Rating: NC-17 for the series, PG-13 for this part.
The car ride is almost unbearably quiet. Jim's half tempted to turn the radio on, but he can't bring himself to tear his hands away from the steering wheel, which he's gripping too tightly.
He spends half of the time with his eyes fixed on the rearview mirror instead of keeping them on the road, and so the sound of the first raindrop on the windshield comes off incredibly loud. The first drop is quickly joined by others, a steady staccato working up to a storm. He speeds up, thinking that for once, the forecasts were right, who knew.
Bruce is silent, too, more so than usual, and it's a feat, considering. His eyes follow Jim's every move, watchful, steady, disconcerting. On any other day Jim might find it... well, no. On any other day it would be just as annoying, but today, it falls on a ready layer of anger.
He stops the car as close to his doors as possible without going through the wall, and turns to look at Bruce. "Can you walk?" he asks, and gets a curt nod in response. He snorts humorlessly. "Is this the same as all 'I'm fine's?" he asks, and Bruce grimaces. Ah, an expression, at last.
"I can walk," he says, and Jim nods, then gets out of the car, and into the apartment, not looking back. He leaves the doors open and, seconds later (longer than it should take, the leg must be hurt pretty bad), Bruce staggers in, trying not to show the discomfort. Jim takes a moment to carefully close and lock the door, then get the first aid kit from the bathroom. The actions are mechanical, well practiced by now, and he doesn't have to think about what he's doing. And that's a good thing, because under the litany of swear words his mind keeps repeating, he doesn't think he has any coherent thoughts at the moment.
By the time he gets all the necessary things and comes back to the living room, Bruce has already situated himself on the couch and removed most of the suit. And on any other day this very image, Bruce's eyes still surrounded by the dark paint, his hair messed up, looking lost and weary, would ease the tight feeling in his stomach, but now he just clings to the anger, afraid something inside him may break if he doesn't.
"It's not broken," Bruce says, almost defensively, and Jim nods, setting the supplies on the coffee table and kneeling down beside the couch to have a look himself. It's already very swollen around the knee.
"You should arrange for an alibi," he offers through the gritted teeth.
"Skiing accident," Bruce says. "I'll let Alfred know. He likes planning those out."
Jim almost says something about Alfred's gleeful tendencies for planning the most elaborate scams, but he catches himself in time. Not tonight, he's not going to dismiss this one, not going to laugh about it. Bruce frowns as he's watching him, eyes following his steady work with the bandages.
He finishes, and straightens up, grimacing just a little when his knees protest. Bruce looks up, eyes fixed on Jim's face, and Jim raises his hand before Bruce can even start, before he even says Jim's name, because if he hears that now, in that tone of voice he knows is coming, soft and just on the edge of broken, he won't be able to say what he has to say. What he needs to say.
"I told you to stay out of it."
Bruce shakes his head. "No, you didn't. You said to stay out unless it was necessary to go in."
For god's sake, he's not going to argue about semantics. And also, he's pretty sure that's not what he said, actually. "Not the point, Bruce."
"What's the point, then, Jim?" There it is, a responding flash of irritation. For a reason he can't really pinpoint, he's glad of it. It'll get easier to continue, if Bruce is not looking at him confusedly, almost pleadingly.
He wills himself to keep his voice as even as possible, and mostly fails. "It was police business, Bruce. Once again. And we could have managed without you. Damn it, we probably would have." He has to believe in this. No matter how much of his hope is laid on Bruce, how much he needs to trust in him, relies on him. When he closes his eyes he can still see Nicole's scared eyes, mirror reflection of Jimmy's, and Barbara's. But he can let this go on.
"Somehow, it never bothered you before," Bruce says hotly, anger colouring his voice now.
"Before, I wasn't obliged to arrest you on sight. Before, I could help you out as much as you could help me. Before, you didn't have to worry about cops shooting you. For god's sake, Bruce, everything is different."
They're standing too close now, and Jim's hands are curled into fists, tightly, his fingernails grazing his skin. He can pretty much tell Bruce is doing the same, his breathing quick and shallow.
"Even if it is," Bruce says, and his voice sounds alien, distant, not like Bruce, and not even like Batman. It sounds resigned. "What does it matter?"
Jim's fist hits Bruce squarely on the jaw without any conscious thought behind the action. If anything, he's surprised by this himself.
Bruce steps back, his whole body tensing as he talks himself out of the instinctive response. As Jim's still staring at him, Bruce's hand goes to his jaw, fingers lightly running along the already reddened area. He seems less shocked than Jim is, his eyes closing for a second before he smiles lightly. "Long time coming, I suppose," he says.
Jim would like to smile back, step closer, apologise, or just kiss him and forget all this, but he can't. His hand hurts like hell, but it's a welcomed pain, it lets him concentrate on something else than the dull feeling threatening to overcome him. They stand still for a long moment, both unsure on how to follow up what happened. Finally, Jim's shoulders slump, and he looks away.
"Let yourself out, will you?" he says dully, and looks away, hesitates before turning and making his way to his bedroom. He expects to hear his name, expects to be called and stopped, but it doesn't come, and so he stops on his own, hand out to rest on the doorframe, steadying him. "It matters, Bruce," he says and has to push himself away from the doors to continue, his legs heavy as if he was carrying a deadweight.
He doesn't bother with changing, just slumps over to the bed, and concentrates on listening to the heavy rainfall. For once, he wishes Bruce wouldn't listen to him, but would emerge from the shadows, silently joining him in bed. It doesn't happen, and finally, the rhythmical staccato on the windowpane lulls him into sleep.
He wakes up with a dull pain in his neck, from sleeping in a wrong position. It's the bed, he thinks, he's no longer used to it.
Outside the window, the sky is clear, not marred by a single cloud. But the air is fresh, the almost unnatural heat is gone. A good thing, Jim didn't care much for it. Even the rain was preferable, at least that was a normal thing in Gotham.
Reluctantly, he gets up and pads to the kitchen, rubbing at his neck in a futile effort to work out the kinks. On his way, he pauses, and comes to a halt in the living room. Bruce is asleep on the couch, still sitting, head thrown back, his breathing calm and even. He has put on most of his suit back, just the cowl and the gloves beside him, and Jim grimaces in sympathy; he feels uncomfortable once he wakes up after falling asleep in his shirt and tie, he can't begin to imagine how it would feel with an almost full body armor.
Jim hesitates for a briefest of moments, then moves forward, putting away the cowl and the gloves, then gently starting on undoing all the clasps on the suit. By now, he has become quite efficient in that. Bruce mutters something, and his eyelids twitch, but his eyes remain closed. He really is not a morning person.
"Come on, up," Jim says, easing off the the upper part of the suit, and Bruce obeys without really waking up. He just shifts, moving closer to Jim, arm across Jim's stomach. Jim lets himself relax, close his eyes and drift off to sleep for few more moments.
It doesn't take long till he wakes up again, but somehow, these few minutes were more restful than the whole night. It might have something to do with the comforting warmth beside him, but he's not going into that train of thoughts, it's leading to mellowness, and he's definitely not doing that. Bruce shifts next to him, and Jim opens his eyes, looking down. Bruce's eyes are still unfocused under that black paint, lips parched, and there's a visible bruise on his jaw. He looks like hell, more so than ever, and yet Jim can't look away.
"Coffee?" Bruce says, voice raspy and still half-asleep, and Jim laughs, a bit too hard than is warranted, but at least it breaks the slowly setting tension.
"Morning to you too," he mutters.
Bruce nods, slowly, still watching him, and then he's moving, licking his lips before they cover Jim's, unrelenting, coaxing Jim's mouth open, and then kissing him even harder, to the point where Jim groans and shivers. Only then does Bruce move away, breathless.
"Coffee," Jim agrees, standing up, going to the kitchen to start the coffee maker. Bruce trails after him, yawning. Jim throws him a glare, then yawns by contagion. "Great, now you got me started," he mutters, reaching for the mugs, watching the coffee maker and willing it to work faster.
Bruce leans against the counter, gaze fixed on the tiles, as if they were the most fascinating thing he had ever seen. "Jim," he says quietly, and Jim turns, shaking his head.
"Don't," he warns.
Bruce rolls his eyes. "Can you for once shut up and accept the apology?"
Jim almost smiles, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly, but something twists in his stomach, and he doesn't quite manage the grin. "You don't have to..." he says halfheartedly.
"Yes, I do," Bruce sighs. "I should have known it affects you, too. And I know I've been..." the coffee maker pings, interrupting him.
"Thank god," Jim mutters, then slowly fills the coffee mugs, handing Bruce one of them. "Apology accepted, please don't continue. And for the record, I'm sorry too," he adds, gesturing to Bruce's jaw.
"Long time coming," Bruce repeats, shrugging, then takes a long, slow sip of his coffee, smiling almost happily. Jim rolls his eyes. Sometimes he really thinks he comes second to the coffee.
Well, third. There's always Gotham, of course.
"I'll have to meet with the officers who had seen you yesterday. Make sure it stays between us. I'm certain Stephens put a fear of... well, himself, into them, but I'll have to make sure they understand the situation."
"What is the situation?" Bruce asks carefully, and Jim takes a moment before answering, looking straight at him.
"Batman is innocent," he says, and raises his mug slightly to stop Bruce from saying anything. "No. I know you've waited for the next crisis, to sweep in and save the day." He pauses, but Bruce doesn't correct him. Much like he thought. "It might be easier this way. But it's been too long, Bruce. Maybe it's time for a different approach."
Bruce is silent for a long moment, then, slowly, he nods. "Alright."
on to the epilogue