Year 26: Obligations
His mouth still tasted like blood when he woke up.
The rest of his body felt clean--antiseptically so. The perfectly starched sheets tented coolly over his battered body, although even the slight weight of the blankets felt too heavy against his ribs.
He didn't want to open his eyes.
Instead he opened his jaw a little, keeping his lips closed. He probed with his tongue to find the source of the blood taste, discovering it in the lining of his cheek. He had bitten through it, shredded the flesh.
He could feel the swelling bruise on the external side of the cheek, put there by a fist.
It ached and he let his jaw relax.
Everything hurt. He had won his battle, but not without cost to himself. Cost enough that Alfred had held his lectures behind thin pressed lips as he tended to Bruce's body.
He would share his comments later, undoubtedly. Perhaps even now, because Bruce could hear the door opening.
He feigned sleep.
Alfred moved around the room, set something down on the nightstand. There were a few noises, objects banging together, glass tapping glass. Then there was a cold touch to his bruised cheek and jaw. The startling chill gave way to relief as the ice numbed the throbbing ache to something duller, more bearable.
"I know you're awake, Bruce."
Bruce's eyelids flew open. Harvey? It was, looking at him with a mix of anger and relief.
"Shut up, Bruce," Harvey interrupted, moving the ice pack enough to cover Bruce's lips for a second.
When Harvey moved the ice pack, Bruce tried again. "Shouldn't you-"
"God, you're stubborn!" Harvey snarled. "I said shut up."
Bruce blinked, taking in the way the anger had flared in Harvey's eyes.
"You scared me to death, you son of a bitch," Harvey spat. "You looked like a damned cat crawling away someplace to die. Gordon's got units keeping half an eye out for your corpse."
"It's right here," Bruce answered, unable to help himself. He wanted the anger out of Harvey's eyes.
"I can see that! You are so fucking lucky the old man knows field medicine."
Alfred. Bruce blinked. "He knows you're here?"
"Who the hell do you think let me in? Think, Bruce. You've been doing precious little of that lately."
Bruce closed his eyes and turned his head away from Harvey's angry face. Lately. Oh, he'd been thinking plenty lately. Especially on those nights when Harvey had left work early to help with the new babies. Even more when this case had come up, and the string of bodies had created a scenario too grim to appreciate having the DA consistently by his side once more.
Even fucking felt like business, one more obligation on Harvey's full docket.
"Don't turn away from me, Bruce."
Bruce kept his face to one side with an effort. The words left his mouth before he could stop them. "You did."
He didn't see the expression that crossed Harvey's face, but he did hear the distinctive sound of a fist smashing into a plaster wall.
"Mister Dent?" Alfred's voice, concerned without prying. He must have been close at hand.
"I think I need some air."
Bruce heard Harvey storm toward the door, and then he heard Alfred enter. Once more the ice pack touched his cheek.
"He has been here for two days," Alfred said quietly. "That was after I stalled him for almost 24 hours. He hasn't slept."
Bruce finally turned his face toward the touch of ice to look at Alfred. "The twins--"
Alfred's expression remained inscrutable. "I have tried on occasion to remind our Mr. Dent of his...other obligations. He conceded to making regular phone calls."
Alfred lifted the ice pack and inspected Bruce's cheek. Then he took Bruce's hand and urged him to hold the ice pack himself. "Tend yourself a moment, Master Bruce. I must attend to Mr. Dent's knuckles."
Bruce swallowed hard and obeyed, watching through blurry eyes as Alfred left the room so that he was once more alone.
It was dark when Bruce woke again. He could smell something wonderful, and his stomach growled.
"It would seem, sir," Alfred's voice remarked, "that you have an appetite."
"Hh," Bruce replied, blinking sleep-gummed eyes. "Harvey?"
"Mr. Dent heeded my advice to go home and sleep," Alfred reported, setting up an over bed tray. "Your attitude proved most persuasive."
"He's gone?" There was an unwelcome tone of hurt in Bruce's voice.
"He is not on the grounds at present," Alfred corrected. "I cannot fully blame him. Your behavior has been atrocious."
Bruce winced as Alfred helped prop him into a sitting position. His ribs were screaming at him, and he could feel bone deep bruises all over his body from the spray of bullets that had raked him from a semi-automatic pistol. The new Kevlar weave had held, but the impact had only been diffused, not eliminated.
Bruce's stomach rumbled again.
"There we are," Alfred said, sliding the over bed tray over Bruce's lap. It was light fare--soup and bread and juice.
Bruce stared at it. Harvey had been here, at his side, and Bruce had driven him away. "I'm not hungry."
"Master Bruce, I believe your body is saying otherwise."
Bruce shoved roughly at the tray, causing it to pivot on its casters and crash to the floor. "I'm not hungry," he stated again.
Alfred surveyed the mess with his arms crossed over his chest. "Apparently not," the butler sniffed, and Bruce felt bad for the mess. It wasn't Alfred's fault. Somehow, though, that just made him feel worse.
He slumped back down in the bed, turning onto his side. It hurt like hell, but at least he didn't have to watch Alfred cleaning his supper from the floor.
It was quiet in the Manor when Bruce woke again.
It was still dark, but there was a pre-dawn feel to the air. He started to roll over, body reminding him of how much he ached, and felt hands helping ease him onto his back. Too strong to be Alfred's hands. Bruce opened his eyes.
"You look like shit," Harvey said, fingertips barely brushing what felt like a massive bruise on the side of his face.
"You've got raccoon eyes," Bruce countered lamely.
"Because of you," Harvey pointed out. "You're so lucky I didn't find you that night. I might've finished the job of killing you."
Bruce dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Not sorry enough. Or maybe just sorry for yourself."
Harvey's fingers were still caressing his cheek, and now he stared into Bruce's face. "Damn your eyes, Bruce! I am so angry at you, and then I see that look on your face...." Harvey sighed and turned away for a moment. "Don't make me regret my children, Bruce. Maybe it was a mistake, but I owe Gilda. This isn't exactly fair to her."
Bruce shifted guiltily. "I know."
"They're so beautiful, Bruce. I didn't expect that. And fragile. Dependent." Harvey once more met Bruce's eyes. "Dependent on me."
"Shut up, Bruce. Just hear me out. This is important."
"Harvey, I know," Bruce insisted. He reached out to claim Harvey's hand.
"Listen to me anyway," Harvey demanded. "I'm not fucking this up. I might not have wanted it, but I'm not letting those kids--*my* kids--down. I know we've always believed in the same things for Gotham. Well, now the reasons just got a lot more personal."
He paused to take a deep breath. "Bruce, don't force me to choose. I love you--more than anything. But those kids...it's not about what I want for them, it's what I need to do for them. And I need to be their father. A good father. Not like--" He cut himself off and several seconds of silence ticked by. "I'm not sure I can be that father without you, Bruce. But if you force me--"
"Harvey," Bruce said softly.
"Harvey, look at me." He waited until Harvey obeyed. "Do you think Gilda would be okay with me visiting the kids?"
Harvey blinked. "Bruce, I don't--"
"Stop. I've been an ass." He smiled slyly. "Your spoiled rich ass."
"You're serious? About the kids?"
"I won't take anyone's father away from them," Bruce stated firmly. "Not after--"
"Bruce." It was Harvey's turn to cut off a painful line of thought. "God, do you have any idea how much you've put me through?" he suddenly burst out, relief in his tone.
Bruce looked contrite, but there was a hint of mischief in his eyes. "Enough to merit punishment?" he suggested.
Harvey's expression sobered. "You're punished enough, Bruce." His voice grew quieter. "We both are."
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