It was a rainy afternoon when Gordon pulled into the long driveway of Wayne Manor, unable to keep his questions to himself any longer. The investigation had gone as far as it could, and now he didn't have much choice.
He parked outside the front steps, half debating his umbrella before he shook his head and pulled his coat collar up and ran for the door. This far out from the city the rain had turned to a mild drizzle, but he was still damp by the time he reached the door and rang the bell.
"Commissioner Gordon, to what to we owe the pleasure?" asked the familiar crisp British accent as the door swung open two minutes later, revealing the ever present butler.
"Mr. Pennyworth," Gordon nodded. "I'm afraid I'm here on police business. An ongoing investigation has turned up some irregularities with the Wayne Corporation, and I have some questions."
"I think you'd be better suited to approach the board of directors for that, commissioner," Alfred said politely, shifting slightly.
"Normally, I would," Gordon said, glancing past Alfred into the dark entrance hall. "I'll be honest, Alfred, we don't know how deep this goes. The mob has been quiet in the three years since Maroni was killed and we put most of his people behind bars or in the ground, but they've started causing trouble again. Maroni's successor may be inside Bruce Wayne's corporation. You can see how I wouldn't trust the board of directors with that."
Alfred tilted his head, barely holding back a smirk.
"And you don't suspect Mr. Wayne himself, do you commissioner?"
"I admit he is on the list, but as far as I'm concerned it's only a formality," Gordon said, hoping that Alfred was going to let him in. “Anyone who's been employed there in the last fifteen years is on the list.”
"And if I say he won't take visitors?"
It was Gordon's turn to smile.
"I could probably dig up an outstanding warrant or two for a grey Lamborghini with a few dozen traffic violations," he said, smiling when Alfred chuckled.
"Right this way, sir," the butler said with a small exaggerated bow as he opened the door wider and Gordon entered the rebuilt mansion. "I can't tell you what kind of mood he'll be in, but I'll tell him you're here."
"Thank you," Gordon nodded, handing over his coat and following Alfred to a drawing room that might normally be sunny and open, but today looked newly foreboding with the gloom and rain.
The room was nicely decorated, though it lacked any personal touch. No photographs, no portraits, no art particularly. It was tastefully done up to be the perfect room for the uninvited guest, cosy and welcoming, but if you looked closer, closed and impersonal, revealing nothing about its owner. Gordon poked around for a couple of minutes before settling near the mantle, admiring the ornate clock that took up much of the space.
“Commissioner,” said a voice that sounded husky with disuse. “Here to arrest me for speeding?”
Gordon turned, seeing the outline of Bruce Wayne standing in the shadows. There was just enough light to see that he looked worse than the last time Gordon had seen him, that day in the traffic accident when they'd been trying to stop the hospital bombing. He didn't seem to have been seriously hurt at the time, but now he was leaning heavily on a cane, dressing gown hanging loosely on a frame that was too thin, and his face was half invisible under a shaggy, scruffy beard, and hair that hung low over his eyes.
“Mr. Wayne,” Gordon said, recovering himself as he held up a file. “I have a puzzle for you.”
“What makes you think I'm interested?” the other man asked, limping slowly into the room and sinking into a high backed chair with a grunt. He stretched out his left leg with a wince.
“Well, it involves your company,” Gordon said, taking the seat across from him. “We've been digging into your corporation for months. I've seen the work you've done personally, and one of the detectives even came up with your unfinished college dissertation. I happen to know you like puzzles.”
“And you think I can solve this particular puzzle because?”
Gordon suppressed a grin. He could tell he had Wayne's interest already, he just had to hook him. He really did need help with this, but he also had a feeling this might be just a little bit fun.
“We think the new head of the Gotham mob is someone inside your company, Mr. Wayne.”
Bruce Wayne's gaunt face emerged from the shadows, eyebrows raised and clearly showing his shock as he leaned on the cane and stared at Gordon.
- : - : -
“Do you play chess?”
Jim looked up in surprise, seeing Bruce halfway across the room, leaning over an old marble chessboard. He was dressed in dark slacks and a turtleneck, and he'd actually trimmed his beard since the last time Jim had seen him. They'd been sorting through the suspects at the corporation for a few weeks now, narrowing it down to a dozen or so names. Whoever it was, they were extremely good at hiding their tracks, and Gordon was being especially cautious not to tip them off.
“Sometimes,” Jim said, shrugging. Truth be told he wasn't very good at chess but he did enjoy it now and then.
“Lets play,” Bruce said, catching the rolling table by one corner and pulling it over between the two armchairs in front of the fire.
“I don't think I'd make much of an opponent,” Jim said, looking back at the file in his hands. He was no match for Bruce Wayne, he would beat him in six moves or less.
Jim sighed, looking up from the file again. Bruce had arranged himself in one of the chairs and was carefully making sure all the pieces were in place on the board. Jim noted that he'd given himself the black pieces and left the white on the side of the empty chair. Shaking his head he left the file on the table and settled in the other armchair.
An hour later he realised that one of three things was true; He was better than he thought, Bruce was letting him win, or Bruce was actually bad at chess. He suspected it was the second.
Sometime late in the afternoon Alfred brought coffee and inquired if the Commissioner would be staying for dinner, which made Jim look up in shock and realise it was almost six in the evening.
“I should go,” he said, moving one last piece and putting Bruce in checkmate for the third time that afternoon.
“You're very welcome to stay,” Bruce said with a hint of a smile and Jim thought about it for a moment.
- : - : -
"My wife is leaving," Jim said, staring at the bottom of his glass as he stood in front of the fire. "Packing up the kids and taking them to live with her sister next week."
Three months, many afternoons of sorting through files, and a few dozen chess matches had passed since Jim had first come to the manor and he'd been surprised to find he considered Bruce Wayne a friend, a good enough friend to talk to about his problems. There was silence for a long moment, and a sidelong glance told him Bruce was staring contemplatively into his whiskey glass, the firelight casting shadows on his gaunt features.
"Rachel…" Bruce started then coughed, clearing his throat and swiping at the tears gathering in his eyes. "Rachel Dawes. I loved her, all my life I think. We grew up together you know, her mother was a housekeeper for my parents. Then they died and I was so caught up in my own selfish shit that I just…”
“I never realized,” Jim said softly, thinking back to the events of nearly four years before. It made sense, in a way. She was killed and Bruce Wayne vanished, disappeared into his grief. “I'm sorry.”
“I stayed away too long,” Bruce sighed. “Seven years. Long enough to be declared legally dead. By the time I came back, and was willing to stay, she'd moved on. I don't think she ever forgave me for not coming back. And then she had Harvey.”
It had been no secret that Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent had been an item. All of Gotham knew it. But it was only Jim Gordon and the Batman who knew what really happened after Rachael's kidnapping and death. Only they knew that Harvey Dent wasn't the hero that Gotham thought he was. Only they knew who Harvey Dent really was, and it wasn't a story Jim was planing to share any time soon.
He took another drink, sighing. Planning and reality weren't ever the same thing, and a few moments later the story began to fall from his lips. Once the floodgate opened, everything poured out as Bruce listened silently to each dark detail and hidden secret that Gordon had been carrying silently for four years.
“Well,” Bruce said at last, his face pale and his hand shaking. “I supposed at least it's a comfort to know he really did love her.”
“I don't think anyone who saw them together could have doubted that,” Jim sighed sadly. “Losing her drove him mad.”
“She was…” Bruce started, but he couldn't continue, and Jim crossed the room to lay a hand on his shoulder. He'd seen what losing Rachel had done to Harvey Dent, and now he was beginning to understand what it had done to Bruce Wayne. Once more the guilt washed over him that he hadn't been able to save her.
“I'm sorry,” he said softly.
Bruce shook his head, wiping away the tears. He heard it in Jim's voice and he looked up, catching Jim's forearm and holding on, waiting until their eyes met.
“I don't blame you,” he said quietly. “I know what you're thinking, I can see it on your face. You didn't get there in time, if you'd been faster you might have saved her. But I don't blame you. There was nothing more you could have done.”
Jim nodded, his throat constricted. A weight lifted from his shoulders, some of the guilt washing away now that someone, anyone, knew the truth. He didn't have to carry his secret alone anymore.
- : - : -
Jim sat back, folding his napkin and looking around the restaurant thoughtfully.
"What I can't understand," he said after a moment, "Is if you're here wining and dining me, or the police commissioner. Or if you even realise you're doing it to begin with."
Bruce paused, his fork mid-twirl in his pasta, staring at his plate silently. Finally he looked up, a small smile on his clean shaven face.
"Would you believe me if I said that last one?" he asked with a sheepish grin and Jim chuckled.
"Somehow I figured," he laughed, draining his wine glass and leaning back against his chair.
"Does it bother you?" Bruce asked, going back to his food. On the outside he was casual, but inside he was kicking himself, rethinking everything he'd said to Jim Gordon in the last five months, wondering what the hell he'd been thinking, subconscious or otherwise.
"Not really," Jim shrugged. "I'd be more worried if you were trying to get the police commissioner in your pocket."
Bruce snorted. "I don't see you as the police commissioner," he admitted quietly. "You're my friend, and I don't have very many of those."
“I feel like I'm walking into a midlife crisis right now,” Jim said, reaching for the bottle and refilling his wine.
“Yours, or mine?” Bruce asked with a chuckle.
Jim took a drink then set the glass down, watching him for a long moment. Bruce's eyes were nervous but he never wavered.
“I'm not sure.”
- : - : -
“So about that midlife crisis,” Bruce said with a short chuckle as he handed Jim a glass of whiskey. Both men stood in front of the large fireplace, watching the flames dance and roar, their shoulders pressed lightly together.
“I would say something about sports cars, but you already have enough of those,” Jim said, the corner of his mouth quirking before he took a sip of his whiskey. Bruce snorted into his glass and shook his head.
“I was thinking more along the lines of a highly inadvisable love affair,” Bruce said calmly, his insides churning. He had no idea what he was doing, he had even less idea where on earth his instincts were leading him, though he had no choice but to follow. There were so many reasons this was a bad idea, more than he even wanted to think about.
Jim was his friend now, had always been an ally. He didn't know Bruce's secret and someday Bruce would have to tell him, then he didn't know what was going to happen. Not to mention the man had been married, had children, was more than a decade older than him, the list went on. But apparently he was interested in Bruce.
“Highly inadvisable am I?” Jim teased to cover his own nerves.
“The most inadvisable choice I can think of,” Bruce said softly, finally turning enough so he could see Jim's face.
“Long list of reasons?” Jim asked, his own body turning slightly to match Bruce's profile, eyes darting around the younger man's face. Younger, but no less touched by worry and sadness, he looked at least a decade older than he really was, the lines on his face showing how hard his life had actually been, despite the glamours life he lived in the paper.
“Miles,” Bruce muttered, smiling softly at how similarly they thought.
He was taller than Jim, Bruce realised now, by at least three inches. He wondered how he'd never noticed it before, but now that he was looking down at the other man, face half hidden in shadows cast by the firelight, he could see the difference Jim tilted his head, almost questioningly, and Bruce took a breath, leaning forward and kissing him softly, hesitantly. He wasn't afraid to admit he was terrified.
Jim leaned closer, one hand on Bruce's chest, his eyes drifting shut. They kissed for a long moment before they moved apart at the same time, and Bruce sighed quietly.
“Have you ever… dated a man before?” he asked and Jim shook his head, leaning back so there was distance between them again.
“There was a guy in college,” Bruce said, shifting his shoulders awkwardly. “I wouldn't exactly call it-”
“Dating?” Jim finished with a chuckle, his eyebrows raised as he took a drink of whiskey.
“It was lacking some of the normal social aspects that are usually ascribed to dating,” Bruce nodded, trying to keep his voice even.
“Bruce, most of what you've done over the years has lacked some of the normal social aspects that are usually ascribed to dating. Like only one person at a time, and not having it splashed all over the front page of every newspaper in Gotham,” Jim said and Bruce chuckled.
“I had an image to maintain,” he said lightly, grinning. “It was Alfred's idea. He said I wasn't acting like the proper trust fund brat with too much money and time on my hands. It was really kind of boring actually.”
“I heard about the hotel you bought just because your 'dates' wanted to swim in the decorative fountains, and I heard about the incident with the Russian Ballet,” Jim said, one eyebrow raised. “Please tell me that wasn't just to spite Harvey Dent because he was planning to take Rachel,”
Bruce smiled, shrugging. “You know Rachel was a special case. Anything I could do to annoy Harvey was a bonus.”
“No kidding,” Jim said, downing the last of his whiskey and setting the glass on the mantle.
“She did chew me out for that,” Bruce said with a smile, just a hint of sadness tinging the edges. “But she also thought it was funny.”
“I'm sure she did,” Jim smiled. “She did have a wicked sense of humour.”
They fell silent for a few moments, then Jim sighed.
“So, is this going to be dating, or something else that's missing some social aspects?”
“Well,” Bruce muttered, shuffling his feet a little. “I'd say it's been dating for a while, we just didn't seem to notice.”
“Mmhmm,” Jim smiled, enjoying making Bruce shift nervously. He knew Bruce was sincere about this, as surprising as it had been to both of them, but Jim had dated superficial people before and he was too old to risk getting into that again, so he was making the other man work for it. “And is this going to be a secret or-”
“Secret. So secret they haven't invented a word for it. If the city found out your career would be over, they'll think you've become that corrupt cop that you spent so many years chasing down and kicking out, and honestly you've turned this city around too far for them to just look the other way now,” Bruce said, unconsciously stepping forward. “Consider the risk this may pose if it ever gets out, before you say anything.”
Jim smiled, one hand reaching up to brush along the smooth cloth on the lapel of Bruce's suit jacket. “Well, it seems like we're on the same page then.”
“Yeah?” Bruce said, his eyes lighting up. Instead of answering, Jim pulled him forward and kissed him soundly, stepping closer when Bruce's arm looped around his shoulders.
“You got a bedroom hiding somewhere in this place?” he asked when they broke apart and his heart fluttered at Bruce's laughter.
“Well, unless Alfred converted one into a man cave, I think we have twenty,” Bruce grinned, dodging when Jim poked him in the side.
- : - : -
4 Years Later
"Shouldn't you be downstairs? It's your party," Jim said, taking a sip of his drink. He knew Bruce wouldn't come down, but he wasn't giving up nagging him anytime soon.
"Pretty sure it's your party," Bruce grinned against Jim's shoulder. Jim nudged him with an elbow and the arm Bruce wasn't using to lean on his cane wrapped around his waist, pulling him back against his chest.
"You're a terrible host," Jim said lightly and Bruce chuckled.
"They're used to that by now," he whispered.
They lapsed into silence for a few slow minutes, watching the guests on the lawn mingling and chatting.
"I brought the speech again," Jim said quietly after a while. "I thought maybe this was the year to tell them all the truth, but now I'm not so sure."
"Let them have their hero," Bruce mumbled.
"I've never asked you this, but I've always wondered," Jim said softly, leaning back against Bruce and covering his hand, weaving their fingers together. "What would Rachel have wanted me to do? Would she have wanted the truth out there about him?"
Bruce sighed behind him, slumping slightly.
"I've asked myself the same question a hundred times and never known what the answer would truly be," he admitted. "The part of her that fought for justice above everything else would waver between the truth about Harvey and the lie that would keep so many criminals off the streets. The part of her that loved him…"
"I'm sorry, Bruce," Jim said but Bruce shook his head.
"She would have wanted them to know the truth, but she would have wanted to protect the people above everything," Bruce said.
"Just like I do," Jim said, staring down at the folded piece of paper in his hands. "Maybe next year."
“Mm,” Bruce hummed, brushing his nose against the side of Jim's neck. “You should go down. Try and have a little fun at least.”
“Yes dear,” Jim deadpanned. “I'm going to paint the town red, don't wait up for me.”
Bruce snorted, arm squeezing around Jim.
“I'll just be in bed reading. Naked.”
“You're a menace, Bruce Wayne,” Jim grumbled, shoving Bruce lightly as he turned.
“Just trying to distract you from all that worry going on in there,” Bruce smiled, brushing at the lines on Jim's forehead that only grew deeper as the years passed.
“I know,” Jim smiled, leaning their foreheads together. “Thank you.”
They kissed softly for a long moment, then Jim took a fortifying breath and descended the stairs, slipping into the crowd unnoticed. He mingled a bit, and gave his speech. The papers with the truth about Harvey and Batman stayed tucked in the inside pocket of his jacket, and he thought 'maybe next year.'
By the time the party was winding down Jim was exhausted, seriously considering retirement, and his feet ached. As soon as he could disappear, he quietly slipped back into the house and up the stairs into the west wing, pulling his tie off as he pushed open the bedroom door.
“We had some excitement while you were giving your speech,” Bruce said, glasses slipping a bit further down his nose before he pushed them back up, the brightness of the tablet screen highlighting the grey in his beard. He didn't look up, concentrating on whatever was on the screen.
“Oh?” Jim asked, yawning as he undressed and pulled on a pair of pyjama pants, pulling the covers back and collapsing without any grace into the heap of pillows, his glasses already safely on the nightstand.
“One of the waitresses broke into the safe in the east drawing room,” Bruce said and Jim cracked an eye open.
“I don't suppose you want to file a police report?” he asked tiredly, knowing Bruce wouldn't.
“She didn't manage to steal anything,” Bruce shrugged. “I caught her, then she went out the window.”
“From the third floor?” Jim asked after a minute and Bruce nodded.
“She left her fingerprints behind, and I think she stole mine.”
“What on earth for?” Jim said, now more awake. Bruce smiled and put the tablet aside, switching the screen off and laying his glasses on top of it before he turned over.
“It's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow,” he said, one hand resting on Jim's stomach as he kissed across a bare shoulder.
“Bruce,” Jim protested, though without much heat.
“It can wait,” Bruce mumbled and Jim sighed, sinking his fingers into Bruce's hair and rubbing his scalp, chuckling when Bruce rumbled deep in his chest like a cat.
“You ever going to shave again?” Jim asked, slightly out of breath as Bruce continued his trail of kisses down and across his stomach. The two years or so since they'd stopped going out anywhere that might be considered polite society, and had instead stayed in their own little world in the manor, Bruce had gotten lazy about shaving again. He wasn't as frail or thin as he had been when Jim came into his life, but he was still hurting deep inside and Jim suspected it might never fully heal.
“What, you don't like the hermit look?” Bruce asked, not looking up.
“You look older than I do,” Jim said with a smirk and Bruce chuckled.
“I'll consider a trim,” he conceded, and then there was no more talking.
- : - : -
"I need to tell you something," Bruce said quietly, his back still to Jim. They'd been awake for a while, talking quietly, and Bruce had come to a decision as he looked out the window, Jim's arm around his waist and breath in his hair.
It was, of course, at the exact second he was ready to tell all his secrets that Jim's phone rang and he reached for it, frowning at the number.
"It's work," he said quietly before he accepted the call, full commissioner mode in place in seconds.
"You have to go?" Bruce asked when he hung up, rolling on his back to watch the other man hastily tugging yesterday's clothes on.
"I'll try to come back tonight," Jim said as he buttoned his shirt, coming around to Bruce's side of the bed and leaning down, pressing their foreheads together.
"Ok," Bruce sighed quietly. It seemed his secret would have to wait for another day, no matter how heavily it weighed on his heart. "Be careful."
"I will," Jim whispered, leaning forward just enough for a soft, but lingering kiss.
- : - : -
"Commissioner Gordon's been shot."
- : - : -
"You were gone," Jim croaked and Bruce's heart broke a little more. This wasn't how he wanted to be here, he wanted to be here as himself. But Bruce Wayne wasn't what Jim needed now, right now he needed Batman. He couldn't even visit in the daylight, no one knew they had become friends. There was no reason why Bruce Wayne would visit the commissioner.
"We were in this together and then you were gone," Jim said, voice full of pain from his wounds and from his anger.
"The Batman wasn't needed anymore," Bruce said quietly, his voice rough to stay in disguise. God knows he was risking a lot, Jim knew his voice so well by now.
"He needs to come back," Jim coughed and Bruce gripped his hand tighter. "These people. We can't do this alone."
"You're not alone," Bruce said quietly before he slipped out the window. He paused just long enough to look back at Jim's now sleeping form, his anger rising as he realised everything in his life had just changed once again.
- : - : -
Bruce tossed and turned, trying to catch a few hours sleep. He'd been out all night and it was almost dawn, and he had several meetings that his real self had to attend in the early afternoon. The only problem was he couldn't sleep, and he was realising it was because he wasn't used to sleeping alone. Even if Jim was at work, out late, or maybe never making it to the manor at all, Bruce was used to knowing he'd be there if he had the chance. It made him realise Jim had all but moved into the place without either of them really noticing. Alfred had probably noticed. Alfred noticed everything.
Things weren't going well, Daget was taking over his company, and he'd let things slide the last few years. The energy project had been a mistake from start to finish, and he was running his resources dry. Jim was still in the hospital, and they'd spoken over the phone a few times, but Jim had agreed that Bruce should keep his distance.
It seemed like Bruce was facing blow after blow, first Jim was shot, then Alfred admitted that Rachel had chosen Harvey. Then he'd trusted Selina Kyle and gone into the tunnels. He was no match for Bane, he realised that almost at once, but by then it was too late. His first thought before he blacked out was that he hoped Jim would survive what was coming.
- : - : -
Being back in the city was strange after five months trapped in the pit, slowly healing and building himself back up. Even before, when the scum of the city were in control of everything and every cop but one had been dirty, it hadn't been like this. This was chaos, anarchy made normalcy. Shops were boarded up, windows blacked out, suspicious eyes watching him walk down the street even in the dead of night.
Selina wasn't hard to find, keeping to her old neighbourhood mostly, and he followed her until she was alone. She didn't ask why he needed to find Jim Gordon, just pointed him toward the last place she'd known him and his remaining cops to be. She didn't apologise for giving him to Bane either, but he hadn't expected her to.
Finding the police was almost easy, but finding Jim wasn't, and Bruce was proud of that fact. It took him almost six hours to track the other man down, on patrol alone, following one of the trucks that might hold the bomb in it.
Bruce watched from afar for a while, just reassuring himself with the sight of Jim alive and reasonably well, before he approached, knowing his return wasn't going to be met with smiles and joy. He couldn't blame him, if it had been Jim that had gone missing for months, he'd have been pissed too.
He kicked a can aside as he approached from behind, knowing the clanging of it would alert Jim, and the other man spun, reaching for a gun he wasn't carrying.
“Who's there?” he called and Bruce stepped forward, out of the shadows.
“Bruce?” Jim asked, his voice cracking as he took a step forward. Then his fist connected with Bruce's jaw and the taller man staggered back.
"Where the hell were you?" Jim shouted, shoving Bruce back so hard he hit the alley wall behind him. "I though you were dead, you son of a bitch!"
Bruce tried to grab Jim's hands before he could land a second solid punch, but instead finding himself pressed against the wall by a smaller body, hands tugging painfully on his hair and Jim's mouth on his.
Wrapping his arms tightly around the other man, Bruce pulled him close, returning the desperate kiss with everything he had, feeling his eyes prickling with tears as memories of every touch and kiss rushing back to him in an instant and making his head spin.
"I'm sorry," he gasped as he pulled back, breathing hard. "I'm so sorry."
Jim pushed him away, separating them and leaning heavily against the opposite wall.
"I thought you were dead," he repeated.
"I was!" Bruce shouted, his hands clenching.
"What the hell does that mean?" Jim demanded, throwing his hands up in the air.
“I can't tell you,” Bruce said quietly, turning away. “I don't…you don't need to hear it.”
“Bruce, I thought you were dead,” Jim said a third time, voice utterly broken and lost.
“I know,” Bruce whispered. “I know.”
“Where have you been?”
“I can't tell you,” Bruce said softly. “I can't, it would only put you in more danger.”
The last time they had seen each other, and Bruce and Jim, he was ready to tell all his secrets. Now he couldn't.
“You're not making any sense,” Jim shook his head.
“You have to trust me,” Bruce said, taking a step closer. “You have to trust Batman.”
“Batman is gone,” Jim spat and Bruce shook his head.
“I found him. He was hurt, but he's alive. He's back, he'll help,” Bruce said. “But he's going to need your help first.”
“You know who?” Jim asked and Bruce nodded. “But you won't tell me.”
“I thought you'd been killed in the riots,” Jim said softly, reaching for Bruce with one shaking hand, gripping Bruce's jacket tight as he stepped forward, Bruce's hands resting lightly on Jim's waist. “All these months I thought you were gone. Where have you been?”
“Underground,” Bruce said quietly, as close to the truth as he could get. He had been underground, but he hadn't been in Gotham. If they survived this, he swore to himself he would tell Jim everything. Right now all that mattered was Jim was here, body pressed against his, and Bruce didn't even resist the urge to kiss him.
- : - : -
"I never cared who you were," Jim started and Bruce smiled to himself while his head was turned away. "But shouldn't the people know who saved them?"
"Batman isn't a person, he's a symbol," Bruce said quietly. He let the roughness drop from his voice as he turned. "And he can be anyone. Even a man who did something as simple as put a coat around a young boy's shoulders to let him know the world hadn't ended."
The cockpit closed and Bruce saw the exact moment that Jim understood, could almost hear the scream as the Bat lifted away, out if the tunnel and into the air.
"Oh," Selena said softly, looking between the fast retreating aircraft and the man crumpling to the ground. With only a moment's hesitation she crouched at his side and put her arms around him. “You didn't know,” she whispered.
Jim was shaking, his heart thudding in his chest like a racehorse, like it might give out any second. He wasn't as young as he used to be, and after all this, a heart attack wouldn't be unprecedented.
“I thought you of all people must know,” she said softly and Jim shook his head, struggling to his feet. She knew, somehow, she knew about them, but it didn't matter now how or why.
“I never wanted to know, before. There were things that never made sense, but I didn't want to know. Come on, we need to get out of here,” he told her, taking a deep breath. Right now, he had to keep going. There was no other option.
They'd just reached the streets when the bomb exploded, the light shining out across the water. Moments later the sound reached them and Jim took a step back on instinct, feeling Selena's hand tighten on his arm. He held on to her and it was all that kept him from collapsing.
- : - : -
Sorting the city out was going to take months, years, before even a hint of normal returned. Normal was never going to be the same in Gotham, even when it did find its way back. The bridges had to be repaired or rebuilt, the city had to be cleaned, repaired, made habitable again as more than just the bare minimum of chaos they had lived with for five months.
The military moved in as soon as the bomb was clear. You couldn't step outside for days without the sound of choppers heavy in the air. They brought food, supplies, aid workers, construction workers, teachers, medics, therapists, any number of other people in ships and ferries. Shops opened, banks rebuilt and organised, schools started again.
Weeks passed and every day Jim was considering retirement a more and more viable option. As soon as everything was well on it's way to returning to something approaching normal, he could step back, take time, but then the promising detective he'd been planning to train as his eventual replacement had up and quit the police force, dashing Jim's hopes. Now he didn't feel like there was anyone he would trust to step into his shoes.
Bruce's funeral had been the worst day, not long after the explosion. There was no cover story, it was assumed he'd been killed in the first riots, another casualty of the occupation. No on asked why the coffin was empty, and the lawyers came out of hiding to execute his will. The manor, with all its memories, was being converted into a home for underprivileged children, while the Wayne Corporation was once more rising from the ashes under the careful eye of Lucius Fox. Everything else went to Alfred, except for one silver Lamborghini, which was left to Jim. He'd laughed through tears when he heard that, knowing it was Bruce's long running joke about someone's midlife crisis.
The days continued to pass and somehow the nights weren't as bad as Jim had expected, not anymore. He remembered what it was like after Barbra left, the emptiness of the house and the silence of missing having someone in his life, but he was too tired when he came home at night now to dwell on this new loss, or miss the warm body on the other side of the bed. He would come home, collapse into a deep sleep, be woken by his alarm, and go back to work. He didn't let himself have time to think. For a while it was like it wasn't real, like he wasn't gone.
Then one day, it wasn't real.
There was a new search light with the Bat symbol on the roof of the police plaza and suddenly nothing was for sure. There were sightings around the city, and once, when Jim was taking a coffee break, the Batman had stood on the other side of the roof, appearing silently. He had stared for a long moment, hope suddenly rising, but everything about him was wrong. He was too short, too thin, and he made no move, aside from nodding his head before he vanished. Jim suspected he knew who this new Batman was, but he wasn't going to be looking into it. Instead he went home every night, now hoping for something else.
About a week later he came home to the same dark house he always did, locks locked and everything in place. Only tonight there was a bottle of his favourite whiskey on the dining room table, sitting on the edge of a piece of folded piece of paper. On the paper was an address, with a key taped under it.
Jim ignored the address, opening the whiskey and pouring a glass. He drained it, then threw the glass against the wall, screaming in frustration. He didn't want to hope, but he couldn't stop it. He hoped with everything he had as he got in the car and drove, pulling up twenty minutes later outside a large but unassuming house in a middle class district of the city, the area that had already been almost fully restored. The key turned in the lock and Jim took a shaky breath before he opened the door.
The entrance hall was lit by low lamps, walls done in shades of gold and tan, with a blue runner leading from the door and down the hall. Jim concentrated on the small details, willing his heart to beat steadily. The noise of the door closing echoed through the house and a moment later there were footsteps from a door near the back of the hall. Jim gripped the door handle tightly as the figure emerged from the kitchen.
“Hi,” Bruce said quietly, tentatively. He wiped his hands on a towel and tossed it over one shoulder. “I didn't know if you'd come.”
"That has better be the last time I have to think you're dead," Jim said quietly after he found his voice again. He locked the door behind him, and Bruce's shoulders slumped.
"All those years, and you never found the time to tell me you were the Batman?" Jim asked as he advanced into the hall, tossing the key on the side table. “Four years, Bruce. Four years.”
"I was going to tell you," Bruce said quietly, looking down. "The day you were shot. I was about to tell you when you got the call. When you didn't come back later I figured you were just busy, and then the next day when Blake showed up and told me what happened, that the city needed Batman to come back…"
"Blake knew?" Jim asked, utterly incredulous.
"He guessed," Bruce said, one side of his mouth quirking. "He said it was an orphan thing."
"I supposed it explains why he's running around in your suit. And after I was shot…" Jim sighed and Bruce nodded to the room he'd come from, leaving Jim to follow him as he talked.
"Everything went to hell,” Bruce explained quietly. “I went down into the sewers looking for Bane, but he captured me. Beat me, broke my back, and dumped me in a prison half a world away. Left me with a television so I could see everything that was happening in Gotham, until I threw a rock into it and broke the screen. By the time I healed, escaped, there were days left on the bomb. I came back as fast as I could, and found you."
"How did you get back into the city?" Jim asked, sitting down at the table heavily while Bruce went into the kitchen and dried the last of the dishes he'd been doing. It wasn't the most important question, but it was the only one he could bear to ask.
"They weren't guarding the underside of the bridge," Bruce smirked as he put things in the cupboard. "It was so simple I was almost disappointed."
Jim laughed, somewhat desperately, then he sighed.
"I mean it, Bruce, no more. I care about you and damn it, I want you back, but if this doesn't stop now, it's over and I walk away," he said quietly. “I can't take it again.”
"I love you," Bruce said without preamble, turning to look fully at Jim. "I love you and I already thought I lost you twice. No more. You have no idea how hard it was to stand by your hospital bed as anyone other than myself."
"At least we're even on the supposed death count," Jim scoffed, his stomach fluttering at Bruce's words. It was ridiculous, a man of his age feeling like he was twenty years younger just because someone told him they loved him.
Bruce chuckled, walking to the window and looking out, putting his hands in his pockets with a sigh.
"You know you're the longest relationship I ever had?" Bruce asked, his voice almost fond.
"I'm not sure what that says about your ability to commit, frankly," Jim responded and Bruce smiled.
“Nothing good, I suppose,” he chuckled.
“Why me?” Jim finally asked after a long silence. “All those years ago, when you first came into my office at Central and put a gun to my head and told me we were going to clean up the city, why me?”
“Stapler,” Bruce said, digging his hands deeper in his pockets.
“It was a stapler. Not a gun,” Bruce muttered quietly. “I don't like guns.”
Jim stared at him for a long moment, incredulous.
“You…held me at gunpoint with a stapler? You really had no idea what you were doing, did you?”
“Not those first days, no,” Bruce admitted. “I didn't have a clue.”
“And you picked me of all people,” Jim shook his head.
“Would you believe that you were literally the only cop in Gotham who wasn't on the take?” Bruce asked and Jim nodded.
“I know I was, but I'm nothing special. I didn't know how to save the world.”
Bruce crossed the room and crouched down in front of the other man, smiling tentatively. “None of us did, Jim. That's how we could. We believed enough that we could do it, even if we didn't know what it was. And we did.”
“Did you spend some time in therapy after your little vanishing act?” Jim asked, narrowing his eyes at the younger man, who snorted.
“If you call Selena's lectures 'therapy' I'm pretty sure she'll steal your life savings just to irritate you,” he laughed. “She tracked me down and said a lot of things to me, opened my eyes to a lot of things I wasn't seeing, things that were right in front of my face. Like just how much I can't stand the thought of losing you,” he admitted softly, laying on hand over Jim's where it was clenched on his knee. “She made me face up to it and come back for you, even if it was just to say what I needed to say.”
“I am so, so sorry,” Bruce said, his eyes pleading as he looked up at Jim. “I am sorry for everything I ever did that hurt you, I'm sorry I got you involved. I'm sorry I let your family be put in danger. I'm sorry Barbara left because of me and what happened to this city. I'm more sorry then I can ever find the words for.”
“I should be mad at you, I know I should, I should be furious,” Jim muttered. “You turned my life upside down, changed everything I knew, took away so much. But all I can be is relieved that you're still here, because you did everything you could to give me some little bit of happiness back. Those four years, Bruce, those were some of the happiest of my life. It may not have been the life I thought I'd be living, but Barbara and I were already over long before she left. It wasn't your fault, or Batman's fault, or anyone's fault. And it's not something you have to be sorry for.”
Bruce smiled, wrapping both his hands around Jim's and pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “Will you come with me?” he asked softly. “Will you retire and disappear to Europe with me?”
“You are such a romantic,” Jim said, rolling his eyes.
“I'm down on one knee here,” Bruce pointed out and Jim chuckled, pulling on his hands to make him stand up.
“And if you stay there I'll hear about it for weeks because your knee is sore,” Jim grinned, standing up.
“Is that a yes?” Bruce asked, his eyes twinkling as he stood, looping an arm around Jim's waist, under his coat.
“I've still got work to do,” Jim warned. “It could be a few months.”
Bruce smiled, leaning down so their foreheads pressed together, his eyes drifting shut.
“It's ok,” he whispered. “Fo you, I can wait a few more months. Just move into the house with me.”
“I like my house,” Jim said and Bruce snorted.
“You hate your house.”
“Ok,” Jim sighed. “I hate my house. Does Alfred know you're alive?”
“Not yet,” Bruce said, pulling back a little. “I'm supposed to make an appearance at a cafe in Florence in about three months. He'll know then.”
“I won't even ask,” Jim sighed, reaching up to trace an unfamiliar scar under Bruce's eye.
“I love you” Bruce whispered, tightening his arms. “I want to spend the rest of my life telling you that.”
“I might consider letting you,” Jim teased, his heart lightening as he realised they could be together, they could be free. They'd paid any debt owed to their city, they were done. They could just live now. “I love you,” he whispered and Bruce grinned. “But,” Jim said, leaning back and staring hard at Bruce. “If you ever leave your socks on the floor again, I'm gone.”
Bruce threw his head back and laughed with pure joy. They were going to be just fine.