Rating: PG-13 for now.
Wordcount: 6,901 for this part.
“I have no idea what’s going on with him,” Rachel told him absently once Jim called her. “Hadn’t seen him in a week, maybe he’s finally studying.”
Like that was going to happen. Sure, the SATs were coming, as Rachel herself informed him, but the day Bruce Wayne would take longer than half an hour a day to skim through his notes was going to be a strange day indeed.
Of course, it was all strange days now. Bruce had gone AWOL. Alfred said that he kept disappearing, going out for long walks around the Manor’s grounds, even going down to the caves underneath it. “Some exercise never harmed anyone,” was Alfred’s opinion.
It wasn’t a very informed opinion, to be honest, but Jim would sooner shoot himself with his own gun that tell Alfred what it was exactly that made him worry.
And he did worry quite a lot. He was sure that whatever it was, a drunken mistake or a young crush, Bruce would get over it soon enough, but the real question was; would Jim lose him in the process?
In the few recent years, Bruce had become family, quite probably the closest one Jim had. If Bruce needed him to give it up, Jim would, but he desperately hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
“Whatever it is, he just needs time,” Alfred said, his confusion palpable over the phone lines. “He’ll come around.”
Except that he might not.
“I suppose I should be glad you just decided to avoid me, instead of leaving the country altogether,” Jim had said in the maybe fourth message he left on Bruce’ voicemail. He regretted leaving that one the most, he didn’t need give Bruce ideas.
His cell phone perked up at three in the morning next day, with a text message. ‘Stop worrying’ it said. Not the most helpful thing, but it was some semblance of a contact, so Jim didn’t complain.
Bruce himself appeared on his doorstep the next day, holding two bags with carton boxes of Chinese takeaway. “See, I’m fine,” he said and let himself in, much to Jim’s relief.
“Let’s not talk about it yet,” Bruce proposed once that sat down. “In fact, let’s not talk about it, ever.”
“Jim,” Bruce said, predictably and poked at his food with the chopsticks. “I’m a teenager, I was drunk, I got stupid. Leave it at that, Jim.”
No, it wasn’t that. Bruce was an excellent liar when he wanted, but this time the lie was half-hearted, like he didn’t care about hiding. Of course, it was difficult to tell what exactly he was hiding, when he refused to look at Jim.
“Fine,” he agreed. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Bruce chose Princeton, when the acceptance letters came his way. Every Ivy League school accepted him, and it had less to do with his test scores and more with the excellent publicity having a Wayne heir among your alumni would be.
“I think he chose Princeton, because they offered him the least,” Rachel muttered darkly, after three glasses of champagne at the celebratory dinner. “Just when you think he worked through all his issues…” she added and shrugged off Jim’s look.
Rachel was heading for the Gotham University, preparing her coursework in anticipation for Law School. The scholarship for Harvard fell through, and she flatly refused Bruce’s and Alfred’s offers. Jim didn’t want to call her a kettle right now, because in this room, only Alfred lacked visible issues, and that man had certainly been through an actual war, from what Jim could gather.
And the accumulated issues were not even the only reason why this had been the most awkward celebratory party Jim had ever attended, and that included his brother’s engagement dinner, two months after his future bride and Jim had broken up.
It had been months already, but even though things were seemingly back to normal, Bruce had kept his distance after the semi-attempt at a kiss. Jim wasn’t exactly sure how to fix that and reluctant to try for the fear of fucking up even more.
“He told you, didn’t he?” Rachel asked, chewing at her lower lip thoughtfully. Rachel, Jim thought, would make an excellent lawyer. She had a good heart, and all the grace of a little pitbull, when she thought you were being stupid. And she never, ever, minded her own business.
“Told me what?” he asked, glancing at Bruce, who had been hiding a smile at whatever Alfred was saying.
“The bisexual thing?” she prompted. “I told him that the entire city would love and emulate whatever he did, so he’d actually be good for the gay rights, but I think he was worried mostly about your and Alfred’s reactions, and…” she paused, her eyes widening with panic. “God, tell me you knew and I didn’t just out him?”
It was low, but he gave it a full five seconds before he shook his head. “No, I knew.” Sort of.
She let out the air she was holding and nodded. “Is that why the things are awkward? I mean, I know it might not be so easily acceptable for your generation, but…”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m cutting you off the champagne, young lady,” he offered in his best stern voice. “You were a step away from calling me old, you were asking for it,” he explained. “It matters to me that Bruce should be happy, nothing else. And even if I had problems with his orientation, I rather think my opinion doesn’t matter.”
“I think it matters to Bruce,” she told him pointedly and stood up, saying that she was drunk and needed someone to call her a taxi, prompting Alfred to give her a five-minute lecture that basically amounted to the fact that she was always welcome to one of the guest bedrooms.
It was a good thing she decided to end the conversation, because apparently Jim was close to asking a high-schooler for advice about someone expressing an interest in him. It was one step away from passing notes asking whether someone like-liked him, and gods, he needed to actually socialize with actual adults. Other than Alfred, of course.
“Did he tell you?” Alfred asked, as Bruce was guiding Rachel upstairs to the guest bedroom, both of them swaying slightly. Alfred believed in the European standards of drinking: wine and champagne after they turned sixteen was fine by him, as long as they didn’t drink on empty stomachs.
“He told me,” Jim muttered. He noted with some surprise that it was less awkward discussing it with Rachel. He stood up. “I should be going.”
“Why do I always need to remind people that we have seven guest bedrooms in this wing of the house alone?”
“I have an early shift tomorrow.”
“We have cars.”
You could never win against Alfred, when he unleashed his whole power of hospitability.
Two days before Bruce left for college, he broke into Jim’s apartment again. He did have the key, so it was probably either for sport or for the old times’ sake, but Jim was really not that amused.
“Key. Learn to use it.”
“May not have the occasion,” Bruce shrugged.
“All packed and ready?”
“Well, I left the packing to Alfred, and he went overboard and packed up the entire house.” At Jim’s look Bruce hastened to explain. “He has the protective coverings on most of the furniture; he says he’ll only need the kitchen and his room, so there’s no need to clean everything every day…”
“So you refrained from taking him along to Princeton?” Jim deadpanned, trying to hide the smile.
“I live in fear that he’ll pack himself in one of the bags, though.”
This seemed to exhaust the conversation, and they both fell into an uneasy silence. Jim moved first. “I think I need coffee. You?”
The coffee maker filled the silence at least for a moment; it was an old, loud thing that made an absolute killer coffee one could probably use to clean the drains.
“I just wanted to say, I’m sorry for all that…” Bruce said, waving his hand in the general direction of the couch, encompassing everything that had happened since.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Jim muttered, filling the cups. “If anyone should apologise, it’s me. I reacted…” he paused, lost for words, once again.
“It’s fine, I rather sprung it on you,” Bruce shrugged, shifting as he stuck his hands in his pockets. Jim almost shook his head in amazement; he lived to see Bruce Wayne grown up, and possibly a little wiser than Jim was.
“You rather did,” Jim agreed. “What I should have said though is: I am quite…”
“If you say ‘flattered’, I’m going to punch you right here and right now,” Bruce warned him dryly. “Jim, I’m not confused, I know what I want, and I’m not looking to replace an absent father figure, or whatever psychobabble you had coming up.”
“Seems like you’re well versed in the subject yourself. Thought about picking up psychology as your major?”
“Well, I’d have a lot of study material for denial and avoidance.”
“Not the point.”
“Always the point. But you’re right, what I wanted to say was: I understand if you’re straight. But how I feel is how I feel, and it’s not a teenage crush.”
Jim disagreed with the latter and didn’t really want to comment on the former; it wouldn’t do to encourage what he did, despite Bruce’s assurance, consider an ill-aimed crush.
His silence, however, was of course taken in the exact way he wished to avoid. “I’ll just get back to you after I finish college, shall I?” Bruce asked, and it sounded vaguely like a threat.
With Bruce gone, Jim didn’t have many occasions to meet with either Rachel or Alfred. Alfred called every once in a while to keep Jim posted on Bruce’s academic achievements, or the lack of them, as Bruce seemed to treat attending lectures as something that happened to other people.
“I get plenty of learning experience,” Bruce said over the phone and over the sounds of what seemed to be a party.
“I bet you do,” Jim muttered. “Try at least not to flunk out and give Alfred a heart attack.”
“Alfred will outlive us both, Jim,” was the only answer he got.
“I think he just discovered it can be good to be Bruce Wayne,” Rachel said with an air of absent disapproval she was becoming very good at. She had a very high moral ground to judge from, though, as she had been working particularly hard at her studies, all the time juggling this with her internship at the DA’s office.
Most of the lawyers in Gotham tended to gravitate towards the highly-paid attorney positions where they worked on earning more money for already rich people by not always completely-legal means. Rachel, as Bruce once remarked, had always wanted to save the city instead.
Jim couldn’t quite blame her for that, not with his thankless and rather pointless job of trying to catch Gotham’s criminals and never quite succeeding in keeping them off the streets for long.
A prime example was the upcoming release of Joe Chill. They were still few days away from the actual hearing, but the outcome was decided already.
He learned from Rachel that Bruce was coming, as Bruce didn’t bother to call and tell him that. Jim wasn’t quite sure what to make of it; things had been fine between them for a while now, at Christmas all the previous awkwardness had been gone. He had a sinking feeling that Bruce was going to do something rash and stupid.
“Are you going to be there?” he asked Rachel and she nodded.
“I volunteered to drive him to the hearing. It won’t be easy on him.”
No, it wouldn’t. Jim was angry at Chill’s release and he only had a second-hand interest in the case, what it felt like for Bruce he couldn’t even imagine.
He got off his shift early just to go to the hearing. Flass gave him a strange look, but didn’t even comment, which was new and welcome, but bound not to last long. Flass liked the sound of his voice a little too much. Jim sat at the back of the room for the hearing, wondering who in hell thought it a good idea to make it open to the public.
As Bruce stormed out halfway through, Jim stood up and left a little more quietly. Thankfully, no one paid him any attention; only Rachel had still been looking back and nodded at him gratefully, sitting more comfortably as he saved her the trouble of going after Bruce herself.
“That was some exit,” he muttered, sitting next to Bruce at a bench outside. Bruce flinched at the sound of his voice, not looking up, something like guilt flashing across his face. “Bruce?”
Bruce didn’t answer for a very long moment, looking down on his hands. “I’d really rather not have you think badly of me.”
“What are you talking about?”
He didn’t get the answer, because the doors to the courtroom opened and the crowd spilled out, full of people trying to talk at once and reporters get the best angle. Jim, however, had been looking at Bruce, at the determination on his face as he stood up, an expression that terrified Jim.
“Bruce,” he muttered, reaching out to touch Bruce’s arm, and the sudden sound of a shot fired surprised him into a flinch, and his hand tightened around Bruce’s wrist. “Come on,” he added quickly and tugged, catching Rachel’s look across the hall. She nodded, her face tight and scared, and Bruce let Jim drag him out of the building.
“It should have been me,” Bruce muttered, not making much sense, until Jim saw the gun he pocketed.
“For fuck’s sake, Bruce,” he swore under his breath. “Why would you do something…” he stopped, knowing fully well why. He tugged at Bruce’s wrist again, pulling him into a hug, his hand on the back of Bruce’s head. “It’s okay,” he muttered, an echo of the past forcing its way onto his lips.
Bruce made a low sound somewhere in his throat and held on for a long while.
“Bruce,” Rachel said quietly, standing next to them and Bruce pulled back, shaking his head.
“I’m fine, Rachel.”
“Drive him home,” Jim told her. “I need to check on things inside, I’m not sure when all the units will get here, but it’s a crime scene now…” He touched Bruce’s shoulder briefly. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
Bruce nodded numbly and Jim glanced at Rachel pointedly before making his way back inside. He should have stayed, he’d think later, but he couldn’t have known that it was the last time he saw Bruce for over seven years.
Bruce Wayne’s disappearance made for less of a scandal than one would expect. For the first two weeks the city lived of Chill’s shooting, and, as Bruce was supposed to be at college anyway, no one really noticed. Then, one by one the journalists woke up, and Alfred had been forced to file the missing person report.
“He left a message, saying he’s going to be away for a while,” he told Jim matter-of-factly. “I don’t know how long is ‘a while’, but it’s his life and his choice.”
Alfred chose cautious optimism, which probably came naturally to him by right of nationality or whatnot. Rachel, for a few weeks, was a wreck, but in that certain Rachel way, which meant that she spent more time working than doing anything else.
“I’m not proud of how we parted either,” Jim told her and she looked up, eyes dark and tired.
“You slapped him and told him his father would be ashamed of him?”
Well, there was that.
Jim fought for this case, but he didn’t have enough pull in the department, and for the first time in years he actually regretted he didn’t bother to play politics, or at least try and make less enemies. At least on this case he’d have an excuse for trying to find Bruce.
“It’s just…” Rachel said when they run into each other accidentally in the court’s corridors when he was coming off a turn testifying in a drug case and she was between cases herself and they took a lunch break together. “It’s just that I’m kind of angry at him. I know it’s my fault, but I’m just so angry…”
He could relate. He went from being angry to wondering why we was angry at all; it didn’t feel like his place to worry, less alone grow irritated. Alfred, who probably should be most furious, seemed to be completely calm.
“He’ll come back when he works out whatever it is he needs to work through.”
Jim hoped it was true, but there was that part of him that wondered if Rachel’s darkest scenarios weren’t true, and if Bruce’s body wasn’t going to wash out of the bay someday soon.
Then, after over a year, Jim picked up the phone just to hear silence on the other side, no one speaking up. Well, not complete silence; sounds of a busy street in the background, some words yelled in a language he didn’t know and couldn’t even decipher, sound of a honking car.
“Bruce?” he asked, clinging to the sudden hope, but there was no answer then either. “Bruce, is that you?”
He didn’t like the sound of his voice just then, desperate and pleading, but what he hated more was that there was no answer again, if you didn’t count the almost inaudible intake of breath on the other side, and then the click followed by the busy signal.
“Well, it was rather unimaginative for a prank call…” Rachel mused, her eyes filled with a little of that hope Jim felt, but in her expression it was mixed with disappointment. ‘Why didn’t he call me?’ she didn’t ask, and Jim wouldn’t be able to answer anyway.
Next time it was a message on his voicemail, twenty seconds of nothing but the background noise. He heard sounds-of-nature relaxing tapes that were more interesting. It continued, and Jim was slowly becoming certain that Bruce chose times Jim would be off shift and sleeping just so he would get the voicemail.
In the fifth year, Earl decided to declare Bruce dead. Alfred muttered that it was still later than he expected.
“But he’s not dead.”
Rachel nodded. “Sure, but if we go with his calls as proof, and they ask how you knew it was him, what are you going to say? You could recognize his breathing?”
When she put it like that…
One day he woke up to the sound of phone and made it before it went to the voicemail. “We miss you,” he said, and even though it wasn’t exactly what he meant, he got the verb right, if not the pronoun.
“I know,” Bruce said, the first sign of life in over six years, then disconnected. Jim sunk down to the kitchen’s cold floor and laughed, a tone of hysteria colouring his voice.
There were days when he thought that maybe taking Sarah’s advice and moving back to Chicago wasn’t such a bad idea. Most of the wounds had healed and the past wasn’t such a scary place anymore. On the other hand, leaving Gotham seemed unimaginable right now, even with all the grief it continuously caused.
“Besides, you wouldn’t be here when he came back,” Rachel pointed out, then smiled at his expression. “I might be slow, but I’m not stupid.”
He didn’t think she was. He might be, though, for he couldn’t quite guess what was it exactly she meant. He had his theories, but it was so farfetched as to be impossible. Or improbable. He wasn’t sure anymore.
“Bruce is coming back,” Alfred said, his tone as calm as if he was announcing his plans for Sunday dinner. “He just called.”
“And he said something? That’s new,” Jim muttered uncharitably, but he was afraid that if he tried to express his relief, he might say something he’d regret even more.
He thought belatedly that he might have asked to tag along with Alfred to pick Bruce up from wherever, but maybe it was better that he didn’t. Instead, he took an extra shift and watched in silent amazement how low would Flass stoop; it would be a neverending entertainment, if it wasn’t so depressing.
“You’re awfully quiet today, Jimbo. That worries people, you know?”
A lot of things about him worried people, he’d been told, from the refusal to take bribes to the way he actually volunteered for extra work. But no one actually punched him for it as of late, so thing were looking up.
After it’s been three days, however, his semi-good mood dropped.
“Didn’t see him either,” Rachel said. “Maybe he needs some time.”
More than seven years? There were limits, Jim thought, and while he still had that cold anger driving him, headed for the Wayne’s Manor.
“Well,” Alfred said, letting him in. “I’ve been wondering how long it was going to take,” he added and waved his hand in the general direction of the dining room. “Just go on in.”
Bruce had the table covered with old newspapers and photos, but Jim didn’t bother to look at them; he just stopped in the doorway, arms crossed. Bruce looked up almost immediately, something Jim couldn’t quite recognize flicking across his face before his expression was schooled down.
“You have glasses,” he said dryly. Jim had a sudden desire to punch him, but supposed that once he crossed that room it could change into a hug, and that would just not do.
“You have hair,” he said instead, raising his eyebrow. “Oh, sorry, I thought we were having a state the obvious contest.”
“Jim,” Bruce said with some exasperation, as if it was Jim who needed to be called on his childishness. Of course, looking at Bruce right now, no one would accuse him of being childish, not seeing how he had grown up.
“Bruce,” Jim said stubbornly, then sighed, tugging off his glasses. “Fine, now I don’t have glasses, and you are slightly fuzzy,” he muttered.
“So, how you’ve been?” Jim asked loudly, because yes, he was still just a tad angry and he needed this moment. “Dead, I’ve heard?”
Bruce looked down for a brief moment. “I’m sorry,” he said, but it was a platitude if Jim had ever heard one, no regret in the words.
“Yes, well,” he muttered. “I at least had the most interesting phonecalls to keep me occupied.”
This time, at least, he got a genuine reaction and Bruce looked up. “I wanted to let you know I was fine.”
“Great job on that. Fantastic conversation, I could hear you breathing the whole time.”
“I thought if we talked, I would have to come back,” came the soft admission and Jim sighed.
“That’s why you didn’t call Rachel? She’s very pissed at you.”
“That worries me, she has a mean slap.”
Jim nodded and finally gave in, stepping forward and around the table. “I’m glad you’re back,” he said quietly, awkwardly pulling Bruce into a hug. It was very different; Bruce had gotten taller, his shoulders wider, but it was still familiar and welcome.
“I’m sorry,” Bruce said, and this time, this time it was genuine.
“It’s okay,” Jim muttered, cradling the back of Bruce’s head in his hand, unwilling to pull back for a long while.
Once they moved away, he looked away, his gaze falling on the papers on the table. “What’s that?” he asked, picking at the newspaper clipping from Chill’s trial.
“I’m working on a project,” Bruce muttered. “Say, what it would take to put Falcone on trial?”
“Leverage on Faden. Rachel would go to court in an instant, but Faden has been bought and sold a long time ago. Why?” he asked suspiciously.
“I’ll let you know later,” Bruce said, and it was avoidance again. Jim wanted to call him on that, but after those seven years, he didn’t think he had the right anymore, if he ever had it to begin with.
Jim did learn about the plan later, and Bruce was really lucky he hadn’t been there for that moment. City’s most notorious crime boss, tied to a giant reflector, and how that had been achieved without frying the guy Jim didn’t really want to even ask.
“We have everything we need to tie Falcone to this,” Rachel said over the phone excitedly, and he wished he could be just as thrilled about it as she was.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded, walking straight into Bruce’s bedroom, pass Alfred carrying a tray with something green and slightly fuzzy.
Bruce blinked up on him with a rather excellent attempt at looking innocent, or at least just woken up, which could pass for the same thing.
“A giant bat? Really, a giant bat costume? You do realize that not only the entire crime community is going to want your head, but every police officer in town has standing orders to arrest you on sight?”
“Well, if you have your handcuffs on you, detective, I can oblige,” Bruce muttered, pulling himself up finally, as he slowly came around to the land of the living and conscious.
“I’ll just leave it here,” Alfred said, placing the tray on the night table. Jim turned to look at him.
“And you knew about it? And you let him? Honestly, is the idiocy contagious?”
Alfred looked at him with great dignity, even though he also seemed to be hiding a smile, which was greatly unhelpful. “As you say, Jim.”
Bruce gave Jim a look, once the doors closed behind Alfred. “You just yelled at Alfred.”
“No, I didn’t,” Jim argued quickly realizing that yes, he just did. “I might have spoken a tad louder than usual, but…”
“Don’t worry, I don’t think he’ll murder you in your sleep,” Bruce offered cheerfully and moved to sit up on the bed. Jim glanced at the bruises on his skin and remembered why he barged here in the first place.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he asked again, his voice dropping to almost a whisper.
“That Gotham needs help. That the people of Gotham need someone to finally stand up against the crime bosses and the corruption. That I can’t sit idly by.”
Jim sighed. When he put it like that…
“A giant bat? Really?”
“I hate bats,” Bruce shrugged.
“Yes, well, I think the feeling is now shared by the better half of the city. Loeb is particularly furious, says you made the police a laughing stock.”
“Probably?” Jim said, but this time he couldn’t held back a smile. “Well done, to be honest.”
Bruce nodded, serious once more. “It’s just the beginning,” he said. “Falcone isn’t the only one who needs to be dealt with, hell, I don’t even think he’s the main problem.”
Jim looked away briefly, looking through the window, not really seeing anything behind it. “What do you need from me?” he asked finally.
Bruce grinned. “For now, you have to see the cave.”
The cave was enough to convince him that Bruce had actually gone insane. The car, the suit, the weapons; everything made into a bat image.
“What is it with bats,” he asked, turning one of the metal blades in his hands.
“Bats always scared me. It’s time Gotham’s criminals felt that,” Bruce said, his gaze glazed over, as if he was remembering something. Jim didn’t think it was a pleasant memory. “It’s a symbol. Theatricality is a great tool,” he added, and it sounded like he was quoting.
“What happened?” he asked, then shrugged when Bruce looked up. “Seven years, Bruce. You’ve been gone for seven years. And I don’t buy into that getting to know the world bullshit you’ve been feeding to the press.”
Who ate it up, Jim could add. The Gotham’s prince living as a pauper in exile, it was first-page material if there ever was one. Well, it had been the first-page material before the bat showed up.
“Oh, I’ve got to know quite a bit about the world. And people.” Something in his tone told Jim that it wasn’t a happy lesson. Then again, what lesson ever was?
And there was something else; he could feel it as he turned the smooth metal piece in his hands. Bruce had a purpose now, in place of the aimless anger that used to fill him before. And that was contagious, Jim could feel it rising in himself.
“Only half of the drugs went to the dealers,’ Bruce said, clearly changing the subject. “Flass was there, he’d know why.”
“Flass would never talk to me.”
Bruce nodded, clearly deciding on the course of action. Jim sighed. “At least try and be careful? I wasn’t kidding about Loeb wanting you in jail.”
“Believe me, I can take care of myself.”
And somehow, Jim could believe in that. Which took him back to the question about those seven years, but he wasn’t sure if he could ask yet. Bruce certainly wasn’t the kid who would tell him everything anymore. Even when he was a kid, it probably wasn’t everything anyway.
“If you need me,” he said instead, letting the words hang between them.
Rachel called him that evening, quite late, but that stopped to matter somewhere in the second year of Bruce’s absence.
“I saw Bruce today,” she said and fell into silence, even though Jim could easily say that she had a lot of things to let out.
“So did I,” he offered and she sighed.
“I have no idea what happened to him, Jim,” she said and he could imagine her shaking her head with dismay. “When I’ve heard that he came back, I thought that maybe…”
That one he could understand perfectly, even though she didn’t finish. And it terrified him a little, not only the fact that he was setting himself up for disappointment, but because it wasn’t even his place to start and think about it, not like it was Rachel’s.
“What did he do?” he asked, trying for a smile, knowing even a weak attempt would carry through in his voice.
“Not much, that’s the problem. Too busy swimming.”
Jim didn’t understand what she meant, but he supposed he didn’t have to. “He’s fine, Rachel. He just needs a little time.”
She laughed. He would too; he still remembered their conversation from a few day’s back. It’s just that now he had a little bit more information than she did, and unless Bruce wanted to tell her about the bat idea, Jim wouldn’t want to be the one to out him.
Which, actually, was quite funny, considering.
“More than the seven years he already had?” Rachel asked bitterly and Jim thought, not for the first time, that there must have been a moment in his life that it wasn’t all this: strange and convoluted and just too complicated for his liking.
Try as he might, though, he couldn’t remember that.
“Rachel, it’s Bruce,” he said, as if it explained everything.
“Yeah, I know,” she muttered, because it did.
Flass called in sick the next night. It amused Jim for at least an hour, and it would amuse him for much longer if not for the fact that the next call he got was from Alfred, and that one made him scramble for his coat and practically run out of the precinct, coming up with the flimsiest excuses and then running three red lights.
“How bad is he?” he asked, breathing harshly, and the look on Alfred’s face: panic and worry for once actually coming up to the surface, told him everything he needed to know.
“Bad,” Alfred admitted, voice rough and concerned. “I should…”
“I’ll just go to him,” Jim muttered and moved to find his way to Bruce’s bedroom. Alfred didn’t even try to stop him, just moved out of the way, shaking his head.
He expected the worst, and that’s roughly what he saw. Bruce was shaking, either with fever or with nightmares, possibly both, and he looked like death warmed over. “God,” Jim muttered under his breath and Bruce’s reaction was to toss in his sleep and say something inaudibly.
“It’s been three hours,” Alfred said from the doorway. “I don’t know if…”
Jim shook his head, drowning the words out. He didn’t want to hear it and he didn’t want to even dare to think it. Instead, he reached for Bruce’s hand as he sunk down to the chair next to bed, rain-soaked coat still on. He didn’t care.
“Bruce, please,” he whispered, fingers tightening around Bruce’s. “Wake up from this.”
He wasn’t sure how long he sat like that. Alfred stepped in at some point, ordered him out of his coat and Jim let him take it; in crisis, Alfred needed to keep busy. Jim needed to stay right there, with Bruce.
As Bruce tossed and turned, he talked. Mostly inaudible sounds, words without rhyme or reason, but every once in a while, something recognizable. When Bruce called for his parents for the first time, Jim felt as if he was sucker-punched, but he stayed completely still, just reaching out to touch Bruce’s cheek, his thumb running slowly across it.
“It’s okay,” he said, and either he was mad, or it had some effect, as Bruce subsided for the briefest moment. “It’s okay,” he repeated and kept saying that until his voice run hoarse, and then long beyond that.
“He needs a doctor,” he finally told Alfred, who brought around a tray loaded with tea, even though his hands were shaking. “Can’t you call…”
“And tell them what?” Alfred said.
“Surely there’s someone…” Jim muttered helplessly and Alfred nodded.
“There’s an old friend. I’ll make the call.”
The old friend turned out to be Lucius Fox, someone Jim had barely heard off, but then again he had never been very much interested in the history of the Wayne Enterprises.
“Detective Gordon,” Fox said with a nod, and Jim felt himself calmly assessed, which normally would irritate him just a little, but right now they didn’t have time, and Bruce’s state seemed to deteriorate with every minute.
“Just see what you can do,” he said, and ignored the looks exchanged by Alfred and Fox. Fine, maybe he didn’t have the right to demand anything, but he didn’t care.
“You should rest yourself,” Alfred told him some time later, as Lucius had been working on the antidote. Jim shook his head.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said stubbornly and sat back down in the chair he occupied for the past… well, according to the bedside clock, for the past sixteen hours.
“Didn’t think you would,” Alfred muttered, handing him yet another cup of tea.
Frankly, after that lack of argument, Jim should have inspected its contents before drinking.
Everything was quite blurry when he came around, and only a little because of the residual haziness after being dozed with sleeping pills in his tea. He felt blindly for his glasses and discovered them on the night table. After looking around, he ascertained that he was, indeed, in one of the Wayne Manor’s guest bedrooms and yes, he was starting to wonder if the sleeping pills could be considered an attack on an officer of the law.
“Well, to be honest, you shouldn’t have yelled at Alfred before,” Bruce said from the doorway. “The man likes his revenge cold and served with tea.”
“Bruce,” Jim said, sitting up. The remaining question was mostly what on earth did Alfred do with most of his clothes, including, sadly, his pants. “How are you?”
“Alive. And conscious. A vast improvement, I’d say. You?”
“Well rested,” Jim muttered with some viciousness. “Groggy. Grateful,” he added, with a look at Bruce, who acknowledged it with a nod. “Also, quite angry with you. I think you promised to be careful?”
“I said I can take care of myself. I didn’t promise anything.”
So, drugged, without pants, and arguing semantics with Bruce Wayne. Jim’s day was really going on splendidly. Speaking of, which day… he glanced at his watch, which Alfred also placed on the bedside table helpfully. “Happy birthday,” he told Bruce with a small smile. “I’m sorry I don’t have a gift, I’ve been unconscious and couldn’t do any shopping.”
“That’s fine,” Bruce muttered, and for a brief moment Jim thought that maybe he was going to say something else just there. But instead, Bruce shrugged and stepped further into the room. “You know, I didn’t think I’d celebrate my 30th with a pajama party, but it’s not bad…”
“Only you would think that,” Jim said dryly, but he really couldn’t help a smile that threatened to escape. God, really, 30th. He knew, of course, but somehow it didn’t register until now, until Bruce stepped even closer and sat down on the bed. The age difference seemed so great and vast seven years ago, but now, twelve years felt like nothing.
“Come on,” Bruce said, looking absurdly pleased with himself. “You are already having fun.”
“Well, I could still be high,” Jim muttered. “What was in that tea, anyway?”
“I find it better not to question Alfred. It’s a survival skill I thought you have learned years ago,” Bruce offered breezily, but something in his expression belied the light tone. “Jim,” he said, and even though Jim gave it a moment, nothing followed.
“Bruce,” he said dryly, getting a raised eyebrow in response.
“We’re doing that, really?” Bruce asked, as if he wasn’t the one to start. “Fine,” he sighed and still didn’t follow it with anything else.
“You scared the hell out of me,” Jim said quietly, figuring it was a moment as good as any. Probably worse than some, but Jim Gordon didn’t get to have good timing, most of the time. “You scared Alfred, too, but he seemed to take it as stoically as always.”
“Yes, he does that,” Bruce agreed, his gaze suddenly much more focused, and set directly on Jim, which was just slightly uncomfortable, as it should be, but mostly…
“I think I should get up and find my pants,” Jim said, and then rolled his eyes at himself because, god, really? Really?
Bruce groaned, and Jim wasn’t even making that up. “I don’t think you should have said that,” he told Jim.
“I’ve figured. I’ll take that back, if I may,” he said, taking off his glasses. It was just that little bit easier if he couldn’t see Bruce’s reactions to whatever embarrassing thing he just happened to say. There probably was still time to blame the drugs.
“Don’t,” Bruce said, and it probably wasn’t about the blunder anymore. Bruce’s hand covered his, tightening on the glasses, resting on the covers.
“It’s a bad idea,” Jim muttered, shaking his head slightly and Bruce nodded.
“Because you don’t want it, or because you do?” he asked, and wasn’t that the million dollar question? “I think that’s the only thing I regretted about going away. Not getting to see if…” he leaned in, lips gently brushing Jim’s. “If you’ve changed your mind,” he said, his breath warm against Jim’s mouth.
“It was never…” he started and then silenced himself, taking his turn in kissing Bruce, because it was easier than explain what he still didn’t understand and didn’t want to subject to too much thought anyway. Bruce’s response was more than enthusiastic, his fingers threading Jim’s hair as he moved closer; much too close for comfort but somehow still not close enough, not after everything that happened.
“I don’t think,” Jim said slowly, his breathing harsh and his lips burning, once they pulled away for a moment. “I don’t think I could get through losing you again.”
“It’s hard to be sorry, if this is the outcome,” Bruce said with a small, nearly apologetic smile. It would have to do, and Jim nodded.
“I thought,” he started and stopped as Alfred coughed politely from the doorway.
“Miss Dawes’ car just pulled over to the driveway. I thought you might want to know,” he said and turned on his heel, heading out as if he had seen absolutely nothing. Jim shook his head.
“I don’t think I’ll be drinking anything he serves me from now on, he muttered. Still, there was no disapproval in Alfred’s expression, at least none that he could see, so maybe he’d live. Maybe.
“Alfred likes you, if anything; he’d be watching me like a hawk to make sure I don’t fuck it up. Speaking of fucking things up, I should go and see Rachel, she must still be furious with me,” he said, standing up, his hand still intertwined with Jim’s, as if despite his words, he was reluctant to move away.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jim assured him. Not until he localized his pants, anyway, but he didn’t add that aloud; he really didn’t need to add to the comedy material Bruce was bound to have accumulated by now.
“Good,” Bruce said, and Jim really liked that particular smile on him.