Pairing: Jim/Bruce, eventually.
Rating: PG-13 for now.
Word count: 1326
Being back in Philadelphia turned out to be slightly less awkward than Jim had expected. The awkward part was, of course, Barbara showing him to the guest room, hovering in the doorway uncertainly, smiling hesitantly when she pointed where the bathroom was, and then caught herself, laughing nervously.
“How awful is it for you?” she asked, and he shrugged and told her that it was actually quite nice to see her, even if the levels of uncomfortable were amazingly high.
The easiest part was seeing the kids again, going to Jimmy’s game and letting himself be dragged to a science exhibit with Babs. It hadn’t been two weeks since he moved out, and he had already missed them terribly.
“I should have been doing this before,” he told Barbara on the Saturday evening, and she shrugged.
“Yes. But now you get to be the good parent, the one they do all the fun stuff with,” she muttered, but there was no real resentment behind the words, just a small smile and a mock complain. “I’m the who’s going to be telling them to wash their teeth and eat their greens.”
“Want me to call every night and tell them that?” he asked, and she laughed, shaking her head.
“No, it’s fine,” she said, and she was right, it was fine, they were making it work, despite all the worries they had before deciding on the divorce.
This was just a little bit unexpected and slightly worrying, he wasn’t used to things in his life falling into place without a glitch. It usually meant that events were going to take a sudden turn for much, much worse.
Or maybe something had already started, playing at the back of his mind, the nagging thought that he had missed something about the case they’ve been working on, the string of murders in the Narrows. There had been something eerily familiar about them, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“See, now I know you’re back in Gotham,” Barbara said, looking at him seriously, head tilted at a thoughtful angle. “Blanking out on me again like that.”
“I’m sorry,” he said guiltily.
“No need. It’s actually better now that I don’t have a feeling of the entire city being a third person in our marriage,” she said breezily, with the confidence of someone who had two years to slowly understand that while she might have won over the city when it counted, the prize and the ever after wasn’t exactly how she wanted it. “So, how is he?” she asked casually, stretching on the couch, and even if he wasn’t absolutely sure whom she meant, the air of assumed nonchalance would clue him in.
Frankly, he was surprised it took her that long to ask. Jimmy hadn’t had the qualms, once Jim was inside this was almost his first question (after “did you bring ice cream? You said you were bringing ice cream.”), in hushed voice, looking up hopefully. “Have you seen him, Dad?”
Two years and he still remembered. It might have annoyed Barbara slightly, but to Jim it was a validation of his choice to work with the vigilante, and another reason to try and clear his name.
Barbara asked for different reasons, some concern, some curiosity, some resident jealousy that was impossible to let go off after fifteen years of marriage. Her reasons shaped his answer, and he nodded slowly, not looking up. “We’re working on a case,” he said flatly, and her features shifted, as she tried not to smile, the wry tightening of her lips an obvious tell.
“Of course you are,” she said, and the doubt in her voice was reminiscent of Montoya talking of coincidences. And the warm feeling spreading in his chest was new, but somehow familiar. It was ridiculous; all they had with Batman was a working alliance, and he wanted to point that out, but gave up even before the first word was out of his mouth. Barbara knew better, and for that matter, so did Jim, it was never quite just work, from the very beginning, not with the trust both he and the Bat had to put into this.
“All I’m saying is,” Barbara muttered, and he thought he might have blanked out some of the conversation again, “you be careful. You still don’t even know who he really is. And I know he saved our lives, and saved Jimmy, and I’m not ungrateful, but how well do you know him?”
In all the ways that matter, he wanted to say, but of course didn’t, because there was no arguing with Barbara on that one. It was an old, comfortable argument, without the viciousness that was there two years ago, just worry, and soon she was standing up and stretching, saying that she needed some sleep and that he could take over the kids’ breakfast for the next day.
There was a short moment when he moved to follow and stopped on realizing it wasn’t his place anymore, and they stood in silence for a good minute, before the sound of his cellphone brought them out of the quiet reverie.
“Sooner than I expected,” Barbara smiled and went upstairs, all the hesitance gone now.
Jim checked the caller id and sighed, answering. “Let me guess, bad news?”
“Fifth body turned up, our friend is escalating quickly. But hey, glass half full boss, at least we have some new evidence,” Montoya said, not even trying for fake cheerfulness, sounding as tired as he felt. She had been pulling her third shift when he left, all due to this case, she should be at home resting now, not at the crime scene. When he told her that much, she snorted. “No offence, boss, but the day I’ll take advice from you on taking days off…” she let it hang and he conceded the point.
“Anything I can help you with?” he asked and could almost hear her shrugging.
“Not really, until you get back at least. Maybe our pointy-eared friend will make an appearance then,” she added, a remark he was going to ignore. “Just thought you might want to know about the body. And I wanted to say that I went through your mail this morning, and you have an invitation to a Bruce Wayne shinding you’re going to take me to.”
He had promised, hadn’t he? Always getting himself into the worst situations. “And why were you going through my mail?”
“Well, I was in your office too feed your fish. And snoop around,” she said cheerfully, her voice lighter a few tones now, and that was part of why he always took the teasing and gave right back what he got; she was going to walk away from this phonecall with a brighter mood and a cleared head, and that was the important thing.
“Found anything of interest?”
“Apart from my ticket to an evening of little sandwiches and hot people in evening wear, you mean? You have some weird filing system.”
“It’s called the alphabet, Montoya, look it up. And go get some sleep, call me in the morning once the coroner and the forensic guys had a better look.”
“Will do, boss,” she agreed and disconnected.
Well, her mood might have been lifted, but the next victim appearing didn’t do anything for Jim’s peace. He sighed tiredly and called the precinct, telling the officer on duty to fax over all the case files. Barbara was going to disapprove of that use of the house fax machine, but he was going to leave worrying about her annoyance till morning. In a few minutes, he settled on the couch with the files and a cup of steaming coffee.
The bed in the guest room was really uncomfortable anyway.