When Mary McGinnis was still Mary O’Connell, she used to tie her bath towel around her neck and run around the apartment screaming, “I am Batman.” Her gray kitten was famed jewel thief Catwoman, and her goldfish was the Killer Croc. There’s a picture in an album somewhere of a homemade 3rd grade Halloween costume. Her cowl was a pair of black tights with the legs tied into ear-shaped knots, and the cape was a garbage bag. Mary would have worn it everywhere if her mother had let her have her way. Batman was her hero, and she wanted more than anything to be him when she grew up.
It’s hard to completely banish that longing, even now, when she hates Batman with every ounce of passion she has left.
Six months after Terry started working for Mr. Wayne the second time, Commissioner Gordon brought Matt home from school. She looked older than she usually did on the news, and very tired, but Mary could sense the core of steel that made her one of Gotham’s more dangerous protectors.
Mary had heard the rumors just like everyone else. Some said that Commissioner Gordon had been trained by more than just the Gotham Police Academy, that she’d run with a very different crowd when she was younger. Mary hadn’t known what to think before, but standing in front of Barbara Gordon, who carried herself like a combat veteran she could easily believe it.
They’d spoken once before when Terry got his service medal, and she’d seen the Commissioner with Mr Wayne when he and Terry had been attacked last winter, but this was the closest they had ever been in person. Mary was close enough to see the fine pattern of scars on the commissioner’s hands, and the larger, more distinct scar that ran down the right side of her neck and past her collar bone. When she held out a hand to shake, Mary felt a callus across the Commissioner’s palm, one that she’d felt before.
“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. McGinnis. I’m sorry it has to be under these circumstances.”
And it all clicked.
When the Stalker took Matt, Mary was so thankful he came back in one piece that she never spent much time wondering why he’d been taken. Strange things happened in Gotham all the time. And besides, civilians were always being threatened to bring Batman to a fight. It wasn’t anything terribly new; it was just the first time it had happened to them.
She noticed the bruises a few months later. Terry explained them away as battle wounds from the self-defense training Mr Wayne had suggested. He told her that it wasn’t fights at school, and she believed him; he’d straightened out so much since he got the job with Mr Wayne that she let it slide. Even if he’d been in a fight, it wasn’t a regular occurrence anymore. She knew she was missing something, but couldn’t quite figure it out. She comforted herself that he still came home at night, and she could rest easy when she knew he was asleep in his room.
She caught him sneaking in a few mornings, after spending the night with Dana, he said. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but Terry was growing older. Those things were bound to happen. When he and Dana had a fight, and Max started coming by more often, Mary was a little relieved. Max was a smart girl, and seemed to have her priorities in order. She’d even signed up for Terry’s defense course with him.
“Matt’s school was attacked today. Terry and Mr Wayne were answering some questions for the detectives, so I offered to give Matt a lift home.” She patted his shoulder and looked fondly down at the boy who was clearly enjoying the celebrity treatment.
Mary tore her gaze away from Commissioner Gordon’s hands with difficulty. “That was very kind, thank you. Please come in.”
As soon as the Commissioner stepped away from him, Matt was bouncing up and down in his eagerness to tell his story.
“It was so schway, Mom! The whole school went dark and then these dregs came into our classroom and took some us to the basement. Some of the girls were really scared, but I wasn’t. Batman was there and everything. He beat the twips up and threw them into the walls and then it was over. Batman rips.”
“I’m sure he does, honey.” She hugged him close. One of her sons, at least, was safe at home. “Why don’t you go and start your homework so I can thank Commissioner Gordon.”
Mary smiled thinly at the forced familiarity. “Of course. Would you like something to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
They both stood awkwardly for a few moments before Mary walked to the couch and gestured for the commissioner to sit.
After another moment of silence, Mary asked, “Who was involved?”
“A few students were targeted, students with important or wealthy fathers. Matt was with them. They knew your other son worked for Mr Wayne. They were looking for leverage and ransoms.”
Mary’s hands tightened and she looked up to meet the older woman’s eyes. “Please don’t lie to me tonight. Tomorrow, if you need to, but not today.”
Commissioner Gordon sighed. “That is all they knew. We weren’t sure at first, but after Batman went in, it was clear they didn’t have any more … dangerous information.”
There was another long pause, heavy rather than awkward this time.
“I knew Ter was hiding something, but this ...” Mary stood up and walked to the window. “How could I not have known? My son. I knew he stayed out all night a few times, but ... It’s been more than a few nights, hasn’t it?”
Mary turned and looked Commissioner Gordon directly in eye. A few moments passed, and the Commissioner sighed again and looked down.
“Most nights, probably. It’s a demanding job.”
It was all Mary could do to hold back the tears. “All this time, his amazing job with Mr Wayne?”
“How could no one tell me? I’m his mother!”
“Mrs. McGinnis, I know this isn’t easy, but please think carefully about what you really want to know. You can’t unlearn anything you hear tonight, and some of the information might put you in danger.”
Mary caught herself just before her hand slammed into the wall. “Danger? You think I should be worried about danger when my teenage son is off flying across rooftops and fighting criminals while I sleep?”
“I know it’s little comfort now, but Terry is one of the best I’ve seen. He was very young when he started, but he grew up a while ago.”
And she’d seen it, in the way he carried himself. In the force behind his voice at the dinner table when they argued about Gotham politics. She had attributed it to the confidence he’d gained working for Mr Wayne. And, she supposed, in a way that was still true.
“Will he be safe?”
Commissioner Gordon hesitated, choosing her words. “He will be as safe as Bruce can make him. He has a bit more going for him than some of us did. Better equipment, more sophisticated technology, and the best teacher.” There was a tenderness to her words, and respect that ran clear as a bell. There was an odd note of wistfulness as well. She knew the Commissioner was happily married. The district attorney was a high profile man in his own right, but she’d seen the magnetism Mr Wayne had, even at his age. She could only imagine what it must have been to be young and idealistic in the face of all that charisma.
“Do you trust Bruce Wayne?”
She hesitated again. “I trust him to do what he feels is best for Gotham.”
Mary felt the change to bitterness like a blow.
“Do you trust him with my son?”
“If Bruce didn’t think he could handle it, he’d have put a stop to it by now. He’s made that choice before.”
“Can you stop them? Can you protect my son?”
The Commissioner sighed more heavily then before and stood up. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I don’t always agree with Bruce, but Gotham is better with Batman in it.”
The two women stood facing each other again.
“I should go.”
“No, please... I have so many questions”
“That I can’t answer, I’m sorry.”
“He’s my son. What do I do? What do I say?”
“I wish I knew.”
When Mary was younger and working in the city, Batman roaming the streets of Gotham was a distant comfort. She’d grown up on the stories, and it was a nice idea to have in the back of her mind. Living alone in the heart of Gotham wasn’t quite as scary as it could have been. She’d even seen him once - just a glimpse across the rooftops, but it had been enough to make her feel safe for weeks. Now, even the name sends shivers down her spine.
Each night Terry comes home late, she is convinced he is under the river, lost in space, driven mad by some Joker’s gas. The worry, the paralyzing fear, they never stop. She admires Mr Wayne for what he has done for her city, but she despises him for what he has done to her son.