Fearful Symmetry (Flip Side)

by 'rith

Archive: Ask first, please.
Fandom: DC comicsverse. AU. Fearful Symmetry, Bruce's version: http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/stories/Fearful.html
Notations: M/M slash, nonexplicit.
Disclaimer: These characters, property of DC Comics. These words, mine.
Thanks to: the usual suspects for pointing, laughing, and enabling.

Fifteen years.

The thin sliver of open window is enough to invite a chill breeze, but despite the growing cold outside Harvey makes no move to close it. The window is, after all, an invitation of another sort. Or will be as soon as he finishes going over this last brief and turns off the overhead light. His expected visitor knows that the work, as always, comes first.

It's been fifteen years tonight since the courtroom and the Maroni trial, though, and his attention is split between the demands of the present and his recollections of the past. Bruce, he thinks, is no doubt feeling the same. As they so often do.

Harvey's hand rubs absently over his face, where that doubtless-lethal splash of acid had spilled past to catch the hand Bruce extended to push him out of the way. He's examined the anatomy of that reckless, astonishing leap countless times since: Bruce's presence in the courtroom to begin with, unexpected and welcome; the realization, too late, that Maroni's coughing was more than just a stall for time; the sudden sharp stench of caustic fluid and burnt flesh and the feeling of Bruce's body covering his as they'd landed together on the floor. *Knowing* at that moment, like an island of calm amid the furor, that the carefully planned course of his life had just been commandeered by something far more powerful, and important.

In fifteen years, he's never had cause to doubt or regret the truth of that revelation.

It hadn't even been much of a shock. When they'd first met, back in college, there'd been a kind of immediate simpatico between his own genial, calculated manner and Bruce's cool, deliberate reserve. Beneath the surface they'd been far more alike than anyone could have guessed, but Bruce had vanished again before Harvey had really gotten the chance to explore the similarities. It might have been nothing but a fleeting possibility if not for the occasional postcard from overseas in the years following--more, he gathered, than Bruce communicated with anyone outside his parents' butler-turned-guardian.

In the space between college and Bruce's return Harvey had made a tactical decision and married the girl who'd been his passport into a political and social world he never could have entered on his own. Gilda...had understood that, and also understood a more important unspoken reality, though the latter hadn't been an issue until Bruce crashed into him and made the previous *awareness* between them into something tangible.

Harvey has never lied to her, nor made a promise he didn't keep. He's been very careful with his promises. Or to look at it another way, he had merely followed through on a previous commitment. Granted, not so much a pledge as a hope, but inescapable nonetheless.

It's foolish to contemplate what might have been if Bruce had come back sooner, if Harvey had delayed the marriage. The reality is what it is, and he is too cognizant of his own ambitions to pretend that in any scenario he wouldn't, still, have chosen the best combination of factors to attain them.

That Bruce so perfectly mirrors his ambitions with his own quest...makes him Harvey's match, his equal, as much as anything else. Truth is, more often than not Harvey stands in awe of him, that incredible iconic *force* Bruce has shaped himself into as the Batman. There's nothing casual in contemplating the Bat, nothing comfortable. But oh, so *necessary* both for the city and for Bruce himself, and Harvey doesn't pretend to imagine he could have accomplished anywhere near as much without his partner's help.

Harvey smiles wryly down at that last brief, still unread, and gets up to turn off the light. No reason to make Bruce wait any longer as long as he really, truly, is done for the day. Sometimes it's only minutes before Batman crosses the threshold, sometimes hours, and in either case he might have been busy with crime in the city or waiting outside on a gargoyle the moment before. Neither of them pretends to be at the other's beck and call, knowing intrinsically that they'll *be* where they're needed.

Still: there are protocols to be observed. Harvey sits back down at his desk, glancing down at his papers to ensure everything is in order just as the window slides open to admit both the Batman and a blast of colder air. "How was patrol?"

"Quiet," Batman says, and Harvey feels his mouth twitch in both amusement and satisfaction. So like Bruce to downplay any less-than-world-shaking event, and the police scanner had indicated enough activity on the streets earlier tonight that "quiet" was almost certainly an understatement. And at the same time, it probably *had* been quiet in comparison to the days when the gates of Blackgate and Arkham had been more symbolic than effective. Certainly far safer than in the days of the Joker.

The memory of those rampages *still* gives Harvey nightmares, and if he prays at all it's to offer thanks that Gotham hasn't seen fit to spawn another evil to take the place of that one.

Harvey nods and stretches. "Good," he says without emphasis, and then to let Bruce know how much he appreciates the luxury to be so nonchalant: "You set 'em up, I lock 'em up. World's finest team."

"Are we?" Batman murmurs, and Harvey's eyes narrow in his best interrogating gaze even as he curses himself for not having been prepared for this.

Because he should have expected it. Fifteen years is a long span, after all, and while their partnership has never been in doubt it *has* suffered the expected stresses, and more besides. Their professional lives mesh perfectly, Batman taking the criminals off the street, Harvey keeping them from returning wherever possible. Gotham has become a city of law, a model of shining order.

Their personal lives...mesh somewhat less than perfectly, though not because of any disparity of desire between them. On *that* account, they have nearly always been of similar mind. But again, reality being what it is, there had never been a real possibility that he and Bruce could have any kind of public life together.

It isn't fair to either of them, and less so to Gilda. He's acutely aware of that, even as he refuses to apologize for it. How could he be expected to apologize for something inevitable, perhaps fated?

And Bruce has his mistress too. His lover Gotham, though he'd scoff at the description, the focus of all his nights and days. Harvey bears no jealousy for *that* relationship; as much as he loves Gotham himself, the city's fearsome hold on Bruce is not a thing to be envied.

None of the seeming-endless stream of socialites Bruce dates are of any consequence, to either Bruce or himself. Only the very rarest and (perhaps not coincidentally) the most dangerous women had ever been more than a distraction to him: the feline thief Selina Kyle; Talia al-Ghul, the daughter of the demon; Pamela Isley and her chemical charms. And even they, Bruce swears, had been little more than brief temptations.

In the end, none of them matter. Only his and Bruce's mutual quest, and mutual need.

"Bruce?" Harvey prompts gently, because he knows better than to push. He also knows what Bruce is thinking. The sacrifices he's made, on behalf of both Gotham and Harvey, have brought them to where they are today. In a way, it's been harder on Bruce than it has on him. He's had Gilda and the kids to go home to, even when he'd rather have been elsewhere. Bruce...has only ever had his empty mansion, except for the sporadic occasions when Harvey can join him there. He's focused his life around two obsessions, Harvey and his mission, and underneath the Batman's confidence lies a fear that without either, there's nothing left of *him.*

"Leave Gilda," Batman says in his roughest voice. "You don't need her anymore."

The disquiet hidden behind his tone shivers up and down Harvey's spine colder than the breeze from the window Bruce neglected to shut behind him. It's comprised equally of fear and yearning and *if* things were different, *if* it could be possible....

It's not, and they both know it. Harvey says the words by rote. He hates them. They're necessary. "We're both too public, you know that, Bruce. Gotham DA's got to be a good upstanding family man. Roots in the community, loving wife and kiddies, all that jazz. We *agreed* to this, remember? Both of us."

He aches for the resignation in Bruce's voice as he accedes, but there's nothing for it except to offer reassurance in the best way he knows how. "Then stop brooding and pay attention. Honestly, Bruce, I don't know what's gotten into you. Or maybe," Harvey leers, deliberately provoking, "you haven't been gotten *into* enough lately. Being bent over my desk is all very well but that goes both ways, ya know. If you--"

"Harv," the Bat growls, "shut up."

Which is another signal that, God, after all these years *still* sets his nerves afire. "Yessir," Harvey says, tilting his neck in invitation. Batman--Bruce--doesn't fail to take him up on it. Never has.

He can't imagine the world otherwise. After fifteen years, he doesn't want to.


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