Rating: PG-13 for now.
Word count: 2246 for this part.
At five to seven, Jim starts to nervously look up the stairs. Babs had never been prone to spending hours in the bathroom, getting ready, but it's a Homecoming dance, and he had been warned, by Bruce (who is still not off the hook for the dress thing), and by Montoya. In a few minutes, Steve will arrive, and as much as Jim... well, doesn't hate him actively, he's not looking forward to the awkward time spent waiting for Babs to descend down the stairs.
It was made worse by the fact that Jimmy had gone on a three-day school trip, and wouldn't be back till Sunday, and Bruce had 'prior commitments' spoken in that certain way that meant it was Bat business that Jim was going to learn about at some point but not yet. So it was going to be just Jim, and Steve, waiting for Babs, and honestly, not his favourite Friday night pastime.
At three to seven, he yells to Babs, asking if she's ready yet, and she takes a dignified moment before yelling back that no, not yet, but in a three hours or so she should be.
He's not sure whom after she takes the sense of humour, but he doesn't like it, not one bit.
He's just about to tell her so, when his phone rings, and he has to fight with Biscuit for a moment, who's lying across his knees, unwilling to move even an inch. "Gordon," he says, answering after the fourth ring, and Montoya's answering voice is breathless and worried, immediately sending his thoughts into overdrive.
"We had a bit of a situation, boss, I thought you should know..." she starts, and her reluctance to get to the point, the hesitation, is making him even more worried.
"Renee, what is it?" he asks tersely, and maybe the use of her given name carries the point across.
"Batman," she says matter-of-factly. "He was in the building during the explosion, we don't know if he got out."
He's not sure how he gets through the rest of the conversation, everything is lost in the ringing in his ears, but he asks questions, and gets some answers, but not the words he wants to hear. The moment he disconnects, his fingers are already choosing the speed dial number, without any conscious thought, but there's no answer either, just the dial tone, loud and terrifying.
One more number to call before he starts to panic, and Alfred picks up after just a few seconds, thank god. "He's alive," is the first thing he says, and Jim breathes out, long and slow, and almost chokes on the relief.
"How is he?" he asks, and there's a short pause before Alfred answers, and it's not a good sign.
"I don't know yet," he admits, and before Jim can say anything, hastens to explain. "I'm on my way to pick him up. But he sounded lucid enough. I wouldn't worry that much, Master Gordon."
"Not well enough to get back himself," he points out, and when Alfred doesn't answer for a very long moment this time, it doesn't feel like much of a victory, to find the flaw in the reasoning. "I'm on my way to the Manor, I'll meet you there. Call me the moment you know, especially if you decide that a hospital visit might be necessary."
He's not fooling himself, Bruce is going to fight the hospital idea unless it's really life-threatening. Alfred probably knows that too, better than Jim does, but he just responds in affirmative and disconnects.
He steps over Biscuit, who's looking at him mournfully, and yells for Babs to come down. Something in his voice must have got to her, because this time, there's no protest, and no smartass answer, she's down in a few seconds, in her pretty dark blue dress, her hair still tangled in a few curlers she must have been just taking out.
"Dad?" she asks, worried, and he tries his best to school his expression down, not bother her further. He's probably not succeeding very well, because she makes the last few steps down, looking up at him. "What's going on?"
"I need to leave for a while," he says, shrugging, and she gives him a look that is so very much like her mother when she was calling his bullshit.
He shrugs again, best nonchalant expression he can call up, which is not good at all, but he tries anyway. "Montoya called, there's... something I need to check."
"It's Batman, isn't it?" she asks, and he's surprised by the resentment in her voice, the barely contained irritation. This is so like her mother, too, but it's more surprising, Barbara had more reasons than Babs has, he thinks. But as with Barbara, he's not going to lie, even though his first impulse is to deny. He just nods. "Why do you care so much?" she asks next, her voice shaking, and what can he tell her, what can he say to that?
It's not exactly what she expected of the night of the dance, but the moment she sees Dad's face she knows something had went terribly wrong, and it takes her just a moment to figure out what. It's always the same, and she wonders why is Batman so important, why is Dad so ready to drop everything at the first sign of...
And then it feels a little like slipping on the ice, world spinning out of control, out of focus. Dad's face is all tense lines and frown, and panic, and his hands are curled into fists, and he's so worried, as worried as she had ever seen him, and she had seen him panicked and out of his mind with worry, even if he had tried to hide it.
"He's..." she says, and her voice sounds strange even to her. "Oh my god," she covers her mouth, her breathing fast against her fingers. She wishes so hard Dad would ask what she means, and then deny it with stunned disbelief in what she could have come up with, such a ridiculous thing... he doesn't say anything.
She feels anger rolling up into a tight ball in her stomach, hot and heavy, and frustrated tears press against her eyelids as she closes her eyes for a moment, letting her hands fall. She didn't know, they should have told her. They should have... She wants to yell, and throws something, and run upstairs and shut the door behind her with the greatest force she can muster.
The doorbell rings, interrupting the influx of contradictory impulses, and she looks up sharply, then starts tugging at the curlers in her hair, removing them all haphazardly, leaving the hair messy as they are. "Wait," she tells Dad and walks up to the door, opening them. "Hey," she says to Steve, blinking back the rest of the tears. "God, I'm so sorry, but we have just learned of something... family emergency," she explains, shrugging. "I would be a poor company for tonight anyway."
He assures her he understands, and she really, really hopes he does, and her resolve wavers just a little when he tells her to call him if she needs to talk to someone, and kisses her cheek before leaving her holding the corsage he pressed into her hand.
As she closes the doors and leans against them, breathing out, she looks at Dad, some of the anger surfacing, like a weak wave, but the most important thing at the moment is his worry, not her anger. "What's with..." she wills herself to continue, not to stumble over the name, but the hesitation makes her pause momentarily, "Bruce?"
Dad sighs, resigned, as if he wasn't sure before how much she knew, and still hoped she hadn't figured it out. "I don't know. Montoya said there was an explosion, Alfred is supposed to call me when he knows..."
"Alfred knows?" she asks, and then almost rolls her eyes at herself. Of course he knows, of course. Everyone does, apparently.
"Yes," Dad says quietly, barely above a whisper. "Babs, I..." he starts, visibly struggling with words. "I didn't want you to find out like that."
She doesn't ask how did he want her to find out, just nods. "Let's go," she offers, and feels slightly guilty at the satisfaction she feels at surprising him. Not very guilty, though. "Hospital?"
"The Manor," he offers, looking at her searchingly, and coming to a decision; she supposed it was to postpone the inevitable conversation. "Come on, then," it sounds resigned, and final, and it is for a while, as they stay silent all the way to the car, and a long while afterwards, the city darkening around them as they drive to the Manor.
Dad's phone rings, and he switches it open quickly, almost barking his name into the receiver, and she watches as his grip of his hand on the wheel first tightens, and then relaxes in some relief, but his face remains tense and worried. "We're on our way," he says, and at the inevitable question follows, and Dad's mouth work for a moment around the answer. "Barbara is with me. We'll be there soon," he says finally, and apparently the 'no-further-questions' tone works on Alfred, as the conversation ends quickly.
She looks out at the moving shadows, resting her forehead against the glass. She's not really angry anymore, she feels like all the air is gone, and the hot feeling has subsided, leaving her a little bit cold. "What were you going to tell me? Us?" she corrects herself, not looking at Dad, her eyes half-closed as the tears threaten to come back, and her voice threatens to break. She doesn't want to cry now, doesn't want to act childish. "If... when, Batman got killed. What were you going to tell us about Bruce?"
And great, she is crying now. She dabs at her eyes, and the mascara probably makes her look like a panda, or worse. Through the haze, she sees Dad hold the wheel tighter, his fingers whitening.
"I don't know. I hadn't thought about it," he says, and he's lying, and honestly, if he's that bad at it, she should have seen through the entire Batman thing a lot sooner. If only it wasn't so improbable, so ridiculous.
They get to the Manor soon after this, and Dad makes his way inside, throwing her one worried glance over his shoulder. When he is certain she is close behind, he gives her a smile that he might intend as reassuring but it comes all nervous and worried.
"Miss Barbara," Alfred welcomes her warmly, and she nods at him, biting her lip. It looks as if he wanted to stop her from walking into the bedroom, but rethinks, and just holds the doors open for her. By the time she walks inside, Dad is already sitting on the edge of the bed, and Bruce... She leans against the doorframe, almost holding her breath. Bruce's eyes are closed, large patch of bandage on his shoulder, and some some bruises on his brow, above his right eye, and she had seen the cowl and it looked hard and solid, so it really must have been a hard blow, whatever it was.
If she was still a little bit angry moments ago, it's all gone now. Dad is holding Bruce's hand, tightly, with all the worry and desperation. His other hand brushes Bruce's hair away from his face, and the only hint of Bruce not being asleep is the slight movement as he leans his head into Dad's palm.
And yes, normally, she would be making with the retching noises by now, and telling them to cut it out and not traumatise her for life, but it might be too late for the not-traumatising part, and besides, she doesn't feel like theatrics.
"What did I tell you?" Dad says quietly, and she catches the words just barely, as they're mostly intended for Bruce, who smiles, and opens his eyes.
"Explosions weren't on the list," he says, and before he can add anything else, he notices Babs. And, she wonders, if this is the first time she really sees a completely shocked Bruce, but the expression he gives her is kind of funny, in a not amusing way. "Barbara," he offers, his expression closing up into a smile, but the look in his eyes is frantic and worried.
"She knows," Dad says, and Bruce looks up at him, his jaw working for a moment. "I didn't tell her, she figured it out."
"Well, she's smarter than you, you needed to be told," Bruce says, smiling widely, but it doesn't reach his eyes, and he's watching Barbara closely, following her movement as she steps further inside, walking up to the bed, wondering what the hell is she going to say, how to explain what she thinks if she doesn't know herself.