Rating: PG for now.
Word count: 2610 for this part.
The spring comes late, as all springs in Gotham do. By the time April rolls around, Jim almost can't recall the time when Bruce Wayne wasn't a frequent guest in their house, but at roughly the beginning of April tabloids belatedly catch up with the fact that there are fewer sightings of Gotham's prince in restaurants and pubs with a different actress slash model each week. Speculations start, everyone guessing for whom does Bruce Wayne stay home, top choices ranging from Julie Madison to Scarlet Johansson.
Barbara cuts out every article and places it in her scrapbook, teasing Bruce mercilessly. After withstanding about two hours of her naming every A-list actress as his potential love interest, Bruce stands up, bows theatrically to Barbara, and takes her hand in his. "I believe that in my heart there's only room for one beautiful lady, Miss Gordon," he says, really over the top on dramatic display. Babs is laughing so hard she almost falls off the chair, but she's busy rolling her eyes at the same time.
Which Jim considers that a good thing, at least she'll get immune to attempts at charm, and considering her thirteenth birthday is fast approaching, and she insists on having boys at the party, this is becoming an issue.
When she broached the subject for the first time, Jim just stared at her, uncomprehending. "Like who?" he asked, when he got his voice back, and she shrugged, pointedly not looking at him.
"Oh, I don't know. Like, Steve, from school. Or, Jeff, or Charlie," she waves her hand vaguely, as if she didn't care exactly, but she blushed at the first name, and Jimmy offered a loud snort from his place on the couch, and Jim wonders if shooting the so-called Steve is completely out of question.
"If I get Judge Reynolds, I won't even do jail time," he tells Bruce later, when Barbara is busy talking to Sophie Clark on the phone, discussing the guests list. "He has four daughters, you know."
Bruce is laughing at him, but doing his best to hide it under a cough. "You know, all you have to do at this point, is let Jimmy stay at the party. Nothing ruins the mood like the younger brother. In fact, one time in college, sophomore year..." he starts, and Jim swats his shoulder.
"Really don't want to know," he groans.
Bruce gives him a steady gaze that implies he's going to pronounce something utterly ridiculous. "You know, that's exactly what the girl said."
Jim stares, then shakes his head, laughing. "Anyway," he says after a moment, taking off his glasses and cleaning them with his sleeve, before looking back at Bruce, who has a very pleased smile on his face for some reason. "Do I need to remind you the rule about the gifts?"
"Of course not, I had it hammered into my head all too many times. But remind me, they're supposed to get a car for thirteenth or sixteenth birthday? I always forget."
Jim doesn't even bother with an answer, just gives him a stern glare that never seems to work anyway. Bruce looks like he wanted to say something more, looking at Jim searchingly, but finally he just stands up. "I need coffee. You?"
"Yes, because I want to stay up all night, considering all the outcomes of allowing Babs to invite boys over," he mutters, standing up as well. "Fine. Make it black."
Two days later, Bruce calls him at work, right about the time he's going insane with trying to make sense out of Montoya's handwriting. "I want to run something by you," he says, and the hesitation is enough for Jim to become slightly worried.
"You are not buying her a car. Or a plane, for that matter."
Bruce laughs slightly, and Jim knows he's shaking his head now. "Damn. But honestly, you have five minutes? I might be able to convince you in person, I think."
Jim glances at the clock. "You're in luck, I need a break anyway. Where?"
"I'll pick you up in three minutes."
"You're parked around the corner, aren't you?" Jim asks suspiciously, but all he gets is the dial tone.
Bruce is driving himself, instead of having Alfred do so, so the car is far from discreet, and Jim is rolling his eyes the moment it pulls over by the main entrance. "What's the emergency?" he asks, and Bruce shrugs.
"You'll see," he says, flooring the accelerator, and Jim bites the comment he has on the tip of his tongue. From experience he knows that complaining at the speed would only make Bruce think it was a challenge not to stop at any lights, but he's still gritting his teeth all the way to the Manor. And to be honest, he still doesn't care for the mystery, but arguing with Bruce when he gets something into his head is rather pointless. He'll know soon enough.
The mystery, once they get inside the Manor, turns out to be small, incredibly fluffy, and sleeping soundly at Alfred's feet.
"You got her a dog?" Jim asks incredulously, and Bruce shrugs, words coming a tad too fast, as if he wanted to get it all out before interruption.
"He's housebroken, no troubles at all. And she had been talking about Sophie's new puppy for about four weeks now, that's some heavy hinting going on. And I do think she's responsible enough, but if you don't think it's a good idea, the dog can stay here, they visit often enough..." he pauses when Jim crouches, scratching the puppy behind it's floppy ear. The dog stands on his hind legs, resting the paws on Jim's knee, waging his tail happily, trying his best to lick Jim's fingers. "You like the dog," Bruce says accusingly, and Jim laughs.
"I like the dog," he agrees, patting the fluffy head. "Housebroken, you say?"
Alfred snorts. "Behaves better than Master Bruce, if you ask me, sir."
"No one did," Bruce says cheerfully.
Jim spies a small ball on the floor. Apparently Bruce's problem with showering people with gifts extends to the dogs, too. Jim picks it up and throws it, watching the puppy pad after it, paws sliding on the slick floor. "You shouldn't have," he says, looking up at Bruce. "But she'll love it," he adds with a wide smile. Bruce nods, smiling back, and reaches out to help Jim to his feet.
For a moment, they stand close, and Bruce looks like he wants to say something, his body shifting slightly, and Jim can't really read his expression. Before he can ask, Bruce lets go of his hand and steps back. "So, it's settled," he says, his voice a little rough, as if darkened with upcoming cold. Then he shakes his head, and he moves away, looking after the dog, then back at Jim, smiling widely, and for a brief second, Jim thinks there's something wrong with the smile, it doesn't quite reach the eyes, much like Bruce's 'public' smiles. "And I'm sorry, Jim, I just remembered I have a meeting about something I have no idea about, but they insist I should," he gives a good theatrical shudder, and nods at Alfred. "Would you mind driving Jim back to work?"
Jim wants to protest, say that if it's any trouble, he can take a taxi, but he had learned that it doesn't really work on Bruce, or on Alfred for that matter. He puzzles over the sudden change for a while, but then forgets the issue as soon as he has to get back to reports. Montoya's handwriting has not improved in his absence, sadly.
On the day of Babs' birthday, Bruce comes by in the early afternoon, few hours before the party is supposed to start. He had already apologised for not being able to make the party, and Babs was only slightly disappointed; they had learned the hard way, one time at a cinema, that Bruce had caused unnecessary commotion in public, much like a major celebrity. He brings the dog, wrapped in a blanket, and Barbara squeals her lungs out, and she and Jimmy abandon the decorations instantly, all their attention on the dog, and the list of names they're coming up with
"Want to help me with this?" Jim asks, raising his hand with a serpentine, waving it meekly, and Bruce shakes his head.
"As fun as it looks, I have a plane to catch. We're sealing a deal with a French company, and Lucius thought it would be a good idea for me to show up." Jim's pretty sure that's true, but for some reason, it sends a cold shiver down his spine, like something is wrong, and he can't put his finger on it.
"Barbara's play is in two days."
"I'll be back in two days," Bruce says, smiling, and finally, it's real. "I wouldn't miss it," he nods at Jim, and goes to say goodbye to the kids, and is soon gone. Jim can't for the world figure out why, but he walks to the doors and opens them, watching the car drive away. Something is really wrong, and he doesn't know what to do.
After a long moment he does what he can, and closes the doors, walking back to the kids and the dog, calling up a smile.
Two days later, two hours before the play, Jim drives the kids to the school, grasping the wheel a bit too tightly. He's fidgeting more than Babs is, and she's the one who's supposed to be nervous, but he had called Bruce's cell and nothing, and Alfred had just informed him that Bruce wasn't home, and no, Alfred had no idea where he went. To Jim's growing worry, Alfred seemed annoyed, which usually meant he greatly disapproved of what Bruce was doing.
And whatever he was doing, he was not sitting next to Jimmy in the second row at the school auditorium. Even when the lights go out, he's nowhere to be seen, and as Barbara stumbles upon her first line as her eyes scan the audience, Jim finds his worry turn to irritation, then anger. Babs is really not good in the first act, her usual energy gone, but she gains momentum, and Jim can see the determination in the way she throws her hair over her shoulder and plunges into the play. He's never been more proud. And still angry.
In the intermission, he finds Robert's mom, and asks if she'd mind if Jimmy stayed at her place for the night. She smiles and agrees, asking if everything is alright. Jim nods, and lies about work emergency, and she grows serious and promises to drive Jimmy home in the morning. Barbara is supposed to have a post-play party at a fellow actress' home, it's all arranged already, and she will stay over for the night as well.
After the play ends, he finds his daughter and tells her she was wonderful, and she laughs and tells him not to lie because it does show, but she seems happy now. It doesn't lessen his irritation. He drives to the Manor, eyes fixed firmly on the road, pointedly staying well below the speed limit. He doesn't really want to end up crashing into a tree because he's angry at Bruce Wayne. Seems counterproductive.
Alfred opens the doors, and, after giving Jim an unreadable look, steps aside wordlessly. Jim nods at him, trying for a polite smile, arriving probably at something more akin to a grimace.
"Master Wayne is in the study," Alfred offers flatly, and Jim thanks him, before heading in the given direction.
Bruce is standing by the window, still, or already, wearing a coat, as if he had just arrived or was just about to leave. He doesn't turn as Jim enters, but his head bows slightly.
"Where the hell were you?" Jim asks, closing the doors a little too loudly, and Bruce winces. Jim steps further inside, walks around the desk, he's going to have Bruce look at him as he says this. "Why didn't you at least call?"
"I didn't think..." Bruce starts and stops abruptly, and it pisses Jim off even more.
"Of course you didn't," he says, shaking his head. "She completely butchered the first act, because you weren't there, you know?" he says quietly, and Bruce nods.
"She got better in the second. And the monologue turned out fantastic," he offers with a small smile, and Jim's jaw drops down slightly.
"You saw it."
"Of course. I couldn't not," Bruce says, and Jim believes him, and this confuses him even more.
"You didn't come to talk to her afterwards, though. Why?" he asks, and Bruce looks away.
"I can't..." Bruce starts, and Jim's hands curl into fists.
"You don't get to do that. You don't get to waltz into their lives, and walk out whenever you want. You don't get to pick the moments you want to be there for them, and then disappear. Not with my kids," he says hotly, stepping forward. "If you're done with the charity project, fine. They'll deal. But then it ends now, and you don't raise their hopes," he says, quiet and keeping himself as calm as possible, but Bruce flinches as if he was yelling.
"I'm sorry, Jim, I..."
"I'd really want to know what the hell you're thinking," Jim mutters, shaking his head.
Bruce looks at him for a long moment, the silence stretching between them, tense and heavy. Then, in a flash, his expression changes into a grim determination, as if he made a decision and knew it was wrong. Before Jim can comprehend what's going on, Bruce steps closer to him, his lips covering Jim's, the kiss anything but gentle and hesitating. Jim doesn't know what's happening, his hands grasp Bruce's shirt, but he's too confused to decide whether he's pushing him away or pulling him closer, and Bruce's teeth are grazing his lips, tongue working its way into his mouth, and then Bruce pulls away, breathing harshly.
"This. This is what I was thinking," he says, voice rasp, lips swollen, and Jim can only stare at him blankly.
"I..." he starts, and stops, his mind completely cleared out of any coherent thought.
"Let yourself out," Bruce offers, and turns, leaving the room before Jim gets his voice back.
Of course, even when he finally does get his voice back, sometime around when he's pulling into his driveway back home, his thoughts are still in turmoil. He walks into the darkened house, dropping his keys in the bowl, taking off his coat. The dog, still nameless as Jimmy and Babs can't agree on a good name for him, comes to greet him, and Jim pats his head absently. Mechanically, he walks into the kitchen to make coffee, then sits on the couch, dog climbing onto his lap, curling up. They stay like this for a long while, as Jim tries to make sense of the entire thing.