Word count: 4669.
A/N: The last time Jim had seen Batman, the vigilante was fleeing the scene at the 52nd Street. That was twenty-seven days, and about three hours ago. Not that he's counting.
The last time Jim had seen Batman, the vigilante was fleeing the scene at the 52nd Street. That was twenty-seven days, and about three hours ago. Not that he's counting.
It's not only him, of course, the entire city hadn't seen even a pointy-eared shadow for that entire time, no matter what some calls claim, the witnesses who had sworn to have seen the Bat are in best cases unreliable, in worst, absolutely insane. Some conspiracy theorists say that he had never existed in the first place, some say he really was Harvey Dent, and the police is covering it up, some people claim he had left the city for good and is on the run. There are times, usually around four in the morning, when the hope is wearing thin, when Jim thinks this might be the case, but this won't explain the mysterious breaks in some cases they had in the last few weeks, evidence just turning up, anonymous tip-offs and, on one memorable occasion, a mob leader just walking into a door while making his escape.
No, someone is still watching over them, albeit now it's really from afar.
Jim sighs, walking into his dark house. There's no point in waiting on the porch anymore, and he had stopped coming up onto the roof, after two weeks guy gets the hint. Besides, no one had volunteered to clean up the broken floodlight, and Jim doesn't have the heart to order it, and so it stays there, greatly depressing. Of course, not as depressing as the empty house he's just walking into, but at least one of those he can avoid.
His new secretary would tell you he's doing a great job on avoiding going home as well, but he chooses to ignore her. Considering some of her remarks, it's the only healthy thing to do.
He feels around for the life switch, and closes the door behind him, automatically locking it. Not that the cheap lock would stop anyone, but it's a reflex, an old time habit. He drops his keys into the bowl on the table, a wedding present from some aunt of Barbara's, a really ugly thing with elephants painted on the side. Coat on the hanger, his holster next to it, and his gun taken out, carried to the bedroom, into the locked box the kids wouldn't be able to each. The kids are, of course, with Barbara in Chicago, but he still does it every evening. There's some comfort in routines.
Jim sets the coffee maker on, and reaches for the pile of letters left on the table. Barbara used to be the one dealing with all this, the bills, the ads, and the postcards from friends and family. Now, with the Christmas nearing, he gets a number of these, most of them addressed to the entire family, with notes to Barbara and the kids.
He frowns at one of the envelopes, strange kind of paper and silk lettering, and rips it open, his eyes scanning the print, and he sighs. Bruce Wayne is apparently not giving up easily, it's the third invitation to an event hosted by Gotham's favourite billionaire in the last month, and so far Jim had found good excuses, but they're wearing thin, and at some point, he'd have to actually go to one of those. Especially since the Mayor had started to hint at this on their last meeting, saying that being in charge of Gotham's PD means playing in the big game, and honestly, Jim didn't sign up for this.
Curiously, this invitation, which after close inspection Jim discovers to be for a Christmas Eve charity ball, doesn't mention a plus one, which all the previous ones did. Maybe whoever is sending those for Mr Wayne had done their research. He supposed he'd have to go, as much as he will hate having to mingle and make small talk with people he doesn't know, or doesn't like, for the entire evening. Maybe, just maybe, this will help him forget about the fact that this year, the kids stay at their Grandparents' for Christmas.
"You're welcome to come, too," Barbara had said, two days ago on their regular evening phonecall, after he had listened to Babs' stories of the science fair she's preparing for, and answered all Jimmy's questions about Batman. Jimmy had been greatly disappointed for the lack of contact, and to be honest, Jim is as well.
He doesn't think he'll go. He pretends there are too many things to do, with his new job, with all the fallout from the Joker, and all that followed, but to be honest, he can't leave Gotham, and fears that if he goes to Chicago, to his kids, he might not want to come back.
Of course, he's not lying entirely, just lying by omission. There really is a lot to do.
Two days after Harvey Dent's funeral he had invited Stephens to his office, the one at the MCU, because he'd be damned if he takes the one in the City Hall, it doesn't look a thing like a cop's office, and besides, it had been proven to be easily infiltrated. After closing the doors, inviting Stephens to sit down, and patiently bearing all the cracks about the promotion, Jim pushed the files towards him.
"You're taking over the Batman task force tomorrow," he offered, and Stephens blinked few times, before reaching to look into the folders, with some satisfaction on his face.
"We're going to get the bastard," he said, after a moment, an assurance and a promise, and Jim shook his head.
"No. You're not," he muttered, and proceeded to explain everything, Dent, Batman, the whole deception. At first he just got a disbelieving look, and a 'you have got to be kidding me'; he had expected that. He looked him straight in the eye, and shrugged. "I think I know who threatened my family, Sam."
That had been the end of that briefing, and since then, the task force hadn't reported any meaningful progress. They had some leads, from what Jim had heard, but nothing substantial. And, he supposed, this was how it would stay.
He sighs, and puts the pile of mail back on the counter, the invitation glistening on top. He'll have to go, he knows. Maybe if he does he can talk himself out of the next three, no matter how persistent Mr Wayne, of whoever sends his invitations, is.
He had met Bruce Wayne all grand three times. He doesn't think the man would remember any of those, but the Waynes are enough of Gotham's royalty for the meetings to have made some impression on Jim. The first one especially, he still remembers the haunted eyes on that kid, the look all gone by the time of their second meeting, when by some stroke of luck and the universe's general irony Wayne's reckless driving saved lives.
The third meeting, just last week, was a little strange, Jim thinks, not exactly what he had expected. It was right before his weekly meeting with the Mayor, he had been waiting outside, for Garcia to 'finish a very important emergency meeting', according to his assistant, which turned out to be with Bruce Wayne, and Jim had no idea how that constituted an emergency, but considering the upcoming elections and the amount of funds Wayne had at his disposal, made sense.
As Wayne exited, Garcia walking him to the door and outside, Jim stood up, and nodded at both men, and much to his surprise, Wayne stopped in his tracks, smiling widely.
"Commissioner Gordon," he said, nodding. "How are you? I'm sorry I missed you at the fundraiser last week, the place was so crowded."
Gordon tugged at his sleeve nervously. "I hadn't been able to attend, unfortunately."
Wayne nodded, and for a brief moment, Jim thought he looked like he already knew that, which was, by his own words before, quite impossible. "Of course, I can imagine you have been very busy, what with the new job and all," he waved his hand, as if to encompass all the duties of a newly appointed police commissioner. "I hope we'll make up for it some other time. There's always the Christmas party," he grinned, glancing at Garcia, getting a smile and an assurance of the Mayor's presence, and then both of them had looked at Jim, who really, really hated being put on a spot like that.
"I hope the criminals will allow me for the night off," he said finally, knowing an answer was expected from him, but refusing to commit to any party he could have a reasonable hope to avoid.
And that was the strangest moment, Jim thought later, when Bruce Wayne's face, for a very short moment, reflected amusement and understanding, but the expression was gone as soon as it appeared, and there was a good chance Jim had imagined it in the first place. Why would he imagine such a thing remained a mystery, but he had been very tired lately, hallucinations weren't a complete impossibility.
Wayne was soon gone, and Jim hadn't thought about it much, but now the invitation pushed it to the front of his mind, but he still hadn't figured out that look. Not that it mattered, but it was still a puzzle, and he's mildly intrigued.
Which may be why he does accept the invitation, and five days later is wearing a rental tux that doesn't fit well in the collar, a little bit too tight, and he can't help but tug irritatingly at his bowtie as he counts the minutes to when it would be polite to get the hell out of the manor.
Barbara had always laughed at his complete inability to relax while in any kind of formal wear. She joked that all her family present at the wedding thought he was going to bolt at some point, while all he really wanted was to take off that blasted tie. He doesn't mind regular ties, they have their purpose, but anything that requires him to consult a damn guidebook before tying it, he isn't going to be happy about wearing.
"It's not that bad," a voice says behind him, and of course, just his luck, it's Wayne, swiftly snatching two champagne glasses from the passing waiter, and pushing one into Jim's hand before he can even protest.
"What?" Jim asks, and doesn't even bother with trying to cover up the rude response, he's not best known for his social graces, why should he care? Except for Garcia's admonishments of playing the political game, of course.
"The party. Granted, I hosted some that were more exciting, but sometimes all the excitement gets a little too much, you know?"
Jim looks at him for a moment, searching, because the comment seems almost too innocent, too clueless, and with some surprise, underneath a perfectly honest smile, he finds Bruce Wayne looking back at him kindly, with a certain expectation, for what, Jim has no idea, but it's another piece of the puzzle, not making the image any clearer.
"I can imagine all the social events must keep you very busy, Mr Wayne," Jim agrees, aiming his tone at casual, and watching the reaction. And if he wasn't, he probably would have missed the brief flash of humour, and the fraction of a second when the smile was real and pleased.
"They certainly do. And it's Bruce," he offers, long index finger rising from the hold on the champagne glass and tracing a small circle in the air, a curious gesture of invitation. Jim nods, holding back a smirk.
"Of course, Mr Wayne."
Wayne laughs, as if delighted, and Jim frowns at him, because again, something doesn't quite click, and billionaire playboys don't spend time making small talk with police commissioners, standing a few inches too close for a casual conversation. He wonders briefly whether Wayne has some angle here, but all he can come up with in connection to police business are speeding tickets, and that surely wouldn't need his assistance, and Wayne can more than afford them.
"Excuse me, Master Bruce, there is a call waiting for you in the study," an older man appears to Wayne's right, a picture of politeness, but he glances between Jim and Wayne searchingly.
"Of course, thank you, Alfred," Wayne says, nodding, and Alfred disappears in the crowd of suits and dresses. Wayne sighs. "Excuse me, commissioner, apparently it's important." There is a real reluctance in his voice, and for a second it seems like he wants to add something, but rethinks. "Do try to enjoy yourself, it's a party," he says instead, and Jim can't help a small laugh, watching him walk away.
He doesn't enjoy himself, as he is quickly intercepted by Garcia, who makes a point of introducing him to all the important people, which means all of his campaign's benefactors. Bruce Wayne doesn't reappear for the next two hours, which is the length of time Jim feels appropriate to spend making small talk before he excuses himself. And he won't admit he's slightly disappointed by the absence of their host.
The snow starts falling heavily as he drives home, quickly covering the city, making it look almost peaceful, if one didn't know better. Jim sighs, taking a turn into his street, apparently they are to have white Christmas, a first one in the last four years. The kids would be delighted.
He locks the door behind him, and hangs his coat, reaching to tug off the bowtie completely, after having loosened it on the way over.
The house is dark and silent, of course, but somehow, it's different. Jim really wishes he had a security of having his gun on him, but it's locked in the night stand's drawer. And yet, the feeling is not a bad one, almost a familiar one, and he wonders briefly, if maybe... but no, he doesn't hope anymore.
Two days after the last time he had seen Batman, and two hours after he had stood in front of what looked like the entire Gotham gathered at Harvey Dent's memorial service, and lied through his teeth, he got into his office, boxes of files sent over from the City Hall still unpacked and taking over most of the floor, the requested file cabinets still not delivered, and his desk gone, because apparently he was to get a new one, which still puzzled him.
Nothing seemed out of place, even in the general mess, but Jim had an already familiar feeling of not being alone, being carefully watched, even if there was no one else in the room, and the shadows were just that, shadows. He looked around, and found it, a thick manilla folder, just like all the other ones covering every available surface in the office, but this one was filled with highly valuable data on all the mob lieutenants still remaining at large, all those who could be expected to busy themselves with trying to pick up the pieces and reorganise the criminal forces.
This had been the last time he was sure of Batman's continuing presence, of his commitment to the cause. He still thinks all the mysterious lucky breaks his detectives had lately have something to do with the man, but he's no longer certain. It's hard to keep faith in Gotham, especially when the focus of it is more absent with each day.
But now, the shadows are more substantial, and Jim swallows nervously, hand hovering over the light switch, not turning it on. "Are you there?" he asks, a rather silly question, he knows, but he's more concentrated on keeping his voice even than on what he's saying.
For an almost too long a moment there's no answer, and Jim half turns to make his way to his bedroom, when the slightest shift of material, and a breath let out tells him he wasn't mistaken after all.
"Gordon," Batman says in a manner of greeting, stepping out from the darkest shadows by the window's curtain.
Jim nods, and lets his hand fall away from the light switch. "I take this isn't a social call," he says, and the pause before Batman answers makes him raise his eyebrows in wonder.
"Your men had been looking for some leverage on Gregory," he says, not asks. "This might help," he says, a slight move of his head indicating an envelope on the coffee table.
Few months ago, this would be a cue for Jim to move to pick it up, and when he looked back up, almost certainly, Batman would be gone. Now, he just keeps his gaze fixed on the man, searching what little is visible of his face. The suit has changed again, he thinks, or was just repainted, the blackness is non-descript, probably even better for hiding in the shadows now. The man himself looks very much the same, determined, focused, but somehow, judging from the slight slump in his shoulders, the tight set of his jaw, he seems more weary than ever.
Jim thinks of how alone he had felt in the last few weeks, and wonders, how much worse it was for Batman, with everyone in the city he had set to protect thinking him a criminal and a murderer.
Well, almost everyone.
"Coffee?" he asks casually, as if he was having masked vigilantes in his living room every other evening. The complete silence that accompanies him into the kitchen, as he sets the coffee maker on, and takes out the cups from the cupboard might mean that the Batman had disappeared in his typical fashion, but after a while Jim senses his presence, the already familiar tingling of his skin when he's being watched, all his actions and words carefully assessed and considered.
"No sugar," the Bat says, his rasp almost amused, and Jim smirks. As surreal situations go, this is an excellent one.
He thinks back to last year, a similar time, maybe a little earlier before Christmas, and before Dent, before Joker got really started, before the whole insanity. He came up to the roof to turn on the floodlight, not really expecting a response; the city had been pretty quiet at the time, for Gotham at least, but Batman could easily find something to do on a nightly basis. But Jim knew the point was to keep the light on, to remind everyone that someone was watchful. And pretty much every other night found him there, with a cup of coffee slowly going lukewarm.
But that night the Bat did show up, landing on the rooftop from a swooping flight, and Jim still was wondering how'd he did that.
"Busy night?" Jim asked, and Batman offered a gesture slight enough that only a long consideration could identify it as a shrug.
"Every night is," came a curt answer, and this was what probably stood for small talk in Batman's world. "I have been looking into Maroni's dealings."
Jim straightened up, all amusement forgotten. "Are you certain he's taken over?"
"No doubt. I'll keep you posted," he offered, then hesitated, instead of just disappearing as was his wont. "You don't have to wait here every night. I know where to find you."
Jim smiled slightly then, and shook his head. If that was anyone else, not Batman, he would have taken this for concern. "I remember the stapler, yes," he said, and watched the complete lack of reaction that had to be carefully acted out. And just beyond it, a slightest hint of amusement. He shrugged, and tapped the edge of the light. "It's not for you."
That earned him a long look, and, finally, the tight set of Batman's mouth easing a little, in not quite a smile, but not in a grim visage either, and Batman looked up at the sign in the sky, nodding. Jim followed his gaze, into the dark clouds, and light pattern against them. "I don't suppose you have any plans..." he stopped, realising he had been talking to an empty space, and laughed lightly. Typical.
It had been like this before, and ever since, Batman disappearing in a middle of Jim's sentence, no warning, never a goodbye, but this was the first time when he had seen him as something else than a symbol and an ally in the almost hopeless fight, the first time Batman seemed human.
Jim places two cups on the table, and purposefully pushes the one with the Japanese cat Babs seems to be obsessed with towards Batman. It had been a long day, and he had been forced to attend a party; he'll take any amusement he can get. To his credit, Batman doesn't react in any way, which all in itself is pretty fantastic.
"Any plans for Christmas?" Batman asks, and Jim can't help it, he has to laugh, covering his mouth with his hand, trying to keep it down, because this, this is as good as it gets. He did want some sort of a non-shop conversation, after all, didn't he? He looks up, and catches it, a small smile on Batman's lips.
"You know, this will probably sound really strange," he mutters, taking a sip of his coffee, "but I think I missed you."
The silence is almost deafening, and he really wishes he hadn't said that. His fingers tighten on the coffee cup, and he swirls it around, briefly hoping that when he looks up, the Bat will be gone, and the conversation forgotten.
"Jim..." Batman says, and Jim startles, the voice is so unfamiliar, and yet somehow, he is pretty sure he had heard it before, and he doesn't mean all the times it had been covered with the rasp. "I..." he doesn't finish, and Jim is infinitely glad for that, he fears of what he could hear, how unprepared he is for that, they both are.
"Don't say it," he mutters, looking away, at the chink in the cup he's holding. "Or I might have to go get my stapler," he adds, and it's one of the lamest jokes he had ever made, and probably over a year old, but he had never been famed for his sense of humour anyway.
He doesn't even notice when Batman moves, pulling Jim to his feet, and then pushing him backwards, Jim's hip hitting the edge of the cupboard rather painfully, but he doesn't care at all, not with Batman's mouth on his, hungry and unrelenting, and there's not even a moment of hesitation on his part, he's too busy responding, his hand edging up Batman's arm, the rough surface of the suit under his fingertips.
Two days ago, and an even thirty days since he had seen Batman fleeing the scene at 52nd Street, Stephens had dropped a piece of evidence on Jim's desk, one not properly signed on and having nothing to do with the chain of custody, a metal bat-shaped dart found on a crime scene and promptly pocketed, before anyone else noticed it. Jim had nodded his thanks, and was about to put it in his desk drawer, before he hesitated, held it in his hand for a moment too long, a bit too hard, edges digging into his palm and fingers, leaving red lines behind.
Now he pulls away, breathing harshly, and gently traces the sign on Batman's chest.
"Jim," Batman says again, and Jim nods, slowly, suddenly perfectly aware of what's going to happen next, and finally not afraid of it. He nods again, and shifts, pulling Batman with him, leading the way to the bedroom, because he'd be damned if something this important happens in the kitchen next to half empty Hello Kitty mug.
He doesn't turn the light on, the street light outside is bright enough for it not to be completely dark, he can see the outline of Batman's cowl, and soon enough, his eyes will get used to the shadows, even with his sorry eyesight.
"You don't have to..." he says, halfheartedly, he's fully aware this is happening, and he has no particular wish to stop it, but he also knows this is going to be irreversible, and there has to be a fair warning.
"Yes, I do," Batman says, and reaches to undo some clasps on his neck, easing the cowl off, and even before it rises past his eyes, Jim knows. He should have guessed before, but after all, he never really tried to guess. "I think I need this," Bruce adds, and Jim nods, reaching to take the cowl out of his hands, then throws it away onto the bed, his fingers brushing Bruce's hair away from his sweaty forehead, out of the darkened eyes.
Jim smiles softly. "You know, you didn't have to go to all the lengths of the party invites," he mutters quietly, his hand resting on the back of Bruce's neck, fingers tangled in the dampened hair there.
"I wasn't sure..." Bruce says, then shrugs, leaning in to kiss Jim lightly, pulling him closer. He closes his eyes, and rests his forehead against Jim's. "I didn't think it would be this hard."
"I'll reassign the task force," Jim offers quietly. "It's the high time to clear Batman's name."
Bruce shakes his head. "Not tonight. Tonight isn't about..." he pauses, and moves back, and Jim starts to protest but then realises that Bruce is taking off his gloves, dropping them to the floor, long fingers incredibly pale against the rest of the suit. Jim reaches out, clumsily working out the clasps and fastenings, and the pieces and plates slowly follow, taken off. The numbers on his alarm clock switch to two am, and he's about to make a Christmas Day and gift unwrapping joke, but the words never make it past his throat, as Bruce pushes him onto the bed, one of his knees bending gracefully as he half-kneels above Jim.
"Bruce," is all he can say as his head hits the covers, mouth trailing down his neck, slow, and warm, and wet, and if he ever had thought of this, and he's not admitting to anything, but he won't lie if asked, he had imagined it rough, not soft, and desperate, not tender, but he greatly prefers it this way.
When he pulls away, Bruce is smiling, real and open, and the mask is gone, not the cowl, the one he had worn at the party, the one he had worn before, all the times Jim had met him but the first. "This may sound strange," he says softly, and Jim thinks he might be laughing, "but I think I missed you."
"Come here," Jim says, fingers tangling in the soft cloth of Bruce's undershirt, pulling him close, rolling them both to the side, granting himself a much better access to Bruce's lips, biting gently on the lower one, reveling in the answering moan.
He knows he's smiling through the kiss. It's been about three minutes since he had last seen Batman. He doesn't miss him all that much.