Rating: PG for now.
Word count: 2253 for this part.
Second week of December, Jim's still not sure how did he arrive at this. 'This' includes a lot of things.
His job, which is a neverending array of paperwork that he got actually reasonably efficient at, he signs the reports, prepares the proposals, goes through the rosters and forms, and even manages to get them done on time. The last six times he had pointed a gun at anything, it was at the shooting range, and he doesn't even miss the field so much. He does miss the adrenaline rush, sometimes, but he finally knows what coming home before it's late and dark feels like. Due to this he hadn't seen Batman for a long while, he's not exactly a daytime creature. And with the hunt for him still on, he doesn't exactly show up all that often. Jim would have even considered the widespread rumour that the Bat had moved to Metropolis, if not for the fact that occasionally, files or evidence magically appear on Stephens' or Montoya's desks. Jim tries not to be envious of them, as it really sounds ridiculous.
'This' includes, and doesn't limit to, the fact that more often than not, Bruce Wayne visits his house at least twice a week. Sometime during the last month Wayne had become Bruce, and the visits stopped being an odd nuisance and Jim had started to actually enjoy them. Because for all of his annoying qualities, starting from the inability to let a double entendre go, ending with the way he picks out only the pecan nuts from the bowl, Bruce certainly improves on further acquaintance. The kids certainly like him.
At the beginning, Jim thought this would pass. That after he repaid the debts he imagined he had, Bruce would move on, and Jim and the kids would fall back into the old routines. But after over a month, Bruce is still there to play computer games with Jimmy, or help Barbara with practicing her role for the upcoming school play. Jim still has no idea why Bruce cares so much, but is incredibly grateful he does.
It doesn't come as much of a surprise, when on the day of the first snow, at the breakfast table, Barbara starts to discuss their Christmas plans. "We should have a real tree this year. Can we?"
Jim thinks on that for a moment, and nods. "I think it can be arranged. But we could get the small one you can later plant in the garden."
The next question, he should have seen coming, but it still takes him by surprise. "Can we invite Bruce?"
"I'm sure he has other plans, Babs. And even if he doesn't, he probably spends the Christmas with Alfred."
"We could invite Alfred, too," Jimmy says, and Jim has a feeling he's getting ganged up on. The kids took to Alfred with a speed of light, trailing after him throughout the Wayne Manor on their first visit, asking questions about anything and everything, which the butler answered with amazing patience. He also is stocking them up with gingerbread cookies whenever he can, which Jim pretends to know nothing about.
"I'll ask. But don't be disappointed if they can't come, alright?"
He calls that very evening, and assures Bruce he doesn't need to feel obliged to come, but the he promised the kids he'd ask. Bruce is silent for a moment, and when he speaks, Jim can hear a smile in his voice.
"So, you're saying you don't want me there, Jim? I'm deeply wounded. I'll have to spend the Christmas alone in a great big mansion. Like something from a Charles Dickens novel. Alfred will approve."
Jim rolls his eyes. "That man is a saint, for spending so much time with you," he mutters. "Fine. Here we go. Would you do us the great honour and pleasure of spending Christmas with us?"
"But of course," Bruce says smugly, and that's about the moment Jim has another call waiting and disconnects after a brief apology. During the talk with Garcia about the latest budget cuts, he remembers what was the other thing he meant to tell Bruce, and calls again few seconds later.
"Yes. Don't overdo on the gifts."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Jim," Bruce says, but he sounds all too casual for Jim's liking.
"Shit, you bought the presents already, haven't you?"
"Still no idea. I think the line is breaking up. Losing you here," there's a very unconvincing series of noises, and Jim sighs.
"Nothing expensive. Expensive by my standards, not yours. I mean it."
"I'm sorry Jim, I can't hear you very well. If you can hear me, just wanted to say I'll call you later. Bye."
Jim closes the cellphone with a snap, deliberating whether he should call Alfred and hope that at least he could talk some sense into Bruce, but finally deciding to hope Wayne already had some reason. It is a possibility.
Later that day, when he tells the kids they will have guests after all, Jimmy goes quiet for a moment. Jim waits patiently for his son to mull over whatever it is on his mind, but nothing prepares him for Jimmy looking up with hope and asking if they could invite Batman, too.
He doesn't know what to say. After a moment, Jimmy's brow furrows in disappointment, and Jim reaches out to touch his shoulder gently. "If I see him, I'll ask him. But..."
"I just want to ask him," Jimmy says weakly, and Jim won't admit to that out loud, but for a brief moment, he wants that too, to be able to see and talk to someone he considers one of his closest friends, as pathetic as it sounds given that he had never even seen the man's face, and none of their conversations took longer than a few minutes.
"I'll do my best," he tells Jimmy, and this must be enough.
He does his best, too. He orders Montoya and Stephens to tell Batman, in case of his appearance, that Jim really needs to talk to him. He even makes use of one of the nights when the kids are both at a birthday party down the street, and goes up to the roof of the MCU, and waits until the sun sets, but all he gets is a slight cold that sees him through the week. He doesn't think it would happen.
But then, the day before the Christmas' Eve, Jim walks out in the evening to dump the trash, mostly the leftover of gift paper, which turned out to be most of the gift paper after Jimmy took his turn with the scissors. The street is quiet, covered in snow that had just stopped falling, but he has the familiar feeling of unease, of being watched. He relaxes, slowly, realising who is watching him.
"I've started to wonder if maybe there was some truth to the Metropolis story," Jim offers, walking up the stairs of the porch, and leaning against the fire escape. He doesn't take time looking searchingly into the shadows, but even at a glance he can tell Batman is wearing non-descript black clothes and just the cowl, the rest of the suit gone. Definitely easier to discard in case of pursuit.
"None whatsoever. Gotham..." Batman shrugs, not finishing, but Jim knows what he was going to say anyway. "You wanted to see me?"
So, the news did get around. Jim wonders briefly, how much surveillance does the Bat have, what sources, but decides he doesn't care, the important thing is, he has a way of knowing. "I thought it would be nice to know you were still alive, yes. But mostly, someone else wanted to see you."
"Jimmy," Batman nods. Jim is curious, fact, but he's glad he doesn't have to explain this. "I'm here now."
Jim opens the doors to the house and yells for Jimmy to come down. When the boy walks out to the porch, he freezes in his tracks, and then rushes forward, gaining momentum. Jim would normally laugh at the moment of awkward hesitation on Batman's side, before he lets himself be hugged, his hand gently patting Jimmy's shoulder. But now he doesn't laugh at all, the way Jimmy's clinging to the Bat, it resonates with his own relief at the Bat showing up, being here.
"You wanted to see me?" Batman says, and it sounds just like when he asked Jim, like he used to during the business meetings up on the roof of the MCU.
Jimmy nods, taking a while to voice the request, Jim can't quite catch it, it's so quiet.
"I would like to," the Bat offers, crouching down to look at Jimmy. "But I'm afraid I have other plans." His voice is less gravelly than Jim remembers, more human, probably for Jimmy's benefit. "But, thank you."
"Do you spend Christmas with your family?" Jimmy asks, and Jim covers his surprise with a cough, getting a quick look from Batman for that.
"In a way," he answers, and his glove-less hand brushes away Jimmy's hair. He straightens up, nodding at Jim. "I should be going," he says, and Jim almost snorts again, but doesn't bother with the polite cough this time. Batman announcing his exit, that's a new one.
"Jimmy, go help your sister set the table for dinner. I'll be right in." Jimmy hesitates, but with a final look and smile at the Bat, gets back inside. Jim raises his eyebrows.
"In a way?" he asks, and Batman's lips twitch slightly, and it could be the first actual hint of a smile Jim sees on his face.
"Good night, Jim," the Bat says, and slowly, deliberately, turns to walk away while Jim is still watching. It's still walking off in the middle of the conversation, yes, but somehow, Jim thinks it's an improvement. He shakes his head and walks inside.
On the crisp Christmas Day morning, a black Bentley pulls over into the driveway, and the kids run out of the house before Jim even manages to get up from the couch. It's just a few minutes past nine, and they're already hopped up on so much candy the sugar high will probably last till April. Alfred unloads the trunk, giving the kids lighter bags to carry. There's a lot less of things than Jim expected.
"You actually managed to restrain yourself?" he asks Bruce, and before an answer can be voiced, Alfred shakes his head. "Do I want to know?" Jim turns to him, and the older man shrugs.
"Three more bags back at the Wayne Manor, sir. I had to lock them in the basement and hide the key."
"I will find it soon," Bruce volunteers cheerfully, picking up something that looks like a cake, carefully wrapped in foil.
"How much sugar did he already have?" Jim asks, ignoring him, and Alfred tilts his head, considering.
"Probably a little more than Master Jimmy and Miss Barbara."
"Fantastic," Jim says dryly, but he's smiling. Babs is finishing arranging the gifts under the tree, making sure all of them have cards. Jimmy watches Alfred unpack the cake, and they're deep in conversation about Christmas carols. Bruce hands Barbara one last gift from the bags they brought with Alfred, and straightens up, moving to stand next to Jim, leaning against the bookshelf.
"I just wanted to say, thanks for inviting us. Alfred is thrilled," Bruce says, and Jim smiles.
"We're always glad to have Alfred around," he offers, and glances sideways, Bruce's face blurry when Jim's not looking through his glasses. "With you here, they won't feel so..." he pauses, shrugging, the rest of the sentence disintegrating around the lump in his throat.
Bruce nods in understanding. "I see you set the table for six," he offers, only seemingly changing the topic. Jim nods. "Good. They should remember."
"They will," he says, a repetition of the promise he made to himself, and to Barbara, days after her death. Babs had cried last night, putting up the decorations they made with their mom last year, but he doesn't worry about her tears, they can be a good thing. Babs always seems better afterwards, as if she had something heavy roll off her shoulders. The tears come rarely now, too. Jimmy's nightmares are slowly melting away, they're becoming less terrifying, easier to wake up from. Last night, after Batman's visit, was the first time he slept soundly through the entire night, no nightmares, no waking up from the fear the nightmares would start. They're dealing.
And a lot of it, Jim knows, he actually owes to Bruce. They would have picked themselves up sooner or later, but they're doing this well only because they had help, people watching over them.
"Bruce, it's snowing again!" Barbara squeals excitedly, watching the falling flakes through the window.
Bruce smiles, taking a step forward to join her on the windowsill, but Jim reaches out, touching his shoulder briefly to get his attention. "Thank you," he says quietly.