Pairings: Jim/Bruce ultimately, Bruce/Rachel for a bit, others mentioned.
Rating: PG-13 for now.
Wordcount: 4,202 for this part.
Rachel Dawes had a long brown braid, nice smile, and, in the summer when Jim met her for the first time, that smile was accompanied by the full view of her braces. She also had definite career plans already, at the age of fifteen.
“She’s going to be a lawyer,” Bruce shrugged and dodged a pointed look from Alfred, who had been making thinly veiled remarks about Bruce’s college plans the moment junior high has ended.
“I’m going to be the DA,” Rachel corrected, tossing her braid over her shoulder. Jim liked her immediately, she was sharp and bright and other things usually associated with steel weaponry, and he already was quite grateful she planned to be on his side of the courtroom; but she was sweet and fond of Bruce and that was a good thing in his book.
She was also apparently smarter than Jim and Alfred combined, because she was the first one to notice there was something wrong with Bruce.
“I mean, more than usual,” she muttered, trying out a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “It’s probably that book.”
“What book?” Jim asked, confused.
Alfred, it seemed, had been withholding information. It was getting close to the fifth anniversary of the Waynes’ murder, and some journalist had decided it was a good time to capitalize on it and publish an ‘in-depth profile’ or whatnot. They called Alfred, who absolutely refused to comment, and even more vehemently refused to involve Bruce. Who, of course, found out somehow, because Bruce Wayne had an uncanny ability of sniffing out everything anyone wanted to hide from him.
“Oh, fantastic,” Jim muttered and Rachel nodded, sipping her tea with an air of someone who had done what they had to but didn’t take any joy in it. “Did you try talking to him?”
Rachel gave him a look that plainly said the very thing she announced a moment later. “Like he listens to me.”
The thing was, Bruce did listen to Rachel, even if he ignored her advice most of the time. There was probably a wonderful wedding in their future, Jim thought, one that was going to send the entire Gotham into a fairy tale frenzy: its favourite prince and a girl next door. He could almost see the future headlines.
Of course, the problem was with the current headlines. “You called the journalist back, didn’t you?” he muttered, sliding next to Bruce on the garden bench.
“Of course I didn’t,” Bruce said quickly then shrugged. “I responded to her e-mail.”
“Because I came here to argue semantics.”
“She said she had found some more information on Joe Chill,” Bruce said flatly, eyes fixed on something distant on the horizon. “That there were things I should know.”
“Of course she did, Bruce. She wants an interview with you, she has to lure you in somehow,” Jim said and sighed. “Did you learn anything new?”
“No. And if you say ‘I told you so’, I’m leaving.”
Jim didn’t say anything, just put his hand on Bruce’s shoulder in a brief gesture of comfort. The journalist couldn’t have any new information on Chill, the man had been forthcoming in his confession and, unlike many others in this city, the investigation had been very thorough. But even so, revisiting one’s past was almost always a rough ride, and in Bruce’s case, it probably opened a few doors that would be better left shut.
“Rachel worries about you.”
“Rachel worries about everyone,” Bruce said quietly, his expression studiously nonchalant. “She wants to save the world. Or at least, Gotham.”
Jim made detective in the same week Bruce started high school. Neither of them really liked the change.
Sure, it was the job Jim had wanted ever since he was five, but there was his luck to consider, and of course he got Flass assigned as his partner. There were good cops in Gotham, there were honest ones, but no one would ever dare to accuse Flass of being either.
Two weeks after the promotion he got a reminder in the shape of three faceless thugs in the lockers room. A few blows and a few words, quick succession of both, just to convey the message: don’t do anything stupid, don’t try to be a hero, don’t speak up against your fellow officers.
It was one hell of a welcoming party.
Thankfully, they knew where to hit, they’d probably done it a dozen or so times before, and it was easy to pretend for a week that all that made him walk slower and wince as he stood up was an old sports injury acting up.
No one mentioned anything, only Bruce seemed to notice something was amiss, giving Jim long searching looks over the dinner table on Saturday. He accepted Jim’s explanation with unblinking stoicism, and then looked as if he didn’t believe a word Jim had said, but he didn’t comment.
Of course, at the time Bruce had his own problems, and some of them were also etched into his skin, like Jim’s were, but in a much more visible way. He came back from his first day at the new school with a black eye, and things didn’t improve even after Alfred had been called in.
“It’s nothing,” Bruce repeated over and over and refused to give the real reason behind the fights.
“He’s Bruce Wayne, they’re testing him,” was all that Rachel said when Alfred asked her.
“You know, fighting never solved anything,” Jim muttered at one point, after the third black eye in as many weeks; the bruises barely had time to fade.
Bruce laughed at that, shaking his head. “When you consider the history of the human race, I think you are very alone in that opinion, Jim.”
That was the trouble with arguing with Bruce Wayne, Jim thought, he usually thought he knew better and the worst part was, he usually did.
But there were no more bruises after that. “Maybe what you said got to him,” Alfred said hopefully and Jim nodded. There was that possibility. Or maybe Bruce had learned how to fight better.
The entire Gotham expected fireworks for the grand occasion of Bruce Wayne turning sixteen. Or at least, a party to end all parties. He was still Gotham’s favourite son, and he had been growing up very much in the public eye; people of Gotham seemed to feel they were owed something spectacular.
All that actually happened was Alfred baking cupcakes in the Manor’s kitchen, Rachel bringing a keychain as a gift, and Jim chaperoning Bruce as he drove one of his father’s old cars for the first time.
“It’s harder than it looks,” Jim warned him. “Especially since you picked a car with a manual transmission. What?” he asked when Bruce gave him a look.
“Nothing. I was kind of hoping that after that opening, you’d say ‘stick’, and I had a really great pun planned.”
Jim run the sentence in his head and then it got to him. “Bruce,” he chastised, shaking his head in amazement. Sure, high school, but really. “Just drive, try not to kill us or get us pulled over, and hold back the smartass remarks.”
“I can try for two out of three,” Bruce muttered, starting the engine. They drove around for a couple of hours, until Bruce fully mastered the gearbox, and until the gas light started blinking and they pulled over to a station right outside the city limits.
“You know what I thought I might try on my sixteenth birthday?” Bruce said slowly once the tank was full, but before he started the car again.
Jim didn’t bother to turn his head. “What did I say about smartass remarks?”
“Didn’t promise anything. What I mean, I thought about going back to that alley. I never saw it after… I saw the crime scene photos, but I never dared to go back.”
“I’m not going to ask where you saw the crime scene photos, because I’m probably going to hate the answer,” he muttered, and for a long moment, neither of them said anything. “You know, some teenagers who want to do something stupid just choose smoking.”
“Well, if you’re willing to lend me one of the cigarettes you’re hiding in your inside pocket, I could be all for it,” Bruce shot back, and waited.
“Fine. But I’m driving.”
He didn’t even need to check the directions; it was one crime scene that every cop in the city remembered. The neighbourhood had went down the slippery slope since then, and the alley could easily compete for the dirtiest street in town, but there was also a small pile of wilting flowers and a candle burning. The city didn’t forget that easily.
“I wonder who comes here to light the candles,” Bruce said quietly, stopping at least four steps before he reached the spot. “Wonder if they even knew my parents.”
“Does it matter?”
“Probably not. Someone at the funeral, I can’t remember whom, told me that the whole city loved my parents, that no one would forget them. All I could think of then was that it sounded like all of the people in the city knew my parents better than I did. Longer, for sure.”
What could you say to that, Jim wondered. “Maybe longer. But not better. And I can’t imagine your parents loving anyone more than they loved you.”
“And yet, there’s this,” Bruce pointed at the flowers, shaking his head. “I visit the cemetery sometimes, but apparently strangers care more than…”
“Bruce,” Jim said, louder than he intended. “Don’t ever think that. This,” he waved his hand vaguely, “is clinging to the past. You are supposed to move on.”
Bruce was still shaking his head when Jim pulls him into an awkward hug. It didn’t work as well as when Bruce was a kid; he certainly wasn’t a kid anymore, he had grown an inch taller than Jim already, but also, he had been through enough to guarantee him an early adulthood a few times over.
“Are we done now?” Jim asked after a moment, breaking the silence. “Because I’m freezing. You couldn’t do this in June?”
“I’ll try and schedule my breakdowns more to your liking from now on,” Bruce offered flippantly, but he still didn’t move his hand from Jim’s shoulder, as if holding on for balance, or keeping himself grounded, somehow. “Now, about that cigarette…”
“I might just as well get you the key,” Jim muttered after Bruce had picked his locks for the fourth time and made himself at home on his couch, watching some absolute trash on the malfunctioning TV; you had to thump it on the side every ten minutes to keep having sound.
Bruce raised his hand, three fingers up, and he started the countdown.
“And also, breaking in is actually classified a crime. You’d get arrested one day.”
Bruce pointedly kept his hand with thumb up. “I didn’t even get to zero, and here you go with the PSA. Waiting on your doorstep is so four years ago. Get me that key, I won’t have to break in.”
“Here’s a thought,” Jim said, turning on the coffee maker. “Don’t break in. Call and announce your visit, like a normal person. Now, would you like some tea? I’m afraid I don’t have much else in the house.”
“It’s okay, I’ve ordered Indian food. You know it’s weird to offer tea to someone who broke in to your flat?”
“You know it’s weird to break in and order Indian food?” Jim shot back and sighed. This was going to be serious, judging from the lengthy song and dance of an intro. “You want to tell me now, or we’re pretending until we’ve eaten?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bruce said, not even trying to pretend he wasn’t lying. Oh, well.
“Suit yourself,” Jim nodded and filled his cup with freshly brewed coffee, inhaling for a moment, before he moved to make a cup of tea for Bruce. He had seen Bruce on caffeine, and it had not been a pretty sight.
“I talked to Rachel,” Bruce started, and Jim muttered something noncommittally. As openings went, it wasn’t the best one; Bruce talked to Rachel quite often, so it was nothing out of ordinary. Except it apparently was.
“About junior prom.”
Jim almost spat out the coffee he had just sipped, after it burned his tongue. God, a man needed a bit of a warning. “You know,” he muttered, once he glared at Bruce for slapping him on the back as he coughed out the surprise. “If this is about someone having the talk with you, I don’t think I am the right person.”
“Please. Alfred gave me the talk a few years go.”
Now that was one visual Jim never wanted to get. “Alfred?” It got you wondering, what Alfred would consider a proper birds and bees conversation. And then it got you to stop wonder and want to really scrub your brain clean. Or wash it with acid.
“As awkward as you can imagine,” Bruce acknowledged, apparently pleased with himself for getting Jim to actually try and imagine it. “Also, not what I wanted to talk about.”
“What was it that you wanted to talk about?” Jim asked, with some degree of suspicion, silently hoping that it would involve less fuel for awkward nightmares.
“Well, we’re going together, Rachel and I, and we… talked about,” he stopped, somehow abruptly, looking away. “I’ve been…”
“Well?” Jim prompted, and cursed himself for this a second later, when Bruce’s expression closed off, as if he rethought sharing this.
“How come you don’t date?” he asked instead and Jim thought that maybe he preferred that Alfred and birds and bees conversation.
“I’ve dated,” he said evasively.
Yes, like avoidance ever worked on Bruce. Kids were usually good at calling bullshit, but Bruce’s predilection for it was uncanny, he could spot a lie from a mile away, even before you said it. “If you say so…”
“The last woman I’ve dated…” he paused, his tone turning from flippant to serious. “She married my best friend.”
“And the one before her?” Bruce asked quietly. It wasn’t a subject to discuss with Bruce, of all people. Jim hadn’t really spoken of Sarah to anyone for the last few years. And it was even less appropriate to talk of Thelma. But then again, it was Bruce, who trusted Jim with the worst moments of his life. Kid or not, if he asked, he deserved honesty.
“The one before her married my brother. Not the best track record in the world, you have to admit.”
Bruce nodded, and for once chose not to make another smartass comment, taking some time to drink his tea instead.
“So,” he said finally, carefully placing the cup on the coffee table, “is it celibacy forever for you, or are you planning to open a matchmaking service? Because in that you do have a good track record, apparently.”
“Just shut up,” Jim advised him, shaking his head. The quiet never lasted long, but it was kind of comforting to know.
Bruce apparently had some kind of prescient ability, because not mere weeks after that particular conversation of Jim’s dating, Stephens had decided Jim didn’t go out enough and needed to meet people.
It was probably sort of true, but Jim didn’t want to go out, and he was fine with people he already knew, although he was quickly revising his opinion on Stephens.
“Come on, she works with Jenny, has a great sense of humour, nice legs, and doesn’t mind your awful moustache.”
“I’m going to remember that one,” Jim warned him and shrugged. “How do you even know that part about the moustache?”
“Come on, Jimbo, everyone knows it’s awful.”
“I’m going to shoot you,” he shrugged again, after Gerry sent him a wounded look. “In the leg.”
“Jenny showed her the pictures from the barbecue, you know, from last month? I said don’t show them, Barbara is going to run away screaming, but apparently good legs don’t go with good taste.”
Jim gave in, of course, after about four more rounds of that. Besides, he was still thinking about his track record after talking with Bruce, and, well. He called the mysterious Barbara of great legs and excellent taste and they made a date.
Which he cancelled only an hour before it was supposed to start, on account of a drug bust in the Narrows that he was not going to miss, because someone had to make sure at least some of the heroin made its way to the evidence locker, and not back into the streets, snuck out by the cops themselves.
He did make it to the second one, well, actually a first one, depended how you counted it. Barbara turned out to have red hair and a brilliant smile and, yes, great legs, but that only made it worse when his phone perked up during the entrées.
“Better be important,” he muttered into the phone, after excusing himself, and was welcomed by silence. He glanced at the caller id and cursed himself silently. “Bruce, is something wrong?” he asked, more gently.
“Could you come pick me up? I’d rather not call Alfred just yet.”
There was any number of dark scenarios that run through his head at that. “Bruce, I swear, if you got arrested, I’m…” he didn’t finish, mostly for the complete lack of a good threat.
“No. I was at a party, had a few glasses of what was apparently an enhanced punch. There was… Look, Jim, can you just pick me up?”
“I’ll be there in a few, text me the address,” he muttered and disconnected, going back to Barbara with apology already on his lips.”Family emergency,” he explained and she looked at him, confused.
“I thought your family lived in Chicago.”
“Different kind of family,” he said and didn’t elaborate, just apologized again, a few times for a good measure, and practically run to his car.
“What exactly happened?” he asked Bruce after a long silent drive, once they were close to the Manor.
“People are idiots,” Bruce said, which was indisputable, but didn’t offer much in a way of explanation. “Sorry for ruining the big date, but she’s probably going to leave you for someone… hey, she pretty? I figure that as your good acquaintance I may have a shot.”
The kid had a real gift for evasiveness, Jim had to admit. He could give lessons to some of the suspects Jim had interrogated. Of course, Jim would prefer if he didn’t. “She’s quite older than you,” he pointed out.
Bruce just shrugged, apparently deciding it was a good moment to end the conversation, before something else could be said. Jim watched him rub at the split lip and grimace.
“You should put some ice on that,” he offered.
“I will if I can sneak past Alfred.”
“If I were you, I’d just fess up to him.”
Bruce nodded. “Of course you would. You don’t live with him.”
There was that. Jim never got an explanation what the fight was about. He went as far as actually asking Rachel, but the girl hadn’t been at that party. And Bruce’s explanation might have been rather succinct, but it wasn’t satisfactory. But apparently Bruce grew past the age when he could tell Jim everything.
Then there was the third date with Barbara. It was a wonder he got to have the third date, but apparently Barbara was a forgiving person. Which of course meant he screwed that one up, too, but it had been going quite well for a while.
They dinner went without a glitch, and then they took a pleasant walk and she was the one to suggest they had coffee, and it was quite clear from the way she said it that she didn’t mean an actual coffee. His place was much closer, and that’s where they went.
Of course, it was the evening Bruce had decided to break in again.
Jim should have seen that one coming, it was the week with the anniversary of the Waynes’ murder, but it was still three days away, and… well.
“I’m sorry,” he told Barbara, and he really, really meant it. From her understanding smile he could tell that it was going to be their last date, and when she kissed his cheek goodbye, it was final.
“So, how is your week going?” Bruce asked, words slurring ever so slightly and Jim gave him a long searching look.
“How drunk exactly are you?” he asked calmly. "And where the hell did you get that alcohol from?"
"Beer, from your fridge. Whiskey, from my father's liquor cabinet. Vodka... you know, I can't remember where I got the vodka."
"You do realise it's illegal.”
"Actually, detective, it's illegal for me to buy alcohol, or for anyone to sell it to me. I inherited the whiskey in accordance with the law."
"I mean the breaking and entering my house. Again.”
"I didn't exactly break in, your locks could be picked by anyone. Who happened to have a set of lockpicks."
Jim sighed and opened the drawer of the hallway table, taking out a keyring and tossing it to Bruce, who caught it even in his inebriated state, which was slightly impressive.
“Meant to give it to you before,” he muttered and sat down next to Bruce, not bothering with taking off his coat, but bothering to move and pick the half-empty beer from the coffee table. He took a swig and glanced at Bruce, who had been watching him with indecipherable expression. “What?”
Bruce shook his head. “Forgot you had that date tonight. Didn’t set out to ruin it.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Jim said, with some confusion. Why would he?
Bruce nodded slowly, head bobbing a few times, as if he started to nod off. “I should get going.”
“In this state? You can’t drive, I don’t trust taxi drivers in this city and besides, Alfred would kill you with his umbrella if he saw you like that,” Jim muttered. That last part was very likely, and then he would come after Jim, for letting Bruce go home in such a state. No, thank you very much. “Just stay.”
There was a second or two of stunned silence and then Bruce laughed out loud, starting with a surprised snort and ending in a loud laughter with a drunken edge, going on for long enough that Jim started to become concerned.
Bruce shook his head, trying to catch his breath. “God, Jim,” he muttered, and there was something in his voice that worried Jim, something underneath the laughter, a serious note that didn’t quite fit in.
“Care to clue me in?” he asked, trying for an indulgent smile.
“Don’t think it’s a good idea,” Bruce said, completely serious again. “But yeah, I can sleep on the couch, if you don’t mind.”
“Jim,” Bruce shot back immediately and fell silent again, looking up, his eyes still a little glazed over from whatever else apart from beer he had been drinking. But under that haze there was worry, and fear, and Jim didn’t like that at all. He reached out, a little like he did once already; thumb brushing Bruce’s cheek in comfort, but this time, Bruce flinched. Jim let his hand fall down.
“No,” Bruce shook his head vehemently then leaned forward, his mouth set in a tight line, as if he made a decision and was ready to face the consequences.
It was just ghosting of lips against his cheek, close to the corner of his mouth; gone so quick he barely registered it before Bruce was pulling away.
“I don’t…” Jim started and finished just as fast. “Bruce, I don’t…”
Bruce nodded quickly, moving away, his whole posture defensive now, distant. It somehow managed to hurt physically. “No, it’s me, sorry. Shouldn’t have,” Bruce said and stood up, unsteady on his feet. “I think I’ll take a risk on that taxi.”
“Don’t be stupid, I…”
“That’s what I am, stupid,” Bruce shrugged, waving his hands in a too-wide gesture. “Noticed that, eh?”
Fine. If he was going to be like that. “Get your coat, I’ll drive you home. Don’t even try and argue.”
Bruce gave him a long look, the corner of his mouth twitching in a mockery of a smile. “Yes, Dad,” he said, drawing out the last word into both a joke and an insult and Jim winced.
“I swear, Bruce, one day…” he started and stopped himself. “Come on. Please,” he added quietly and watched as Bruce deflated, anger changing into disappointment.
They drove in complete silence. Jim gave in after a grand three minutes and turned on the radio, picking the station at random and getting some country, which didn’t help his mood at all. As they pulled over at the Manor’s main entrance, he turned to look at Bruce.
“I’m fine,” Bruce muttered and got out, and everything Jim could try and say was cut off by the definite click of the shutting door.