Word count: 3617 for this part, 5850 for the entire story.
A/N: Second part, went in a completely different direction than I intended, but that's usually the case with those two. Hope you enjoy it anyway :)
He spends few minutes on the phone, canceling meetings and making up a terrible cold. It's been a while since he had last faked an illness... probably high school. No, it was soon after his wedding, after Barbara complained their honeymoon was too short. Now, faking his death, on the other hand... He has Stephens take over the necessary business and has his assistant postpone all the rest. He probably could go, and leave Batman alone, the man seemed to be reasonably well, but he was still reluctant to do so; not because Jim didn't trust him... well, he actually didn't trust him not to overexert himself, or not to try and leave the house despite the danger. After all, under similar circumstances, Jim would.
He then busies himself with breakfast. Which is another surreal experience, and he had been having a few as of late; making a breakfast for Batman. He could, of course, say he is making it for himself, and if Batman wants to, he can help himself to it, but Jim has never been very good at lying, even to himself.
"I'm not that fond of scrambled eggs," Batman says, leaning against the doorway, hand gently resting on his side, right under the bandage. He's wearing the clothes Jim gave him, and as predicted, looks really ridiculous with the cowl, but at least he's standing without great difficulty.
"You'll eat what you get," Jim offers wryly, and transfers the eggs onto two plates.
It gets him a small smile, and a nod, then they sit down to eat, not bothering with much conversation. Jim watches the other man covertly, judging for the true extent of the injury; the breathing is slightly shallow, as if exhaling hurt a little, and all the movements are slower, careful. Jim considers asking, but stops himself, and instead, once he's done with his food, he goes to the bathroom, finding the prescription painkillers he got the last time he had been injured enough to warrant a hospital visit; a scared kid with a knife at a corner deli, long while ago. He might have taken one or two of the pills then, the bottle is almost full.
Jim places it on the table wordlessly, and gathers the plates. He doesn't hear the telltale rattle of the pills, and bites the comment pushing onto his lips back, at least he had tried.
"You should get back to bed, lie down," he offers, keeping his tone level. He realises he is fussing, and doesn't like it much, and thinks that Batman must like it even less, but he really can't help it.
"Couch will do," is the answer, and Jim thinks that the voice is different now, a little less forced and raspy, a little more of a whisper, and while it's still unrecognizable, it's a step in a right direction, as far as he is concerned.
He nods, even though it would be so much easier if Batman could just sleep through most of the day. Except that this almost sounds like wishing for the injury to have been greater, and he's really not, this one scared him enough, thank you.
His phone perks up, and he takes a moment looking for it, finding it under a dishrag. "Gordon," he says, and smiles as Sheldon inquires about 'the mystery patient' and once more offers his assistance. He refuses, of course, carefully choosing his words, conscious of the Bat listening, not very covertly even. Jim throws him a look, and he pretends to not listen at all, with deliberate innocence studying the pictures on the side table by the coach. Jim almost laughs at that.
As he finishes the conversation on final admonitions from the doctor on the treatment of the wound and the importance of rest, Batman seems to hesitate, carefully placing the photo he was looking at back onto the table, and Jim thinks he looks almost awkward. The cowl is not helping, to be honest. "How are the kids?" he asks, and now, Jim does laugh.
The idea of Batman of all people initiating small talk is just too good, and the entire situation becomes too much. "Fine," he offers, between snorts. "They're fine."
"What is it?" Batman asks, dryly, but his eyes are clear and maybe slightly amused.
Jim gestures between them wordlessly, shaking his head, fighting to push the smile off his face. "I feel like one of us is a step away from suggesting checkers, to pass the time and relax the atmosphere," he offers, and gets a very long, indescribable look for that. "Oh, excuse me. Should I get the board?"
"Actually, I was going to suggest chess," Batman shrugs, and again it takes Jim a moment to catch on, but he really is not accustomed to Batman making jokes, not even the dry, deadpanned remarks.
"I'll get the board," he says, matter-of-factly, and Batman snorts, and doesn't comment when Jim gets back with the board, the only one in the house that has all the pieces, which happens to be Jimmy's Star Wars set, one he had left along with some other stuff, for when he visits. They arrange the pieces for the game, and Jim is slightly disappointed Batman doesn't ask why he gets the black figures; he had a good answer ready, about the voice and the suit and Vader.
He has to get his entertainment somehow, and Jimmy had made him watch the movies all too many times.
Batman plays seemingly without a plan or even a little consideration, he makes his moves immediately after Jim does, and then Jim has to think his own play for a while. But soon, it turns out that the seemingly chaotic moves were indeed carefully planned out, and Jim finds his king covering in the corner, with no real way out, even though he hadn't even lost that many pieces. He's not a stranger to loosing, Babs kicks his ass on regular basis, he's not sure who from did the kid get her smarts; and he tips his king over with a smile.
"Again?" Batman says, and even though the tone is not that different from a question, he's already setting the pieces back.
They talk during this game, however, or rather, Jim talks, and Batman offers one word responses in just the right places. Jim starts by mentioning Babs and her chess games, and it somehow goes from there, and he doesn't even notice when he starts describing his childhood street, and a bike he had when he was seven. He's not entirely sure how he got to this point, but he's even more surprised when Batman offers an actual sentence in response, rather wistfully. "I don't remember my first bike," he says, shrugging. "Alfred always tells me..." his voice fades, and only the pause, and the sudden tension in his body alerts Jim to the blunder he would have missed otherwise.
"My first bike was red," he says slowly, pointedly ignoring the elephant in the room. "It got stolen three weeks after I got it," he shrugs, and doesn't think about the name, or at least doesn't try to; it rings too familiar, and he's afraid he's close to figuring it out.
"Gordon," Batman says, and it sounds different again, and how does he do that, actually? It's an almost completely normal voice now, just a tone lower and a step away from a whisper.
Jim shakes his head. "You know, calling you Batman gets old, after a while. Not to mention, really weird. How do you feel about George?" he asks frantically, catching the closest strange thought on the surface of his mind, anything not to continue this conversation, and this might be pushing it, but they're just a step away from the point where he really doesn't want to find himself.
Or maybe he's just lying to himself, because a part of him really does want to know, had wanted from the very beginning, from that one time in his office, with the stapler. He had wanted to know then, and millions of times since. After all, how could he not, Batman was the only man he really trusted in this city, the only one who had never disappointed, who wanted the same things for the city, and who actually had a shot at achieving them. It was impossible not to wonder who that man was.
"I'm not sure. Why George?" Batman asks, as if he was deciding to indulge Jim in this, watching him carefully for any tells written on his face.
"Why not?" he shrugs. "I'm not that good at picking names," he offers, smiling. "Or not very imaginative, at least. My kids, for example." Well, actually, Jimmy was Barbara's idea, and he thought it good enough to continue when Babs was born. Granted, it got confusing at the family reunions, but he wasn't going to those anymore now.
"I don't think I like George," Batman muses, and for god's sake, his voice is completely clear now, not a rasp, not a growl, not a whisper, and he must know what he's doing, the man doesn't make mistakes like this.
Well, fine, apart from the little bit of information slipping out, few moments ago, but Jim has to wonder whether it really was unplanned and unwanted, or maybe he's supposed to be piecing this thing together. The name sounded familiar, a distant memory, perhaps, and he has that irritating sensation of knowing something he can't name as of yet, that word on the tip of your tongue feeling.
"I think your bandages need changing," he offers and stands up to get the first aid kit from the bathroom. Probably not a necessity at this point, but anything would be better than this line of conversation, or the line of thoughts it leads to. Thankfully, Batman doesn't protest, just pushes the board to the side, making room on the coffee table, and Jim sits on it as he helps him push the shirt up, after a brief hesitation pulling it off completely, to get it out of the way.
It's not bad, even given Jim's limited expertise with stitching people up, the obligatory first aid training didn't cover that part. He makes a mental note for making up for this, and hopefully extending the courses for his officers, funds permitting. This means more paperwork, obviously, and he'll have to play nice with the brass, but it just might be worth in.
He looks up at Batman's slightly hastened breathing. "Does it hurt?" he asks, pulling his hand back, but Batman shakes his head.
"No, it's fine." There's something in his tone that keeps Jim back from asking anything more, and he just sets back to the task.
"All done," he says, after a moment, and hesitates before pulling away. "Do you..." he starts, and stops, unsure.
"I am suddenly quite hungry," Batman says, a little too fast, and Jim nods. He's apparently not the only one wanting to steer clear of some topics, and he can grant that, certainly hoping for the same courtesy in return.
"Considering the abysmal lack of food in my fridge, I suggest take-out," Jim says, shrugging. He had been meaning to go grocery shopping for the last few days, but never quite got around to it, and the eggs for breakfast were just about the last edible thing in the house. Apart from some cocoa and cornflakes, both probably stale by now. "Chinese fine with you? There's a rather decent place close by that delivers."
So, they're back to monosyllabic answers, Jim thinks, oddly disappointed. After all, this is what he wanted, isn't it, the return to the status quo. Now with more shared Chinese takeout, of course, but still.
He goes to make the call, and simply doubles his usual order, he's not quite up to inquiring about Batman's preferences for Mu Shu pork, or whatnot. In the meantime, waiting for the delivery, he tidies up the contents of the kit, and replaces it in the bathroom cabinet, spending a longer moment rearranging things there, not that eager to get back to the awkwardness of the living room. When he does, Batman is once again wearing the t-shirt, still looking incredibly out of place in that attire, but this time Jim doesn't feel like smiling.
"At least it's late November," he mutters, and Batman turns to him abruptly, as if pulled out from his thoughts. Jim shrugs. "It'll be dark enough for you to slip out soon. If it was July, you'd be stuck with me at least till ten."
Batman shrugs. "I wasn't complaining," he says, and, a curious thing, it sounds both honest and completely fake at the same time. It's followed by a sigh, and a brief glance towards the windows, where the sky is already graying, typical of a November afternoon. "Jim," he starts, looking back at him, and the doorbell interrupts him, causing his lips to settle into a tight line of annoyance.
"I'll get that," Jim says, redundantly, probably. Not like the Batman was going to go and open the door. Although, if he did, Jim would pay a lot of money to see the look on the face of the smug teen making the deliveries.
They set the cartons on the coffee table, and Jim gets the utensils, as they forgot about the plastic forks, as they always do, and he has never quite mastered the chopsticks and is not about to start trying to. Barbara had once made him the chopsticks-for-beginners set, with a piece of paper and a hair scrunchie, but that was a while ago, and really, he does prefer the good old fork. So does Batman, apparently, if the brief look he gives the chopsticks before pushing them away is any indication.
"Are you going to be fine with getting back to..." Jim gestures vaguely, unsure if 'home' would be the right word.
"So eager to get rid of me already?" Batman asks, and Jim just rolls his eyes, this time he can hear the slightly teasing tone, and as much as he is still a little bit freaked out by this new approach, he's not going to buy into it.
"You know what I mean. And yes, clearly, I am," he adds wryly, and Batman smiles briefly.
"I have... made arrangements," he offers, and Jim can tell he had changed the sentence right there in the middle, and he's again not sure whether he's grateful for the lack of details, or slightly disappointed. The entire day is starting to become pretty tiresome, and he's no longer so sure he doesn't want to just ask already, and be done with it.
"That's good," is all he says, and finishes the last eggroll, before gathering the empty boxes and placing them in the trash can. Batman nods, and glances around, as if in search of something.
"You mind if I put on the news?" he asks, and Gordon laughs, Batman asking if he could watch his tv being one more surreal thing about the entire day, and then he stops abruptly, staring. What surprises him the most, is that it doesn't come as shock, more like something he recalled than something he had just figured out. It's so obvious, he can't imagine how come he hadn't seen it before.
"I thought you didn't watch a whole lot of news," he says, and his voice sounds foreign to his own ears, as if coming from far away.
Batman... Bruce looks at him for a long moment, silence stretching between them for what seems to be close to eternity. "I don't," he says, shrugging. "I have other sources."
Of course he does. Jim nods, and for another long moment just stands there, halfway between the kitchen and the living room, unsure. Finally, he just takes two steps forward and sits on the armrest of the armchair, still silent. It's not less awkward then before, but the tension is gone, and he just feels tired. The room is darkened now, the sky outside going slowly from gray to black, clouds obscuring the view of the very few stars that could sometimes be seen from within the city limits.
"Would you mind if I at least took it off?" Bruce says, hand rising to the cowl. Jim nods; whole night and day in it, can't be comfortable. Bruce's hair is tousled, black paint smeared around the eyes had washed down the cheeks, leaving smudges. He looks about as tired as Jim feels, maybe even more. He looks up at Jim, and it's almost not fair, not when Jim still feels slightly resentful at being forced into figuring it out, to have that look be equally weary and hopeful, and almost pleading.
"I really didn't want to know," he offers, half-sighing, and as he says that, he realises that the annoyance is gone, which is quite unfortunate, he was looking forward to saying something angry, let out the entire day's worked up irritation. "At least it makes things easier, doesn't it?" he mutters. Bruce gives him a searching look, and Jim forces a smile. "Apart from all the other things, you can just walk out of here now. Bruce Wayne coming out of my house may get some raised eyebrows from the neighbours, but no one will call the police thinking you have just murdered me."
Bruce nods, standing up. "Good point," he says, his expression changing, a smile called up, one of those Jim had seen before, in newspapers and on tv, and he might not have noticed this before, but it's more fake and forced than Batman's gravelly rasp.
Just as Bruce is starting to head towards the bedroom, presumably to get the suit and have it packed up somehow, Jim stands up and extends his hand to stop him, and almost automatically his fingers tighten on Bruce's arm. "You know I didn't mean it like this."
Bruce glances down at Jim's hand, and there's a just a brief moment of hesitation, before he looks back up. "You still might," he says quietly, before he's moving forward, and everything slows down, and it seems like eternity before his lips touch Jim's, and Jim has all the time he needs to pull back, and he should do so. He doesn't.
In fact, he does the exact opposite of the smart thing to do, and grasps Bruce's arm harder, raising his other hand on the back of Bruce's neck, pulling him closer, all thoughts he might have had going out the window.
And this must be the day for revelations, because just then he knows that this might have been a part of the reason he was so desperate to remain oblivious, because knowing that Batman was human underneath the suit was one thing, but knowing the man behind the symbol, having him standing before Jim like this, trusting him enough to reveal all... And for heaven's sake, he had needed this man before he had even met him, and it only takes one step to cross from a need that deep into a desire.
Bruce pulls away, for the briefest of moments, and Jim can feel his breath still on his lips. "I still don't mean it like this," he mutters, just for the record, and Bruce shakes his head gently, smiling, and this time it actually looks real.
"I've figured that much," he says, his fingers edging the line of Jim's collar, slowly working the top buttons undone as his lips move almost against Jim's, just a ghost of a kiss now, leaving Jim aching for more. He stops himself from leaning into Bruce, trying to calm his breathing down as he lays his hand flat on Bruce's chest, steadying them both.
"I'm sorry," Bruce mutters quickly, worried again. "Am I..."
Jim shakes his head. "I don't think it's a good idea now," he says, and almost shivers at the quick flicker of expression on Bruce's face, not a mere disappointment, but an almost physical hurt, and all the other pieces fall into place, starting with Rachel Dawes. He swallows, and shakes his head. "Not with your injuries, Bruce. I'm not going to sew you up again after you pull your stitches."
Bruce nods, his whole body relaxing, and the almost palpable physical relief is as hard to see as the disappointment was. For the first time Jim knows that the desperate need is not just on his side, that this is less for him and more for Bruce now, it should have been from the start.
"Doesn't mean I'm kicking you out just yet," he continues, trying his best to sound casual. "In fact, I think that with those injuries, you shouldn't really go anywhere just yet."
"You'll get no argument from me," Bruce says, smiling, and Jim shakes his head again, holding back his own smile.
"Really? That's a first."