybe it's more like a phantom pain."

That hand is presented. Kate, from her slightly slouched position, looks at the gloved offering sidelong. The corner of her lips twitching just a bit, she straightens, and turns to face Karen more formally, taking that hand into her own.

Her fingers are cold, even through the layers of a glove to separate them, but her grip is firm. Sure. Probably has nothing on Karen's.

But it's the thought that counts.

In between the grip of hands, brows lift in unison as Karen drops her knowledge bomb. "Oh, good," she begins, so relieved it must be a put on. "Then you've only heard the flattering things about me." And she laughs, after, short-lived but wry at the tail end of Karen's thoughtful rejoinder.

"I'd watch out," she warns, grimly, though the dying ebbs of her laughter. "I think that bridge has had even more scandalous history floating around it than I do."

With that, Kate lets her pale hand fall away once more. Repositioned as she is, she doesn't immediately return to leaning back against the railing. Instead, she turns to face the city with Karen, cupping alabaster hands in front of her lips to breath into them. Thickened white air spills between the cracks of her fingers, drifting short-lived paths into the open air soon occupied with a simple offer. Kate blinks. Looks Karen's way. Her head tilts hot on the heels of Karen's own as she considers the other woman for a moment.

"Maybe let's start with the gloves," she compromises, an edge of entertainment to her tone as she turns slightly toward Karen once more. "I'm not sure our relationship is ready for the two person suit scenario yet. We'll talk about taking things to the next level once the hypothermia starts to really settle in, maybe."

Those teasing words, though, don't stop Kate from holding her hand out. Nor does it stop the appreciation from reaching her voice, or her stare, tinged though both might be with a droll kind of amusement.

"… Thanks. This is the second time tonight you've saved my ass from my bad decision making. Practically a tradition already."

Silence settles in briefly after that, but only just that before it is broken once more. "I've heard of you too, you know," the former soldier notes mildly after, her expression adopting a more cautious look from the purse of her lips to the bare minimum of suspicion in her eyes. "Apparently, you're one of those dangerous nouveau riche threatening the livelihood of the old guard like me with your heathenish ideas." She clucks her tongue, once, before that carefully manufactured facade breaks with a lopsided kind of grin.

"What's it like, being such a perversive provocateur?"


Karen lets out a soft 'ha,' with her next breath. She taps her fingertip on the edge of her glass. "Maybe people only taste it because the bottle says they should."

The sobering thought of the marks Gotham City leaves on a person receives silence in turn. Karen's downturned gaze is all the answer a perceptive person needs on that subject. Considering her employer and the distance between her former apartment and the memorial bridge, she probably lived in Otisburg. Otisburg may be home to the sort of gentrification that accompanies tech workers, but it's also bordered by beautiful landmarks like Crime Alley and Arkham Asylum. Some of the worst neighborhoods in Gotham are just a few miles away.

After shaking Kate's hand and hearing the agreement to The Glove Plan, Karen begins to tug the wool from her fingers. She looks up when Kate says the word relationship, her expression briefly unreadable. A moment in, she tilts toward humored as she shows a sly smile. Kate gets into the rest of her elaboration before Karen can let loose a tease of her own.

She, at least, hands the gloves over. Her hands are swiftly hidden in her coat pockets afterward, which will make drinking a slower affair overall. All according to plan.

"Did you mean pervasive?" she says, grinning. "I know from search metrics what people tend to type after my name, but I promise I'm only perversive in private."

Karen flicks her gaze down to Kate's purple tailcoat, then back up to the other woman's face. She shrugs a shoulder.

"Besides, you don't look so old guard. Are you?”


Wool slides over dexterous fingers one hand after the other, providing a comfortably and fashionably insulated sheathe against the rigors of the outside world. Kate takes a moment to turn one hand and inspect her borrowed gloves with a critical eye.

"I think this might be the most fashionable lifesaver I've ever had. I owe you one."

It helps, at least. As she rubs the numbness out of her fingertips, she casts a sly sort of smile Karen's way to match her grin. The scotch seems completely forgotten now.

"What, you mean the internet lied to me? That's a bold claim, Ms. Starr," she asserts, faux incredulity painting her features. "I'm starting to see why they call you trouble."

Kate leans onto the railing, green gaze returning to the light-studded skyline as a sardonic smile touches the corners of her lips.

"What can I say? I'm a disappointment to my people," she explains, simply. "A terrible black sheep. A stain on Gotham, somehow. Pervasively perversive. Etcetera." Her fingers thread together, feeling the warmth of that wool between them. "But it's not so bad." Green eyes cast back Karen's way, from the corner of her gaze.

"I've gotten to meet some interesting people, thanks to that."

A second passes before, seemingly apropos of nothing, she adds, "Speaking of which… how many years has it been since you lived here?"


Karen removes one of her hands from her coat pocket long enough to ward off her trouble rating with an empty palm. "They're all photomanips, I swear."

Since her fingers are freezing, she decides to take up her glass and have another experimental little sip while she's at it. The blonde narrows her eyes afterward, staring out across the way to the darkened building on the other side of the street. Nope. Still no vanilla. Glass down, hand in pocket, retreat successful.

Kate looks at her. Somehow, Karen seems to know. She meets Kate's gaze a moment later with a look from the corner of her own eyes. It's a warm little feeling, isn't it? Not the alcohol. It would take more than that bottle to feel that. The… interest, maybe is the word. It doesn't feel like the fake kind of friends list building that people do. The visible edge of her lips turns up in pleasure.

"Oh," is her first answer to the question. She furrows her brow, looking away. "Let's see… a little over three years ago? Wow, yeah. Time got blurry when I started running things."

Karen shifts to look at Kate more fully, which is easier now that leaning on things is firmly out of the question since her hands are stuck in her pockets. The faint smile of teasing makes its official reappearance.

"Trying to figure out how we didn't meet before? Don't take it personally, I practically lived at my desk back then."


Perceptive. It's one of those things Kate would pay attention to, in her more sober moments. Probably she does even now.

But at the moment, Kate finds herself considering the turn at the corners of Karen's lips more than how she seems preternaturally predisposed to catch her gaze.

It's the kind of smile that makes her forget the bone-sinking cold if only for a moment. Her eyes squeeze shut and her head dips a bit as Karen speaks, dustings of snowflakes loosing from her damp head of hair. She indulges in a small, genuine smile of her own; by the time her eyes crack open like little slivers of emerald, she's reaching for her glass, but not to drink it, really. It's just a way to keep her hands busy. Something she learned a long time ago to maintain that solid front of confidence. It's like that hint of vanilla.

"Something like that."

Sometimes, perception is everything.

"How about we make up for it, then?" she suggests, turning Karen's way and leaning her hip gingerly against the railing. "You know, part of my duties as an unofficial Gotham Apologist is a guided tour of the city," she says, having just blatantly made that up — "I'm thinking, before you go, we can maybe reacquaint you with your home away from home a bit. Remind you that it's not always Calendar Man trying to exact revenge for calendars growing increasingly obsolete in a digital age. Catch a show, some fine dining…" She trails here, just so.

"… maybe get in a nice photo op with Calendar Man, set the small world of society gossip all a-twitter…"

The right corner of her lips tugs up.

"… all very tasteful. What do you think?"


There is something about this conversation that Karen can't quite put her finger on. Unlike the vanilla, she actually has hopes that she can pin this something down. The two of them have barely stopped smiling since they started talking. Different intensities, sure, maybe a few stops here and there to engage in minor theatrics, but still. And the topics — Kate came out here and got to work learning more about Karen.

It's almost like…

Kate is leaning her hip against the railing. She's most of the way through her pitch for activities, presumably tomorrow evening since it's past midnight and people almost got shot. Karen hears the words:

Catch a show.

Fine dining.

Society gossip.

Somewhere, dimly, in the back of Karen's Kryptonian supermind, a factoid bubbles up from where it had nested with the rest of the random trivia digested from browsing gossip pages at lunch. The tailcoat's existence snaps into sharp focus. Karen widens her eyes.

"Oh, uh."

The blonde takes her hand out of her pocket and reaches for her drink a bit too quickly. She lifts it up as if to drink, but fails to complete the motion and ends up holding it about chest high. It's a defensive gesture.

"I'm not… I mean, it's not that I…"

Her words catch in her throat. For a long moment, Karen stands still, mouth partially open in the potential to finish her sentence at any time. Finally, finally, it all comes out as a formless exhale. The tension leaves her shoulders. This is how long it took her to have a detailed flashback of her romantic history. It is not only short, but also conflicting.

"Sorry," says Karen, her tone conversational again. Closing her eyes, she reaches up with her other hand to touch the bridge of her nose. "I had a moment."

Another exhale. This one seems planned. Functional. She drops her hand, lowers her glass to a more natural height, and settles her attention on Kate anew. Her entire demeanor seems consciously reset. It's probably a handy trick for someone who attends a lot of meetings back to back.

"Are you asking me on a date?"


To her credit, Kate takes that faltering in remarkable stride. She lets it come and go without comment and in patient silence, with only the seasoned arch of a brow to accompany it as Karen starts putting together the hints. The tabloid articles. Her comments. Her invitation.

The tailcoat.

And when realization dawns, Kate handles it with the aplomb of someone who's probably seen and dealt with something similar at least once or twice before. By most any standard, by the most keen of human perception, Katherine Rebecca Kane is a bastion of nonchalant confidence. One hand in her pocket, the other embracing her drink, one leg leisurely crossed over the other as she tilts her head curiously in Karen's direction; as casual as if she were talking about the weather.

But there are some things you can't control, or at least can't when you don't think to. The way her heart rate picks up just a bit well after shock and adrenaline have ceased to be plausible explanations. The minor, subconscious tension that runs through her that most would fail to pick up on. The way her gloved fingers fidget just slightly in her pocket, the sound of fabric on fabric as her thumb toys with her ring finger only audible to someone with the hearing beyond human capacity.

Mild gestures of anxiousness. Not quite worry, but… nervous. Excited. Anticipatory. Kate lives in a very small world, in certain ways. And every conversation like this brings with it the very high possibility of that world getting just that much smaller. It's always a risk.

But she dives in anyway. An exhale. An answer in the form of a question. Simple. Straightforward. Kate likes that.

It inspires the smallest smile, and one good turn for another: "Yep."

When her hand retreats from the comforts of its pocket again, it is holding her phone between gloved fingers. "It's late, and cold, and I think I might be a step away from risking frostbite — but I'll gladly risk a few seconds more, so how about this: I'll give you my number. If you're interested, give me a call. We'll have a suitably nice time, enjoy some deeply unhealthy food we can feel guilty about later, have some spirited debates about whether Batman should get royalties off of Bat Burger or not, and I'll get the chance to pay you back for saving my fingers from certain doom." Her head cants, just a bit, as she looks up at Karen. She's a sparse handful of inches taller. It's a strange thing, for Kate. But she likes that too.

"If not, that's fine too." Her grin is warm, reassuring. Engaging.

"At least we'll always have our balcony rendezvous."


It's the little moments between responses where Karen feels most strongly the temptation to not be human. Maybe the anxiety of the anticipated unknown is close enough to a sense of danger that her heroic reflexes kick in. Maybe it's her nerves alight with the awkwardness of having reacted with less than her customary grace. Maybe.

But she feels it, anyway: faster beat of Kate's heart, the movement of her hands in her pockets. Kate's done this before, Karen realizes, but not enough that she's too experienced for stress. It makes sense. It's difficult enough trying to ask someone on a date without knowing if they'd even be interested in you on a fundamental level.

A moment. Karen has a further realization: maybe Kate is excited for another reason.

It's too cold right now for red cheeks to show. Thanks, Gotham. Sometimes you help out.

Karen resolves to be very gracious and very attentive while Kate makes her pitch. None of this casual listening while looking elsewhere or lounging on something. Full eye contact, full presence in the moment. Every word. Kate looks up at her. Karen looks down. She can't help but allow a hint of a smile as Kate grins fabulously, but, perhaps damning herself before she answers, there is a telltale look of apology in her eyes.

"I was planning on heading back to Metropolis tonight —"

But Gotham giveth, Gotham taketh away. As Karen starts her response, the doors swing open to reveal the hotel worker from earlier. Karen snaps her gaze to him quickly enough that he is momentarily taken aback. The two stare at each other in silence before the worker manages: "Ms. Starr, Ms. Kane, we're closing the ballroom. Could I ask you to move to the lobby?"

"Right," says Karen. The worker shuts the doors (it's cold, he's in a shirt and vest) and Karen returns her attention to Kate with a look more obviously apologetic. She stalls for additional time by taking up her glass and draining the rest of her drink so that she can slide an empty vessel back along the flat railing-top. She takes a step toward the door, but lingers with her weight not fully committed.

"How about…" she says, as if testing out the words, "…you give me your number while we head down, and I'll text you sometime."

It's a classic polite answer. Neither agreement nor disagreement. It's not necessarily mealymouthed because people can feel unsure about things sometimes, but it also might be a no that spares feelings. Whatever it is, it's not something that most people in Kate's situation like to hear, and Karen knows it.

But it's true.

Karen holds the doors for Kate as they make their way back inside. She takes down Kate's number and says goodnight, possibly forgetting her gloves unless Kate reminds her. They part in the lobby, where Karen is gentle with her goodbyes even as a chauffeur awaits her outside with a towncar. With how these things go, the look Karen gives Kate before she slides into the backseat is perhaps the last the two women will share in a moment like this.

-=*

Karen slumps down in her seat, sliding across the leather as the interior heating catches up to her. She begins to shift her legs to kick off her heels, but then thinks better of it. It would be a shoes-off kind of trip if they were going all the way across town and over a bridge to the airport. But, if they weren't…

"Hey, Cookson, right?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Can you take me to the Belle Monico, please, instead of the airport? And call Simon and tell him to push my meetings tomorrow to next week."

Karen reaches up to rub at her face. She didn't have anything important tomorrow, right? Nothing important happens on a Friday. So, right. Probably. It's smarter to do this. Sleep in here, get properly rested, fly back tomorrow so her cat doesn't go too bonkers with the sitter, then… then…

Sleep in. That's the next step. Focus on that one.

-=*

The focusing didn't go so well. It wasn't a catastrophic failure, but it definitely wasn't a stunning success either. Six hours at most, if you're generous and discount the times she woke up. At least she has a warm, comfortable bed and a big bay window to let the sun in. It's a delicate balance between the coziness of the covers and the touch of the yellow star, which she navigates by rolling the covers aside enough that they're still atop her but expose the length of her body.

For a long time, Karen lies there and exists. She doesn't get a chance to do this often. Between Starrware and the Justice League, there's never any time for a personal life. The closest thing she gets to social encounters are corporate mixers and celebratory events like last night. For someone who runs a corporation, corporate people are very much not her type.

Her phone buzzes on the nightstand nearby. Karen looks over to see if there will be another immediate buzz, signaling a call that she'll ignore, or nothing, signaling a text that she'll probably drag herself over to read.

Nothing.

Karen stretches to reach, but drags the phone back to bed where she can tuck most of her arms underneath the comforter. Most. Her left arm is still partially exposed to the sunlight so she can recharge her batteries.

Her phone opens to the last screen she was on: the new contact information for Kate Kane. Name, number. Picture she snapped in the lobby for a profile pic. She should be checking that text to see if it was Simon, but she doesn't. She stares, at that tiny little image at the top of the screen of the redheaded woman who flipped a table and stole a gun and asked her out.

I don't like women like that.

The thought hangs in her head. Karen considers it from multiple directions. Something about the vulnerability of Kate's attempt makes it seem cruel not to put the effort in. She's flirted with nothing but men her whole life, slept with nothing but men, thought about nothing but men…

Well, Wonder Woman, but she doesn't count. She's Wonder Woman.

At least we'll always have our balcony rendezvous.

So why is she stuck in her head?

Karen tosses the phone a short distance to the comforter over her stomach. She resumes her visual exploration of the ceiling while ransacking her mind. Is she obsessing because she feels bad for turning down such a sincere attempt? Or maybe the science answer: the conversation is sharp in her mind because it was not only a novel experience, but also close to a dangerous situation, and adrenaline exposure tends to create strong memories.

Minutes pass. Karen achieves the empty-minded spontaneity of thought that comes with what could charitably be called meditation. Her eyes drift closed.

Is it… because she seemed interested?

Unlike the other thoughts that floated into and out of her mind, Karen seizes on this one. (Desire for pizza wasn't compelling enough.) Interested — not because it stroked her vanity. The way Kate was interested. She saw Karen at her most Karen, and then saw her at her most… well, not most Power Woman, but she saw her clock a guy wielding a plasma gun in the face and seemed into it.

How many times had Karen thought to herself that people only knew one side of her? No one wants to bring their boss into their personal life, and superheroes have secret identities to go home to. No one likes complications. Understanding someone requires complications. It's not like Kate could ever know both sides because that breaks rule number one of cape club, but, maybe, it would be something like…

Maybe it would be nice if…

Friends. Friends understand each other. People go on dates all the time and end up as friends. There's absolutely zero commitment to just reaching down for her phone, opening up a text, and writing—

<K.Starr> Hey, this is Karen. I ended up not flying out last night. Is that invitation still open?


Expectation.

How about…

Katherine Rebecca Kane has been in this position enough to know the shape of things before the words ever leave her companion's lips. Hell — she's been on the other side of the equation often enough, too. Part of her is just anticipating it; it's a bit part and parcel to any interaction like this. A nice buffer against disappointment.

So when she sees that look she's seen before — nicer, here, a bit more considerate, a bit more thoughtful, but still trying to find the politest way to say 'sorry' — anticipation tempers itself to expectation. She knows what she means to say, but before she can say it, their cold little microcosm of a Gotham wonderland is interrupted by the flex of hinges and a very final — if delayed — announcement. There's a polite, "Understood," before the balcony doors shut on them again and green eyes are turning back Karen's way.

She lingers in the silence that comes after, forgetting the bitter nip of cold as her hands find her pockets. She's patient, because she's been in this position before. She's understanding, because she's been on the other side of the equation often enough. But still…

How about…

… There's a dozen ways to read into that body language, those words. So many ways that might be promising — probably more that might be damning. Classical etiquette to avoid committing. Hesitation that suggests maybe Karen's wrestling with something. But Kate, tonight, doesn't choose to read into anything beyond face value. So she just offers the hint of a smile, drains the rest of her drink, and makes her way back inside, emptied glass and less-emptied bottle in hand. It's not necessarily what she wants to hear.

"Sure."

But it's not unexpected, either.

~-~

She parts with Karen in the lobby. Her final words are something casual and warm, charming in a forgettably glib sort of way. Tailcoat finally dried and found around her shoulders once more, she leans against the entrance to the hotel just as she did at that balcony. Her eyes find the other woman's seconds before Karen tucks into her towncar.

She comfortably resigns herself to the expectation that it will be the last time.

Kate lifts a hand, to offer a nonchalant wave that she knows the motions well enough to commit to like rote even when she's not exactly feeling them. She still feels like a bundle of nerves, and feels like an idiot for feeling that way. She feels just a bit foolish. She feels… warm.

And that's when she notices the glove still decorating her waving hand just as the towncar is out of earshot. Her face scrunches in slowly in exasperation.

"Oh, dammit—"

~-~

Expectation.

CRACK

Kate had decided that a late night / early morning patrol of Gotham might help to take the edge off. She still has questions about what happened at the gala; at the very least, she could shake down some of the usual suspects to see what they might know. If she ends up picking a fight or three along the way, well… maybe, she decided, that might help her to work off the disappointment of the evening.

And so here she is, amidst a small gang of goons, a flurry of whites and blacks splashed with bright reds as she weaves between her targets, doubling one over against the piston blow of an outstretched palm.

The verdict:

The insulated, self-regulated warmth of the bat suit was sorely missed,

AND,

Punching a bunch of two-bit muggers and career criminals hasn't been nearly as satisfying as she expected.

"Tuxedo One, are you in?"

The red and black of a long cape whips through the dark chill of an alley in Gotham as Batwoman pivots between a man wielding a bat and another throwing a wide right hook, letting the latter break a couple of those knuckles on the former's intercepting swing. Static crackles against her ear, accompanied by a familiar voice.

«"Yes. Of course. Because I live at your beck and call, no matter what ungodly hour you decide to engage in some blatant carousing."»

"So that's a yes." The words preface the sound of Kate's heel introducing itself to the jaw of the man wielding a bat. A few seconds of clattering blunt instruments and shouting about broken jaws later, she adds,

"And I'm not drunk."

«"Except I know Batwoman's drunk voice like I'd know the sound of my own child's voice, if I had one."»

"I'm not that drunk. Happy?"

«"I can see the sun starting to peek over the horizon and I'm not drunk so maybe use those impressive detective skills to determine the answer yourself. What did you want?"»

"Someone attacked the party I was at this evening. Organized. Had some inside people on the security detail. They had help, but I don't know from who. Sounded like some-" Her voice cuts off briefly as she yanks backwards, narrowly avoiding the thrust of a knife before rapidly dislocating the offending thug's shoulder.

"-some culty bullshit. Can you look into it for me?"

«"Sure. Give me the information you've got, and we'll see what we can find."»

"Thanks. And…" One final motion, fluid, powerful, maybe overcommitting just a bit too much force, sends the last of those goons toppling into a bloodied, crumpled mess. Kate frowns.

«"And…?"»

"… I need you to find what hotel someone is staying at for me—"

«"I'm not your butler, Kate—"»

"- and return something she forgot to her and I know you're not my butler—"

«"- or your maid.">

"-or my maid. It's a favor, okay? I just think it might be better if I didn't deliver it in person this time."

«"That bad, eh?"»

Batwoman stands amongst the fallen bodies, looking for someone still reasonably conscious. She pauses, tilts her head in the direction of the hotel, and releases a vaporous sigh, eyes shutting behind her cowl.

"No. It was good, actually. Really good. It felt like…"

Memories of Karen knocking a cultist flat on his ass return unbidden to the forefront of her mind. She snorts a wry snort, vapor spilling into the open air as she lifts her hand to her cowl.

"… nevermind."

'… it felt like we understood each other.'

"I'll send the gloves and the name your way tomorrow."

«"Gloves? Oo la la-"»

*click*

"Ugh."

~-~

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

"ugh"

Expectations.

Kate Kane arrived home later in the morning having gotten no satisfactory leads nor administered any satisfactory concussions, but having, at least, gotten satisfactorily drunk. Her Batwoman suit once more stored away, her clothes are a crumpled, strewn pile on the ground leading towards her bed — her jacket, missing one (1) misfired firearm, hanging off the post. Her sheets are crumpled haphazard over her pale form, knotted up into a tangled mess from a drunk night's sleep that exacts its revenge on her when she is woken up to the sound of her a text alert sounding off from her phone, lost somewhere in her pants, lost further somewhere near the right corner of her room.

"kindly fuck offff pleeeease"

Green eyes crack open with a faint grimace. Her mouth feels dry. She rubs at her eyes, wincing away against the shards of light streaming into her room. And she's mid-stretch when the memories of the night before filter back in.

The smile that follows is equal parts fond as it is rueful as her gaze flits back to her crumpled pile of clothes. Her grimace returns anew seconds later when she goes through the list of likely suspects to have sent her a text. Her father… maybe. Julia… wouldn't use that number. Shit. She forgot to send the gloves, didn't she? Shit. Her step-mother…

"Ugh. God dammit."

With one last wince, she utters a soundless, slightly (slightly) half-assed apology for breaking the Third Commandment, and stumbles her way out of bed. Sheets are still clinging tenaciously to her for the first staggering feet she travels, falling away as she scrounges around for her phone. She's expecting her step-mother, preparing herself for what will surely be kindly critiques of her unbecoming behavior. She's already thinking of just eschewing it entirely to do an analysis of the gun (she no longer has) instead. But what she gets…

<K.Starr> Hey, this is Karen. I ended up not flying out last night. Is that invitation still open?

… is unexpected.

For a long time, she just stares at that screen, at that message, blankly, as if she were expecting it to just up and magically disappear at any moment.

She's still staring at it, off and on, when she eats her breakfast in the afternoon. She's sparing it glances before she ducks into the shower. She's giving it a passing look as she skims through the news. Looking. Thinking.

And the first thing she types out is a message sent off on private lines:

<bat> Forget about the gloves
<tux1> DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG I'VE BEEN UP WAITING FOR YOU
<bat> I'll make it up to you later
<tux1> oh you fucker

She doesn't finish reading the string of increasingly profanity-laden messages that follow. Instead, she inhales, closes her eyes…

… and finds enough of her charming self to start typing.

<katekane> I guess I do still owe you a pair of gloves
<katekane> But it depends on your answer to this next question
<katekane> And keep in mind the fate of an innocent pair of gloves is on the line here
<katekane> As a former Gothamite, which do you like more:
<katekane> Carmine's Italian restaurant, or la contenta?

She allows herself a smile, just a little one, as she exhales and finally sends the last message off. This is good, she thinks. Simple. Casual.

No expectations.


There. Text sent.

Karen tosses her phone to disappear into the comforter at the bottom of the bed. Judging from how drunk Kate seemed to be, Karen probably had… what, an hour, two hours to wait? Then Kate would plausibly have encountered her phone. Maybe it noon at the latest to account for zombieing into the shower and maybe getting some food.

Time enough for Karen to get a shower and some breakfast of her own, and maybe crack open her laptop if she really wants to walk the path of work this morning. Answering some emails this morning would probably give her time enough to wind down her business feelings in time for afternoon and evening activities, right? Right.

Karen stiffens, staring frozen up at the ceiling with a fixed gaze. Evening. How is she going to dress? Is Kate the high society type? Or… less? How serious was the guided tour? What kind of show would be caught? The one time that Karen didn't panic pack her entire fucking wardrobe and—

The blonde squeezes her eyes shut. One thing at a time. Shower first. Order some breakfast.

-=*

The long shower doesn't eat up as much time as Karen thought it would, especially since she's limited to shaving her legs with low-intensity heat vision. That's fast even accounting for the required contortion.

Fast enough that Karen spends a leisurely ten minutes looking over the room service menu one too many times, only to dig her phone out of the bed to see what cafes are in the area. A few she recognizes — for all the pain it can be that Gotham doggedly (battedly?) resists modernization, sometimes it's a comfort.

Then it's dressed and down to the lobby to inform the concierge of her potentially extended stay, and out the front door to take a brisk morning walk in the sun-dappled chill to her cafe selection. Then it's another brisk morning walk in the sun-dappled chill to her second cafe selection, because no pancakes are worth a line that long regardless of their fruit-mixed-in status. The second choice has outside seating, which means a shorter line for those willing to brave the cold with their breakfast. Or those who don't really care about temperature.

Karen eats her pancakes and gives grim looks to her phone resting face-up on the table. She has most of her other message notifications disabled. Just emergencies. And just Kate Kane.

Karen narrows her eyes. Chewing. It's a good pancake.

-=*

Hours later — as in hours past noon — after trying to distract herself by wandering through the nearby boutique row to bolster her dwindling in-city wardrobe, Karen ends up back in her hotel room with a problem. This problem is very slight in the grand scheme of things, but in this moment its slightness allows for an irritatingly shallow wound.

"You blew her off! Were you expecting everything to be fine after that?"

Karen — or, Kara, she's just Kara right now when she's pacing around and yelling at herself — carves an irregular circuit around the rooms of her suite as she works off nervous energy. She pauses momentarily at windows sometimes to look across the city. Unbreakable habit.

"You didn't just blow her off," says Kara. She leans into the windowsill until her face is nearly against the glass. "You got weird about it. You acted shocked. You probably made her feel like a freak. You're a terrible person, Kara Zor-L. All the children who look up to you are crying."

Moments pass. Kara is alone with the hint of her own reflection in the window, too close to see anything more than sky-blue eyes staring right back. The image of Kate's face springs into her mind for what is hardly the first time today. Her expression — right when she realized that the answer was no. Kara lets the breath out of herself, feeling it on her skin as it turns away from the glass.

*bzzt bzzt*

Kara flickers and disappears, reappearing functionally instantaneously where she left her phone on the dining table. She is forced to wait the agonizing second for slow technology to reveal its secrets to her racing mind.

Simple.

Casual.

"Maybe you're not a terrible person after all," Kara murmurs. Warmth like relief floods her chest.

<K.Starr> La Contenta, every day.
<K.Starr> They have the best chimichurri in the city.
<K.Starr> Do I get a hint on how to dress for the rest of our itinerary?


There is a time, there, where the tiny little part of Kate's brain that delightedly encourages her to doubt and question every little thing that she does inspires her to wonder if she took too long to reply. Karen had already seemed nervous. Nervous enough that, with all the other evidence at hand, maybe this was a first for her. Nervous enough that, maybe, she might start second guessing too —

*bzzt bzzt*

— but those niggling doubts last a fantastically short time before the buzz of new messages banishes them.

"Wow," exhales Kate Kane with a single, surprised blink.

"She types fast."

(Kate continues to have no idea)

Green eyes skim the trio of messages. A snort flares past her nostrils as she slumps back into her sofa, phone interposed between her and the familiar comforts of her ceiling. Thumbs brush the glowing warmth of the touchscreen.

Good answer. I knew there was something I liked about_
Good answer. I knew there was som_
Good answer. I kn_
Goo_
_

You know just the right things to s_
You know just th_
You k_
_

Sure, whatever_
_

"Ugh. They're just getting worse."

_

A decent stretch of silence passes wherein Kate simply glares at that blinking cursor like she could just murder her anxiety by looking hard enough at its metaphorical text-based avatar. It isn't like her. Not with this, at least. She knows the steps by heart. None of this is new ground for her, not really. So why?

Maybe she's still just too hungover. Maybe it's a consequence of getting older. Maybe it's just her doubts plaguing her again.

Maybe she doesn't want to screw this up.

Slowly, green eyes close. A pale hand runs down equally alabaster features. She imagines, in her mind, what sage advice Julia might offer:

.oO("I don't know. Maybe stop being such an amazingly immense pussy and remember you're over thirty fucking years old? Also, I haven't forgotten about the gloves, you-")

"Alright," she breathes, and her thumbs find the keypad again.

<katekane> Knows how to throw a punch and knows the value of a good chimichurri steak?
<katekane> Be still my beating heart
<katekane> La Contenta it is then
<katekane> As for the hint
<katekane> We met somewhere posh and got held up
<katekane> So I'm thinking a change of venue would be nice

Kate considers for a moment.

A second later, an image uploads onto the screen of a logo in bright, colorfully stylized lettering — it's of a band, local to Gotham. A little older. Modest legends, if you happen to know the rock scene in the city.

Otherwise,

'YEAH!'

the name might not be that evocative.

<katekane> Take in the sights, get accosted in new and different locations
<katekane> Keep this thing fresh
<katekane> What do you think?


Minutes pass. Kara stares at her phone until the screen dims, and then turns black. Then she's looking at her reflection again just like that show warned her about.

Oh right. She replied… very quickly.

Kara tosses her phone back onto her bed (the 'toss' sends it flying through two rooms to get to said bed) and continues pacing while running her hands through her hair. Take it slow. Take it easy. Act like you're an impossibly rich, impossibly talented businesswoman because you are. THAT'S WHAT YOU LITERALLY ARE, KARA.

The blonde falls backward onto the couch. It scoots backward an inch from her weight. She's also thirty. So there's that.

Kara spends the next several moments on the couch (AKA 'the shame nest') until she hears the buzzing from the other room. Once again, she disappears from the room. The couch scoots back into place from the sudden departure.

Phone in hand, the first thing Kara sees is the YEAH! logo. A memory comes loose in the back of her mind — she went to a show once? Probably? Yeah, that feels right. Back when. Is Kate testing her?! Kara narrows her eyes. She's amazing at tests.

(Then she remembers to scroll up.)

(Then she gets stuck looking at 'Be still my beating heart'.)

Kara pries her hand away from the screen and sets the phone down on the nearby nightstand. Wait. Be a normal person.

A moment passes.

Another.

Yet another supremely patient moment for normal people.

Kara grabs the phone.

Maybe you can do the accosting this time.

No 20-year-old Kara! Back in the phantom zone! Be better!

You don't need to worry about keeping things fresh until we've broken a bed.

You too, 23-year-old Kara.

<K.Starr> I think I feel good putting myself in an expert's hands.
<K.Starr> What time?

30-year-old Kara, you tried.


'I think I feel good putting myself in an expert's hands.'

"Pff."

Kate isn't quite sure how long she spends looking at that little line of text on her screen. Long enough, by her reckoning. Long enough that she doesn't know how long it's been, or when she started smiling. It's probably an idiot smile. She doesn't care.

The next words spill from her fingertips infinitely easier.

<katekane> I'll make sure not to let you down then
<katekane> Let's say 7, meet outside Robinson Park?
<katekane> It's a bit of a walk to La Contenta from there, but it's worth it

And once that last message is sent off, Kate's phone bounces off the empty cushions of her abandoned sofa as the Kane heiress makes a straight shot for her walk in closet, muttering three words she never thought she'd ever utter in her lifetime as she searches through her bevy of clothes:

"Thank you, Catherine."


Kara is exactly sure how long she spends looking at that little line of text on her screen. She’s unable to stop herself from compulsively tracking the time in the back of her mind while she stares, waiting. Her expression remains fixed with intense patience.

Then the response spills in. Kara relaxes and falls back fully into her bed, looking up at the ceiling and her phone.

<K.Starr> I’ll be there.

The blonde tosses her phone to the side and reaches up to hold her hands over her face. The reality of the moment gently sinks into the various squirmy bits hidden in her torso where they can do that fluttering gimmick.

Is this right? Is she doing this for the right reasons?

7. Robinson Park. Those are instructions. It’s easy to follow instructions.


It is a bit of a walk.

She's waiting there, at the northern entrance of Robinson Park, a sight of grays and reds nestled in a comfortable lean against a wall of greens. Black gloved hands tucked neatly in the pockets of her gray, Toscana sheepskin overcoat, black shearling trim rustling faintly in the chill breeze and providing only passing glimpses of the bright red cigarette pants beneath, the modest heels on those black ankle boots give her an extra inch or two of height. Eyelids done up with winged kohl eye liner and darker strains of eyeshadow remain closed until she hears approaching footsteps. When Karen arrives, lips painted a subtle ombré of dark to brighter red tug towards an easy smile.

The bow she offers is a playful one. Her words, even moreso.

"Ready for our apology tour, Ms. Starr?"


It is a bit of a walk, but Karen Starr is in good shape and Kara Zor-L got her yellow sun this morning.

Noticing Kate Kane in the wild wouldn't be difficult even without all the cheating super senses offer. Gotham may have its share of quirky young artists and professionals who moved here for the atmosphere, but that type can't really match the self-assured obviousness of a woman who's stayed punk into her thirties.

Kara Zor-L's punk phase involved joining a team called Infinity, Inc., after getting turned down by the Justice Society and then incorporating a shocking cleavage window into her Supergirl outfit, so she's not quite on Kate's level. On the other hand, Karen Starr is a six foot two weightlifter with bright blonde hair, so it evens out.

Here comes the approaching footsteps. When Kate opens her eyes, Karen is waiting just outside personal bubble distance. The cold is only middling at this hour, so her woolen, gray knee-length trenchcoat is left open as a hedge against the weather. Underneath it is a lightweight, ribbed black sweater — well fitted enough that it must have been a custom piece — and a black-and-white plaid flannel miniskirt matched with black tights and glossy, heeled ankle boots. Color comes from a few key accessories in gold: the buckles on her boots and her angular statement earrings.

She's lighter on the makeup. Present, but in that masterfully-applied way that some highly inexperienced people tend to think is merely good genetics. People who are good at things sometimes make those things seem simple.

Karen watches the bow with subdued amusement, judging from her mild and unsuccessful attempt to keep a completely straight face. She takes her hands out of her coat pockets and folds them in front of her.

"Of course, Ms. Kane. I'm ready to be soothed."


It is a bit of a walk, and one made only slightly longer by the fact that Kate deliberately chooses the scenic route. It takes them through a number of destinations — the first, the best view of the Statue of Justice from the mainland, is an obvious and deliberate tourist trap, one shared with a wink and a smile on Kate's part.

The rest, though, is nice. Pleasant. Quiet, for as quiet as Gotham can be. Kate takes Karen through a number of more esoteric, older parts of the city, little kernels of family storefronts unchanged in decades to the more familiar, ostentatious sights of Gotham's love affair with art deco. It's not that long a walk. But it's one that Kate makes sure is filled with the largest slice of sights she can offer.

They even have a run-in with Kite Man, hanging limply from an angel statue's outstretched hands while the young and noble Robin gloats mercilessly from above. He might be threatening about cutting the zipline Kite Man is entangled in. It's hard to say.

"Kite… Man…….."

It's no photo op with Calendar Man. But it's a decent consolation prize.

"Hell…… yeah…..!"


Instant callback: Yellow sun. Bit of a walk receives no complaints. One could perhaps also credit the choice of closed-top chunky-heeled footwear if they had to be heeled at all. Thinking smart.

Karen doesn't let on how much of this she's seen before, if any. Sometimes techy types don't get outdoors at all, especially if they're shut into the gentrified zone up around the UCC HQ and other technology buildings. The Statue of Justice stop earns a wry look that hints this, at very least, is definitely on the 'seen before' list.

On the other end of the scale there's Kite Man.

"Kite Man," Karen murmurs, eyes wide while they briefly stop to watch the drama. A few minutes later, as they're walking, she repeats herself.

"…Kite Man."

(Hell yeah.)


La Contenta is, as the name might suggest, a very cozy place.

Still one of those hidden gems of Gotham, modest in scale but not in quality, the owners of the restaurant have been relatively content just to carve out their own niche in Gotham: it's quiet, comfortable, and the proprietors know the names of most of their customers; those they don't, they learn. An ideal place to relax with flavorful meals and good company.

And, of course, Karen is correct — their chimichurri is the best.

The jacket is hanging from the back of Kate's chair as she talks with Karen, her outfit beneath best described, combined with her make up, as a loving marriage of goth and rockabilly sensibilities: her blouse, a sleeveless, white and black striped button up affair tucked into the high waist of her cigarette pants, shows off those two tattoos on her shoulders, the first button undone to reveal the choker of simple black lace she wears beneath.

Over some steak chimichurri and a glass of cabernet (just a glass, she knows how to pace herself (most of the time)), Kate makes for a candid conversation partner. Her words have a light touch but she never seems to shy away even from embarrassing stories ("might as well know what you're getting into," she asides, at one point, with a cheeky little grin). She doesn't try to dominate the conversation. She listens. She jokes.

But it's subtle, the way she never really talks about family. The storied history of the Kanes, sure, she has an amusing anecdote or two for that. Her time as an army brat. Her, specifically her, experiences growing up. She'll even get into a lively discussion about her cousin and just what a mess his life is (lovingly, of course).

But never her mother. Never her sister. Barely her father. It's an easier thing to get away with, on a first date, and an easier thing not to notice; these topics barely come up, and when they threaten to, the way she diverts the subject shows the skill of a practiced hand. But, it's there. She's candid.

But not about everything.


Under normal circumstances, Karen probably wouldn't have been enough of a regular at La Contenta to be recognized when she came back after not living in Gotham for years. The abnormal circumstances are that she's not that difficult to remember and there's incentive with her being a regular photo op target for numerous media channels.

Kate Kane is also Kate Kane, local blessed child of Gotham.

This means that after the production of showing up is over and they're seated and de-coated, Karen becomes a much more engaging conversationalist to match. For mysterious reasons that may be attributed to relative alcohol consumption, she doesn't have near as many embarrassing stories to tell, but she makes a decent effort and segues into stories about the oddities one encounters traveling the world's rich people and business leaders circuit.

Neither of them talk about their family save for brief mentions. Karen Starr may well have started having a life worth talking about as a young engineer in Gotham. Some people don't like talking about certain things on the first date.

(Karen must admit that she knows Bruce. Not well, she admits, but she knows him. Rich people and business leaders circuit, right?)


Nice glasses of red wine are exchanged for hard liquor in plastic cups as the riot grrrl strains of YEAH! fill the air with an intensity that vibrates all the way down to the marrow. The band has been a fixture of Gotham's punk scene for years, but over the more recent stretch of time their appearances have been more rare, more sporadic, and the venues they play nothing really to write home about.

Which, of course, just made them all the more popular with the particularly obsessive, and turns the deliberately rundown confines of the out-of-the-way venue known as the Quiet Yard into a cramped contrast to La Contenta's quieter, more sparsely populated comforts. People pack in to the bass-throbbing shambles of this place until the body heat turns it sweltering and maneuvering without bumping into -someone- along the way becomes an impossibility. It's like a throwback to years when they were younger and could afford to care less about being stuffed like sardines in the middle of a concert without worrying about how much they were going to regret it the next day.

But Kate seems like she's in her element, here, her coat stashed somewhere hidden from prying eyes and curious hands as she drains her cup, the number of which she's gone through she's patently unclear on but is fairly sure is on the low end. She dances as the furious sounds assault her ears and thrum through her senses, her pale skin is flushed and undercut hair a damp muss of red by the time the music starts to die down and the YEAH!s get in to their closing act, riding high on nostalgia. Anyone could be able to tell, even now — this is her scene. She could talk about it for hours. She probably does, in between sets.

But it's as the music starts to end and the YEAH!s give way for another band that Karen might feel the warmth of fingers wrapping around her wrist to get her attention. The way Kate leans up towards the blonde woman's ear to whisper her warm words is because of how difficult it is to hear and be heard even now, if you weren't some kind of superhuman.

The way her thumb dusts across the inside of Karen's wrist doesn't really have any of that kind of excuse.

"Hey," she breathes out, dark lips pressed into a light and lopsided kind of smile. "There's one more stop left on the apology tour, if you're interested. It's a personal favorite. Want to check it out?"


Karen isn't dressed for riot grrrl. Or: maybe she is, considering the crowd. The thing that makes Kate so memorable for sticking to the code is that plenty of people don't, and that includes the aging fans of YEAH! who don't mind carving out a night in this terrible world called adulthood to see someone who can leave their heart full of nostalgia fuzzies and their ears full of ringing.

Besides, under that sweater, that skirt, and those tights, Karen still looks like someone not to fuck with. That's step one in dressing the part.

But it's Kate leading the way. Kate who shows Karen the best place to stash their coats (Karen would super-notice if anything happened to them), Kate who gets them pressed to the bar to order up drinks (Karen pushing for muscle doesn't hurt), and Kate who sets the pace for drinking hard and dancing harder.

(No competition here. Kate drinks better.)

For someone so large, Karen is remarkably controlled. The kind of dancing that goes on to music like this, even with older fans, inevitably leads to a few yelled apologies across the night — but not for her. It's not even that she's restrained. Karen has spent the evening following Kate and she doesn't stop here. The choruses come easily from her mouth and the rhythm her body remembers. When the final tones fade out, Karen isn't sweating like Kate. It would sound absurd to recount what she looks like to someone who wasn't there, but she glistens. It's that obnoxiously charming faint perspiration that people in movies get to show they're working hard but without taking away from their attractiveness.

With how good of a mood her smile says she's in, one could call it a glow. Must be a benefit of getting regular sun.

A hand on her wrist. Every once in a while, Kara can really lose herself in something. It's not like she can turn off her super senses, but it's not only humans who can get distracted.

Karen glances away from the band, looking down at Kate with a quizzical expression. When the other woman starts onto her tiptoes, Karen turns her head to offer her ear.

A thumb gently brushing along the delicate part of her inner wrist. Kara feels a sudden hotness on her cheeks. Mercifully, they cannot flush any further than they are from exertion. Unmercifully, an electric sensation runs down her neck when the warmth of Kate's breath touches her face.

"Yeah," Karen answers, leaning away so that her lips and nod can say what the fading music and temporary tinnitus may still drown out. One more stop. Kara's first thought is: one more stop, that wasn't scary at all. It was nice. Her second thought is: one more stop.

What kind of stop?

It's difficult to determine what flavor of anticipation the feeling in her chest represents.


One more stop.

It's almost unfair, how well Karen handles the exertions of that dance with only a flush of cheeks and a sheen of perspiration to just the right, subtle degree. One could call it a glow.

Kate Kane would call it a glow.

But it's not what Kate is thinking of right now (mostly; she's only human). She's thinking about the heavy pound of her pulse in her ears that is only mostly from the dancing. She's thinking about the way Karen's lips move with that single-syllable word, hard to hear past the ambiance and yet all is conveyed with crystal clarity. She's thinking about the warmth of Karen's skin against the pad of her thumb, and the race of her pulse.

And wondering if it's only mostly from the dancing, too.

The nervousness of it never quite shows in the sliver of white in her smile, or the way she confidently draws Karen from the crowds with the squeeze of her wrist, or the breathless way she says, "C'mon," as she leads the way out. One more stop.

But what kind of stop?

~-~

Snow cakes in layers on the overhead of the long-unused rooftop access hatch of what was, a generation ago, the roof of an architectural firm. Now, perhaps ironically, it is just one of a litany of old, outmoded buildings destined for demolition yet stubbornly hanging on, vacant but for the presence of pigeons and snow. It was, and is, property of the Kanes.

At least that's what Kate assures Karen of, seconds before the rooftop hatch groans out an opening or the first time in years.

It takes a bit; age, and the weather, have not been kind to the latch and hinges. The weight of snow jostles free in sheets of white one layer after the other until frost cracks and the latch opens, ushering in the arrival of Kate Kane, huffing out a vaporous white breath of exertion into the air as she pushes a gloved hand through her messier muss of short red hair. Her coat has returned, bundling her in sheepskin warmth as she looks behind her, towards Karen, and then nods her head once towards the wider, wintery world beyond them.

"Over this way."

And it's easy to see why she might have brought Karen here the second the other woman steps out onto the roof. The view here is of a breathtaking quality, perfectly positioned to capture a glimpse of the beating, light-studded heart of Gotham in all its ornate, deco wonder. With areas like the Narrows as in sight as the historical grandeur of the old Wayne Tower, it at once highlights the straits and the splendor of the city.

The winter winds blowing off from the nearby harbor tingle at Kate's cheeks as she looks out, hands tucked into her pockets. It's not necessarily the best view in the city; it certainly can't compare to the views someone who can fly, or have handy access to military-grade grappling tech could achieve.

"I used to come up here a lot, when I got back to Gotham. I kinda liked to think it helped center me when I needed it."

But it's significant, all the same.

"What do you think?"


"Urban exploration is so much less sketchy when you can buy the building," says Karen, from the bottom of the ladder below Kate. She's waiting to finish climbing up after the hatch for sure opens, just in case the other woman needs to get back down.

The groan of old, cold metal is signal enough. As Kate climbs into the hazy-light of city's artificial illumination, Karen climbs up after her. To her credit, bespoke clothing and shoes or not, she hasn't hesitated once navigating the half-living debris of this place. The rust on the ladder must not be doing great things to her boots where she needs to hook the rungs into her heels to climb — but climb she does.

The blonde emerges from the hatch as Kate is gesturing her over. She gets her footing on the roof, shoves her hands into her coat pockets, and comes walking over to the edge where she was beckoned. The view spreading out before her, beneath and across and above, isn't new in a sense. Someone like Karen has been in plenty of buildings, and Gotham loves its sweeping balconies and landscape windows and observation decks.

But it is new in another. Karen's gaze travels from landmark to landmark as Kate explains. She picks out old Wayne Tower first, and then as her view roams the streets she traces a place that Kara knows better: the Narrows. Her attention lingers.

This is new because it belongs to Kate. Kara imagines it, unable to stop herself from imagining in most cases but even moreso now: what made Kate choose this place? Why did she keep coming back? What center did she find in a view like this?

The wind picks up, forcing more chill across the rooftop's unlit stones and dead HVAC machines. Something inside Kara stays stubbornly warm. A feeling. She didn't drink that much — well, she did, but only for a human. It shouldn't be affecting her, and yet, that feeling of sentimental connection to another living person that drunk Kara gets is here all the same.

Karen glances over to Kate. The neutrality of her expression breaks into a insouciant smile.

"I think I feel like I need a cape. Those are mandatory for abandoned rooftops, right?"


Anticipation all Kate's own fills the redhead with an indistinct warmth, a cocktail of excitement and nervousness that never quite reaches her expression save, perhaps, how she watches Karen rather than the view perhaps just a second overlong after that question. This is, well… not a secret, perhaps, and if it is, it's an open one. Absolutely not the most revealing thing she could have shown Karen, or even the most intimate.

What it is, is personal. And maybe that's what inspires all that anxious anticipation.

So when Karen gives that answer, of all the things she could say, Kate blinks once — and then she can't stop the snort of amusement that flares its way past her nostrils not a second later. It's not a second after that, that solemn gravity replaces her wry mirth, the sideways glance she spares Karen nothing short of so conspiratorial the look itself could constitute a conspiracy all its own.

"I'm pretty sure there's a law about that here," she confirms, her voice nothing less than absolutely level and abiding no cracks in the facade, a truly impressive feat considering how much she actually has had to drink, as a normal (relatively speaking) member of the homo sapien species. "'You may not stare out over the Gotham horizon, grimly or otherwise, without a cape or proper government clearance.' Violating it comes with jail time and a steep fine."

She leans to her side, resting her weight upon her right heel until her shoulder bumps into Karen's through the many layers of winter.

"Don't worry," she assures, voice several degrees warmer than the bone sinking cold. Her serious edge undercut by the sparkle in green eyes. "I'll keep your secret if you keep mine. And if they catch us, we can just go down together in a blaze of glory. Partners in crime to the end."

A second passes by.

"Hopefully not, though. That'd be a bittersweet note to end a tour on."


Not a strong yes or no on the superhero front, but making teasing jokes instead of going on a rant about Batman or mutants is as good a sign as one can hope for without putting it to a straight question. Karen's smile deepens fractionally as Kate spins another miniature fantasy about horizon-staring laws and criminal conspiracies.

Kate leans in. Across two coats, Karen feels the gentle pressure of the shorter woman's shoulder against her arm. Karen doesn't pull away. She stays there, grounded, supporting, looking out into the horizon in precisely the way that would get her arrested and fined. Well, maybe she's not being grim enough.

A second passes by. Another. Kara gazes into the city from inside one of its hearts. Her expression has melted away. Beneath the artful lines of her face, she gropes for an answer to a question she doesn't quite know how to ask herself.

If Kate was a man, Kara would know what to do. She's been in places like this with more than a few. Enough that she could cycle through something that worked before with no passing thoughts as to whether it'd work again. Even if it's been years, once the fear is gone it's replaced by experience. There's no place left for anxiety and shame. The conversation is even wide open for a one-liner before a kiss. Bittersweet note to end a tour on? It's an easy layup! There's a dozen ways to go with that!

Kara says nothing.

Why is it different?

Why is she here?

Why did she say yes?

It's not just being nice. It's not proving anything to herself. Kara doesn't want it to be something as shallow as that. She doesn't want to believe that she could be as shallow as that. She liked talking to Kate… and Kate wanted to see her again… and…

…and Kate wanted to…

…and…

Kate feels Karen's arm move beneath her shoulder. She's taking her hand out of her coat pocket. The blonde turns toward the redhead, facing her while her return-gloved fingers slip down Kate's forearm to prompt the other woman to remove her own hand. She wants to hold it.

"Thank you for showing me this place," says Karen. Her voice is softer, louder than the wind but not by much. "It must have been lonely… sometimes."

She tilts her head down. Perhaps it's only to speak while looking directly at the other woman, but it does also make her more easily accessible.

And then the wordless potential of the moment returns with the silence.


In many ways, this is not a new situation for Kate. The broadstrokes of it all are as clear for her as they are for Kara, even if in ways and perspectives wholly different. She can see the right steps of the dance. Something faster, riskier, more exhilarating… or something slower, safer, more cautious. She knows exactly what she would do in this situation, were the context anything else, were it with anyone else.

But this is different, and it's hard for her to quantify why. Different enough, at least, that it causes a moment's hesitation where anywhere else she might have used that lead in to spin into something more. Instead of words, she has fresh memories of a night on a balcony and a little smile of apology that made her so sure a door had closed.

And yet…

And now…

… now…

It's different. But that makes it more exciting.

She knows why she's here. Because she wants to be.

But why did Karen say yes? …

And maybe the answer comes, when she feels the warmth of fingers roll down the sleeve-swaddled length of her forearm. She knows the gesture by heart, and yet there's still a half a second's delay before her own hand slides out of her own coat pocket, until it finds Karen's like it was the most natural thing in the world, like that half a second never existed. Until she's holding Karen's hand.

Until Karen is holding hers.

She turns, just enough. Her heels guide her, just enough. So that she can face Karen on that cold, snow-dusted rooftop. To look at her, quiet as she speaks, hanging off every little syllable that drifts so faintly through the chill winds to tickle just barely at her ears.

It must have been lonely sometimes, Karen says, as her head tilts down.

The smile tugging on Kate's lips is confident. The journey of her free hand to Karen's cheek is an easy one.

But the pound of her heart is a furious tempest of staccato notes as her thumb brushes just so near Karen's lips.

"Sometimes," she agrees, so quiet anyone without those superior senses might well have to watch the movement of those dark lips and the way they get closer and closer with the passing. The way her gloved fingers glide smooth down Karen's winter-stung cheek until they are rummaging quietly through the tiny hairs at the back of the other woman's neck.

The way Kate meets Karen halfway, to share with her a kiss. Slow. Testing.

New, in all the ways that electrify.


Fingers threaded through fingers. The little smile. The hand on her cheek. A tentative thumb straying a little closer to her lips. Intent coming into focus.

Kara knows where all this goes. None of this is a surprise.

Well… most of it isn't a surprise.

'Sometimes,' Kate agrees. If Kara wants, she can think so quickly that the world moves like slow motion around her. She can study Kate drifting infinitesimally closer and closer to cross a short gulf with the dreamlike languidity of a functional eternity. Kara can watch the other woman's lips part by fractions, hear her heart pulse wide and begin a long contraction, feel the tiny displacements in the air as her body moves through space.

Kara can think about this for as long as she wants. There's always time to back out. Compared to humans, Kara has nothing but time.

A voice in the back of her mind begs her to stop. This has gone too far. She's tormenting this poor woman who only deserves niceness and sincerity. She's wounding her for a lark.

The voice is desperate and loud. The moment Kara hears it, she makes up her mind. It's in that moment that she knows.

Kate slides her hand to the back of Karen's neck and gently urges her in. Karen closes her eyes, tilting her head to fit, and leans forward with parted lips.

She knows the voice is wrong.


Time is, and will always be, relative to perception. Karen sees opportunity after opportunity slip past to shut a door.

Kate sees a finger snap in a moment that can never last as long as she'd like.

And somewhere between eternity and an instant, they meet halfway.

The kiss is sweet, for a given value of the word. Chaste, relative to the approach Kate might have taken otherwise. But not that chaste. She leans her body weight into the taller woman; she's seen Karen coldcock musclebound zealots with a one hit knockout, she knows she can handle her weight. Fingers squeeze between fingers. Green eyes drift shut as blended red lips part. She lets herself deepen it, a little bit. Lets herself lose herself in it, a little bit.

But not enough that she can't find the wherewithal to untwine her hand from Kara's and tuck it briefly back into her coat pocket.

She may notice. She may not. But when Kate's hand finds hers again, something slides up against Karen's gloved palm. Something that drapes loosely in her grasp as Kate breaks that kiss just so. Just enough so that the redhead can smile against Karen's lips.

"I want to see you again," she breathes, when the words find her. It takes her a handful of seconds more than she thought it would.

"Soon."

Her fingers urge Karen's closed around two warm pieces of cloth.

"But it didn't feel right holding hostages over your head before I asked."

Karen's gloves. Just as promised.

Somewhere Julia Pennyworth is probably having a fit, but fortunately, Kate Kane's thoughts are very far away from that right now.


It isn't the most carnal of kisses that Kara has ever had. There isn't that pressing, absurd need to put mouth against mouth to express the ineffable desire to do more.

It's a little uncertain. It's a little sweet. And, after a moment, it's a little happy. Karen can definitely (and casually) support Kate's bodyweight leaned into her. There's something in that feeling of weight on her, in the pressure of her hand being squeezed, that ambushes Kara with a surge of giddiness that she'll be turning over in her thoughts for days afterward.

This moment Kara doesn't need to stretch. It feels like it goes on longer than it does in a completely different way.

Karen feels Kate's hand moving but doesn't think much of it at the time. She's focused on other things. It's only when Kate pulls away slightly and pushes a familiar shape into her palm that she realizes the timing. It'd take some serious self control to stop herself from smiling right now, and Karen isn't particularly interested in seeing how much.

"Okay," Karen exhales, tightening her fingers around her gloves. There's a laugh hidden behind the lightness in her tone. She agrees: "Soon."


Soon.

Something about the tone of Karen's voice just energizes her. Makes her want to smile or grin or laugh like a complete idiot the way someone might seeing someone else doing the same. Makes those worries melt away into something so much warmer. It's a giddy little high she hasn't felt in a long time. Longer than she cares to recall, right now.

"For now, though…"

Right now, as she buries fingers into blonde hair to once more draw lips down to hers past the scant sliver of light and air that separates them, she just intends to enjoy the moment. They never last as long as you want them to.

But when you're in them…

~-~

Kate is Karen's stalwart companion all the way to the front doors of the other woman's hotel. It's a journey marked by conversation, punctuated by maybe slightly drunk cavorting, but emphasized by the periods of comfortable silence that lay between those moments.

It's a silence that lingers for a little while at those smooth glass doors dividing the warm comforts of the hotel from the outside world. She is charming, of course, even in her quiet, in the little twinkle of entertainment in her eyes, in the way she laughs without giving voice to the laughter.

But she doesn't ask to come inside. Doesn't try to make an excuse, one way or the other. She just leans in one more time, and lets her lips find the corner of Karen's.

"I think this is where the tour officially ends and we say our heartfelt goodbyes," she offers, a little promise in her smile. "For now."

Her hand drifts down Karen's right shoulder, and down her arm, until she can find her hand. She offers to make plans. Maybe she can visit Metropolis, she says. But she might need a tour guide. One good turn deserves another, right?

"'Til next time, Karen."

And when she's said her goodbyes, she'll linger for a time outside those hotel doors before leaving just like she did when she arrived. Her smile never quite leaves her the entire way home. Moments never last as long as you want them to. But when you're in them…

… there's nothing like it.


"Mother. It was just like you said."

A room of white. A sarcophagus of gold. A woman shaved bald, kneeling amidst the featureless sea. She'd almost swear there was nothing beneath her if the hard ground was not punishing her bent knees so severely. She risks looking up.

"She's here."

And there, almost blending in to the seamless white save for the splash of her golden curls and the bloody red of her lips, stands a woman. Smiling a sweet little smile.

"Curiouser and curiouser! Would you tell me, please…"

It's a smile that never quite leaves her lips.

"… which way I ought to go from here?"

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