It felt unreal to be having breakfast with Batman and his butler. And breakfast it was. When they were finished, Jim glanced at his watch. Was it already half past five in the morning? Where had the night gone?
His worried frown didn't go unnoticed by his companions. Alfred offered to give him a ride home.
"Or would you prefer to ride with Master Bruce on his motorbike?" the butler asked with a playful twinkle in his blue eyes.
"Uh, thank you, Alfred, I think I'd better go with you," Jim replied. "If Bruce drives as he does with his super-bike…"
"Bat pod," Bruce offered innocently.
Jim ignored his comment and continued, "I'd prefer not to be on the back seat when he runs another red light. I'm still the Commissioner, you know."
Jim couldn't believe he'd actually said that, but the other two men laughed and stood up from the chairs that Bruce had miraculously produced from another hidden chamber in the floor.
Alfred packed away the leftovers from their meal and let the tables and all the equipment vanish into the floor while Bruce went to an inconspicuous part of the wall which turned out to be a garage door. Jim looked on in amazement when Bruce pushed a flaming red bike onto the elevator he'd summoned before.
"Visit me some time, and I'll give you the Grand Tour," Bruce offered. With a chuckle Jim indicated that he had every intention of following up on the invitation. "And don't forget the housewarming party next year. You simply must attend," the billionaire stressed.
Jim rolled his eyes. "How could I forget?" he asked, laughing out loud.
Bruce grinned, and they shook hands before the younger man gingerly climbed onto his motorbike. His eyes were bright despite the pain, an appealing sparkle of humor in them, and most of the previous tension and despair were visibly gone. The contrast to the listless and angry man Jim had encountered in the middle of the night was astounding.
I bet Alfred's first mission when he comes home will be to take a look at these wounds, Jim thought and sighed. Bruce was lucky that Dent's bullet or the fall hadn't killed him. He could only hope that Bruce's luck would hold for many more years.
As the elevator carried them to the surface, the room disappearing beneath them darkened and the lights went out automatically. Jim didn't have to wear a blindfold this time (he'd left it on one of the work tables anyway), but Alfred kindly asked him to close his eyes until they were a few blocks away from their start. Jim complied, and they exited the elevator car. He could hear Bruce take off on his motorcycle as Alfred led Jim to the car and helped him sit down.
During the drive through the waking city, the two men shared an amicable silence until Alfred stopped in front of Jim's house. Before Jim could even try to exit the car on his own, the butler had come around and already held the door for him.
Jim shook his head inwardly and climbed out of the comfortable vehicle.
"Thank you, Alfred," he said and smiled at the elderly butler.
"No, sir," Alfred smiled back at him. "I must thank you."
Unspoken understanding passed between them and finally Jim nodded.
"It's been an honor," he told Alfred. He could see that the butler took the sentiment for what it was – an honest offer of friendship and respect for a young man about whom they both cared deeply.
They bade each other good night. As Alfred drove off, Jim inserted his key into the door of his family's house. The night's events seemed quite surreal to him now that he was back at his own home.
He knew, he'd never see Bruce like this again – vulnerable, out of his depth, lost in sorrow. Their next meeting would definitely be different, but he was looking forward to it. Because under all the masks Bruce wore, both as Batman and the billionaire playboy he portrayed in public, there was a fine young man hiding underneath – with a wicked sense of humor.
Jim chuckled and opened his door, entering the dark building still lost in deep thought. Did I ever want to know so much about Batman? Probably not. I was curious, yes, but I would never have tried to really find the man behind the mask. But I'm also glad. This night wasn't about me but about an unusual young man who simply needed a friend he could talk to; someone who had had similar experiences in life and would understand without judgment. He closed the door behind him, tossed his keys onto the sideboard, and quietly made his way through the half-light, trying not to disturb his sleeping family. And if he can live with all he's been through, then so can I, having seen just small parts of it.
He stopped in mid-stride when his gaze fell upon the tiny dark figure sitting in the hall, slumped against the wall and snoring gently.
Jim rushed to his son's side. The boy slowly opened his eyes and squinted up at his father.
"Hey, Dad," he murmured. "Is Batman okay?"
Jim looked at him in surprise and Jimmy said, "A very nice man with a funny voice called Mom a few hours ago and said we shouldn't worry, you were helping a friend and would be back in the morning." The boy grinned smugly. "And since you don't have many friends you'd would have to meet at night, I figured it had to be Batman."
Alfred..., Jim thought and nodded in defeat. "Yes, I was with Batman, and yes, he's fine. Or rather, he will be. We had some things to talk about," he explained.
Jimmy obviously didn't understand but he nodded solemnly. "That's good," he mumbled and drifted back to sleep.
Jim picked up his sleeping son. Reminding Jimmy not to talk about Batman would have to wait until later. He carefully carried the boy upstairs to his room and put him to bed, smiling when the light from the bedside lamp fell on Jimmy's sleeping figure, his pajamas printed with bats in all shapes and sizes.
Oh Bruce, you'll always have a fan in him, he thought. Then he went to look after his sleeping daughter and his wife. Jim knew, he could never in his life settle his debt with Gotham's Dark Knight.
When Bruce went to bed that day, he found a note attached to his cell phone. There was only one person who could have stuck it there. Curious, he unfolded it. It bore a simple message in Jim's tiny cop scrawl.
We're still two.
And Batman smiled.
Dawn was coming.