Jim pulls to a stop as close to Wayne Manor as he can get with the convertible parked haphazardly in the way. He's been out to the Manor before; Bruce Wayne has held a number of charity events for the police out here which he was expected to attend as the police commissioner. Even after all the times he's been here it's difficult not to be awed by the sheer size of the place, but he manages. The officers who'd followed in the squad car have no such experience and gape at the Manor while he looks around and notes that the convertible's top is down and apparently had been down for some time. The upholstery is ruined by the rain which had last swept through Gotham a week ago. Wayne hasn't used this car in at least a week. Is he out of town or has he just not gone anywhere? Has he not even stepped foot outside or given a single thought to his car which probably cost more than Jim makes in a year?
He might be an idiot, but he didn't strike Jim as quite the sort of person to do something like this, even if he can afford a dozen cars, identical to this one, to replace it, without making anything like a dent in his bank account. No, Bruce Wayne only did that kind of thing when he had an audience- preferably one with plenty of reporters in it.
With a professional bad feeling in the pit of his stomach (as opposed to the highly personal bad feeling he'd felt when he'd stopped by Barbara's place and found her body room temperature), Jim rings the doorbell. Nobody comes to the door, but it's a large house. He rings the bell a few more times, but nobody comes to the door. Maybe the bell is broken. Not likely; Wayne probably gets everything repaired the day it breaks, no matter how long other people have to wait for the repairmen to come out. Still, it's possible. The officers start fidgeting when he tries the knocker; they think it's a lost cause. To be honest, so does he. But he isn't about to do less than what procedure says to do, not when there's a slight chance somebody might be in trouble. Nobody answers the knock either.
He tries the doorknob as he turns away, knowing it won't be unlocked. But it is. It turns easily in his hand, and the door swings open. He wasn't expecting this. It's one thing for Wayne to leave his car's top down, to leave the car out in the open, but leaving the door unlocked? The Manor's security might be elegantly disguised, but there's enough of it to classify as paranoid if Wayne didn't live in Gotham. He doesn't hear an alarm, either; Wayne must not have set it. Even Wayne isn't enough of a ditz to leave his house open and unprotected. The bad feeling grows.
"Mr. Wayne?" he calls, doubting Wayne will be able to hear him if he's anywhere other than the nearest few rooms in this mansion. "Bruce Wayne? We're here to check up on you." As he'd expected, there's no reply. "All right, spread out. We need to find out if he's here or if he's gone off to Tahiti or somewhere," he tells the men. If Wayne's here, he doesn't expect him to be alive- the man hasn't been seen in months, and a thick layer of dust covers everything. Wayne's butler goes everywhere with him- if he'd been here, the butler wouldn't have tolerated the dust, no matter what Wayne thought.
They start walking through the house, calling out Wayne's name. Jim, at least, feels out of place among the rich furnishings and knickknacks, any one of which probably costs more than his house, never mind what he makes in a year. It doesn't matter how many times he's forced to go to parties and crime scenes at places like this- the feeling's always there. He doesn't expect for them to find Wayne, open door and parked car aside. Wayne is known for traveling the globe, for disappearing and turning up in Switzerland or Aruba. Still, they have to follow procedure. He wanders through the mansion, calling out occasionally, but mostly just takes the opportunity to admire the art. On the whole, he prefers dogs playing poker. There's a reason he's the police commissioner and not an art critic, but at least he can afford the kind of art he likes.
Eventually he finds himself in the kitchen, which is as large and well-furnished as the rest of the place. As in the rest of the house, the dust is thick, but unlike everywhere else, the kitchen has a path cut through the dust on the floor- straight from the other door to the refrigerator. Has somebody actually been there? Jim can't stop himself from reaching out and opening the refrigerator, expecting to find it either empty or full of rotten food. But there's no smell. It's full of food- homemade food which requires no further preparation, fresher than what's in Jim's rarely-seen fridge at home. Well, somebody's been in here, and recently, which makes him a little more optimistic about what they might find in this house- a months-old corpse is much less likely if somebody's been visiting. Even the criminals usually find a way to notify the police about those.
He shuts the fridge and follows the dust-free trail out of the room. Whoever made it never made any side trips, or if they had it was long enough ago that dust has covered them up again. It's not the chain of footprints that Jim's leaving behind, but a path which somebody has walked so much that individual footprints can't be made out, a trail of gleaming wood among the dust.
Down the hallway, and the path splits in two. One way leads to what Jim remembers is a bathroom. The other he would have called a living room if it had been in his house. In this mansion, it was a drawing room. Seized by the urge to put off finding what's at the end of his search for as long as he can, Jim checks the bathroom first. The path leads to the toilet, free of dust everywhere needed for its use. The other fixtures are as dusty as the rest of the house. As he expected, there's nobody in the room. Reluctantly, he follows the path to the drawing room, wary of what he'll find. A corpse might be less likely than he'd initially thought, but everything he's seen here does not point to somebody sane living here- whether that somebody is a squatter or Wayne himself.
In front of the drawing room, the dust is cleared from more than just that one neat path. There isn't much call for knowing how to track in Gotham- or at least not that kind of tracking- but even Jim's inexperienced eyes can tell that a scuffle happened there. There's only one path, and no other sets of footprints, leading up to it.
The door to the drawing room is open. From the hallway he can see into the room. Like the rest of the mansion, it's covered in dust, but here, at least, the floor is thick carpet. The dust is not yet thick enough to be visible on it. By the windows, seated in a wing chair, is Bruce Wayne. The smell is overpowering, and for a moment Jim thinks they're too late, that Wayne has finally given up and died, but then he sees Wayne breathe. Not dead, then. He enters the room, talking to Wayne all the while, but Wayne doesn't respond, just stares into space. Jim calls the rest of his people to tell them he's found Wayne, and they gather in the room, their feet clearing away the evidence of the mysterious scuffle in the hall on the way in. Jim doesn't say a word; there's no sign of foul play, so there's no reason to preserve whatever evidence there might be.
The officers are all full of thoughts, opinions, and ideas, which they all feel the need to share immediately. Leaving Wayne here, alone and in this condition, is out of the question, but their chatter isn't helping anything. Wayne doesn't even blink at it. After seeing the signs of a struggle in the hallway, Jim wants to avoid doing anything to set Wayne off, if that's even possible.
"Can you stand up?" he cuts through the chatter and asks Wayne, not really expecting a response. Five seconds pass, then ten. The chatter starts again, but stops abruptly as Wayne rises from the chair. Jim shoos his officers outside and reaches to lead Wayne outside by the arm; it doesn't seem like he's in any condition to manage it himself. Wayne flinches away before his hand lands, though. Jim lets his hand fall to his side, and instead asks Wayne to follow him.
Walking with Wayne behind him is like leading Eurydice out of the underworld (and just what does it say about his life that he knows that because of a case rather than an interest in mythology?), though at least there are no consequences to looking at Wayne. Wayne, who usually has the stealth of an elephant, follows behind him with footsteps as quiet as a ghost's, only the barest brush of fabric making noise even though with the mansion this empty you could hear a pin drop. But then, Wayne's about as close to a ghost as it's possible to get while still living.
When they leave the mansion, Jim realizes that the door's still unlocked, and Wayne's in no condition to lock it himself, so he delegates somebody to find a key to lock it up. Hopefully there is one in an obvious place- if they're all hidden, it could take weeks of searching to find a key. Fortunately, only a few seconds pass before he returns and locks the door before giving the key to Jim.
The squad car's back door is open already, waiting for Wayne, but even if Jim doesn't like the politics of his job he can see clearly that treating a man with high-priced lawyers who hasn't done anything wrong except retreat into his own head like a criminal is a bad idea. It takes a little arguing to get everybody else to see that, though; all they see is a rich man getting preferential treatment. But in the end Jim gets his way and opens the back door of his own car for Wayne.
Jim gestures for Wayne to get in the car, and he starts to. Without thinking, Jim puts his hand on Wayne's head to keep him from bumping it. It's a reflex- how many times has he done the same thing? Before he can remember that it's a bad idea, he finds out firsthand. With a fluidity that Bruce Wayne should never show while attacking somebody, Wayne knocks Jim's hand off of his head and punches him in the nose hard enough that he stumbles back and falls on the ground. It takes a second for his brain to kick in and tell him it was his own fault, but that isn't what makes Jim stare at Wayne.
He knows that style. He isn't a martial artist, able to see that sort of thing easily, but he's known Batman for a long time, and for too much of that time he's had more pieces of the puzzle than he needs buried unexamined deep in his mind. But this is one piece too many. He may not know the details- and with Wayne the way he is, probably never will- but he can no longer deny that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Or was, anyway.
Wayne holds his eyes for a second. Even when he wasn't able to see more than that damned mask, Jim had always felt the personality behind Wayne's eyes, but now…it's gone, like Wayne is some empty, soulless husk. He's been face to face with the worst criminals this city has seen and not been afraid, but looking into Wayne's eyes he feels a chill down his spine. Then Wayne breaks his gaze and enters the car like nothing's happened.
The officers want to cuff Wayne, of course- or more accurately, take him out of Jim's car, cuff him, and put him in the squad car. He understands the desire, and if these were almost any other circumstances…but they aren't. He'd wager everything he has that Wayne hadn't done that on purpose and that whatever state of mind he's in he doesn't have a clue what he did. Batman's damage- to people, at least- has always been calculated, only as much as necessary. His fellow vigilantes haven't always been so careful, but Batman always had been. Wayne doesn't need to be cuffed, he needs to be not touched. He's shaking like a leaf in reaction to Jim's touch- or what he did out of reflex- and that's something Jim's never seen on Wayne or Batman, a reaction that can't be faked.
Jim hands the keys to one of the officers and gets in the back seat with Wayne. He's pretty sure that nothing he does will break through Wayne's shell- hell, he doesn't even have a clue why the man's in this condition- but at least he'll be making the effort. It's the only thing he can do for the man. However much Wayne needs help, Jim wouldn't call locking him up with his worst enemies something he's doing for him.
He talks to Wayne about everything that comes to mind except the elephant in the living room. Everything he knows about Wayne's life. The news. His own life- though that's a topic soon exhausted, since he's not going to talk to Wayne about open cases when the officer's able to hear every word, and what else is there in his life? He probably sounds like an idiot- strike that, he knows he sounds like an idiot. He'd happily take the humiliation- and a great deal more- if only it meant seeing some reaction from Wayne, some small sign that he was still in there, somewhere, not just a collection of reflexes that stares into space and follows orders. But he gets nothing for his efforts. Wayne might as well be back in his chair at the mansion, alone and staring into space, for all the reaction he gets by the time they reach the police station.
The station- any place with a lot of people, really- is a horrible place for Wayne to be right now. Jim doesn't know what's going on inside his head, but it's probably not very pretty, and made worse every time he's touched- and nobody here knows not to touch him. In this state, he's not in control of himself. It's like taking the safety off a gun and giving it to a kindergarten class: they don't know any better, but sooner or later somebody's going to get hurt, and all you can do is hope it won't be fatal. At least they've had experience treating some of the prisoners with more caution than most of them need, which keeps today from becoming a painful experience for anybody else. It's not what the prisoner isolation protocols were designed for- Wayne doesn't have poisonous skin, even if he does hurt anybody who touches him- but the officers can just think of it as a drill if they have a problem with it. Isn't one overdue, anyway…?
He'll have to call Wayne's lawyer to find out who's responsible for Wayne now- or rather, once he's done being evaluated. Not family, he doesn't think- everybody knows about Wayne's parents, and a year ago the only thing the papers had talked about had been the death of his adopted son. But with a man like Wayne, there'd be a living will. Even if he'd been as shallow as his public persona, his lawyers would have forced him to make one. Judging by his work at night, he was more than smart enough to figure out he needed one without any urging.
His work at night. Batman. Did his…colleagues…know, or did they think he was simply spending more time in Gotham or on vacation? He has no idea how much they keep track of each other, or even if they know more about each other than just anybody can find out. But it's irrelevant, anyway, unless one of them comes to him and asks. He has no way to contact any of them, short of shouting "Superman!" like anybody else, or somehow catching a glimpse of one of the remaining local vigilantes and flagging them down. And he hasn't seen any of the other Gotham vigilantes recently. Not that he sees any of them as often as Batman- and even that has always been sporadic- but the fact that he hasn't seen them lately opens the possibility that they're dead and that's what set Wayne off.
Gotham's future if that's true flashes through his mind, each possibility worse than the last. The GCPD has always denied the existence of Batman and his people, but he's uniquely positioned to know everything they do for Gotham. Sure, the bulk of the police work in this city is done by the actual police, but Batman's always worked the hardest cases, and some criminals are so afraid of him that they'd rather be locked up than in his sights. Losing Batman alone is going to be a hard blow; if the rest of them are gone as well, Jim isn't sure the city will be able to remain more livable than it had been while it was a No Man's Land.
Number seven or eight on his to-do list at the station (because some things just can't- or shouldn't- wait, and he's been gone long enough for things to pile up) is calling Wayne's lawyer, who's quick to pull out Wayne's living will. What he hears only confirms what his gut has been telling him all along. The first person on the list of people designated to handle Wayne's affairs, Alfred Pennyworth, passed away a few months ago. Richard Grayson had predeceased Pennyworth by about a month. Barbara, his Barbara- he'd already known she died six months ago. But the fourth person on the list, Clark Kent, is still alive and (presumably) well. No need to ask what kind of connection Wayne could have to a reporter in Metropolis that's strong enough to place him on that list. It's information he'd never wanted to know- has spent a lifetime trying to avoid being forced to learn- but there's no way to forget, now that he does know. He wonders if Kent's the one Wayne scuffled with in the mansion. It would make sense, considering the evidence. And Kent had been the one to ask the GCPD to check on Wayne.
A call to Kent elicits a promise to be there the next day. No traveling faster than a bullet for Kent, even if his alter ego does so on a regular basis.
This day has been too long- he'd had a full day's worth of work before he decided it might be more tactful for the group checking up on Wayne to include him. He's worked for longer before, but something about this day tires him more than usual. Tomorrow won't be a walk in the park, either. Well, maybe a walk in the park with Isley on the loose. He holds no illusions about the department being leak-proof, especially when the news involves Bruce Wayne, who the press are always eager to hear about.
By all rights, a new day should mean that the worries of the previous day were swept away, or at the least a new and more optimistic view of them. Maybe it is that way in other cities, but Gotham takes and takes and never gives anything in return except more problems. Things never look better in the mornings in Gotham, merely illuminate more disturbing possibilities.
Jim's always had his suspicions about Batman's sanity. After all, dressing up like a bat wasn't exactly a good sign. But aside from the bat theme and vigilantism, he'd always acted as sane as anybody else in Gotham- though there are days that Jim thinks that isn't saying very much. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but he'd never thought that the man would lose himself like this. It seemed like insanity was always a risk in Gotham, but he'd always thought that if Batman went it would be down the same path other vigilantes went, and no few cops: taking things too far. They're bailing the ocean out with teaspoons; even working together it's impossible to see if their efforts make any difference. No, Jim doesn't wonder why Wayne snapped, just why it happened this way.
Wayne hasn't snapped out of it yet. Surveillance of his cell shows that he's moved only to eat and use the toilet. Aside from disturbing everybody within earshot of him with his screams when he had a nightmare, he hasn't made a peep. If Jim had dared to hope that a change of scenery would do Wayne any good, he'd be disappointed, but it merely confirms what he already suspected. Batman- and, in his own way, Wayne in the persona he presented to the public- has always done things his own way. There's no doubt in his mind that this will be the same way.
Somehow- completely contrary to the way things usually work- the press has yet to catch wind of Wayne's condition, so Jim's spared the clamor of reporters for the morning at least. He takes advantage of that to get some work done, since god knows it'll be impossible to get anything done once the press get started. They remind him of piranhas, able to strip the flesh from the bones of anybody unlucky enough to get caught in their feeding frenzy for a few seconds.
Kent shows up precisely on time. Despite the fact that his disguise is nothing more than a change of clothes and a pair of glasses, it's difficult to see Superman in him. But at the same time, it's hard to pinpoint the differences, especially as Jim's acquaintance with Superman had been fleeting and rare- he'd always gotten the sense that Batman kept out everybody but the true Gothamites. The glasses, yes, and hair and clothing- but that shouldn't be enough to fool anybody, and Kent was a reporter. His coworkers should have seen through him in an instant. But there was something…posture, maybe? Kent seemed all too human and grounded. Superman, the few times he'd met the superhero, had seemed almost unreal, too powerful. Too bright, especially against a backdrop of Gotham. And yet, Kent doesn't seem like merely a dimmed-down version of Superman, or a cover story, but like a real person in his own right. Even before he knew about Wayne, the man had never seemed…genuine? Whole? Either worked; there'd just been something missing, something that Jim now knows was Bat-shaped.
In all of his years of working with Batman, the vigilante has never been less than aggravating, disappearing into the night while Jim's in the middle of a sentence and rarely telling him everything- even though he'd trusted Jim enough to offer his identity. Maybe he's different with the caped crowd, more willing to compromise and open up, but Jim wouldn't bet money on it, even if Kent does know his identity. Some behaviors are simply too deeply set to change that easily. But Kent's unable to hide the concern in his eyes, concern that Jim would swear is genuine, and not solely professional, despite Batman's difficult personality.
Seeing Wayne in the cell seems to shake Kent. Jim couldn't begin to guess which part of it's the worst for him, but god knows there's enough to choose from- the cell, Wayne's behavior, the fact that it's all too real and not merely a nightmare. On top of that, Kent's in a position to know if Jim's guesses about the rest of Gotham's vigilantes are true.
"Has he been like this the whole time?" Kent asks, sounding like he doesn't expect anything else but still hopeful.
"Unless he's touched," Jim replies. He'd give anything to have another answer to give, but neither of them can change the facts.
"And if he's touched?"
"He gave me a bloody nose, but not because it was the worst he could do."
"That doesn't sound like Bruce. He doesn't like violence."
Yeah, and Gotham's the safest city in the world, Jim thinks sarcastically. But Kent knows the truth, he's just trying to keep Wayne's secret. And Jim doesn't know Wayne as well as Kent surely does; maybe he does hate violence, despite his night job. "Maybe he took martial arts when he was younger and the reflexes just kicked in. I've heard stranger things," Jim offers as an excuse. Not knowing has worked for years; he's got nothing against helping Wayne maintain his cover, even if he's in no condition to appreciate it.
"I suppose that's possible," Kent says. You'd think he'd be better at maintaining cover stories- but maybe he's just too shaken at the moment to do it as well as he usually does. Jim refuses to believe that he's remained undiscovered all this time if this is the extent of his usual acting skills.
"Come on, you have to fill out some paperwork," he says, since it looks like otherwise they'll spend the whole day standing there and staring at Wayne.
Kent fills out the paperwork easily, reading it thoroughly but never having to consult anything other than his own memory to fill out even the medical information that Jim wouldn't have expected him to be privy to under usual circumstances- and, considering the fact that Batman had rarely said anything more than absolutely necessary, wouldn't have expected Wayne to share. Maybe he really was more open with the other capes than he ever had been with Jim. Jim can only speculate at this point, and he isn't about to ask.
"He's going to be sedated for transport to Arkham," Jim explains.
"Arkham? Isn't that for criminals?" Kent frowns.
Arkham is infamous. Kent, of course, has more reason than others to know about it, but everybody knows at least a little: the asylum for the criminally insane with a revolving door. Jim had expected a protest. "That's what it's best known for, yes. But it also has normal patients, and all of the best psychiatrists in Gotham work there." Because what other choice is there? As horrible as it is to lock the man up with people who have repeatedly tried to kill him, Arkham is the best place in Gotham for him. Jim doesn't think anybody short of the best will be able to do anything to help Wayne, and if leaving him in the mansion with or without a caretaker had been a good option Jim doesn't think the GCPD would have been called to check up on him.
"I see," Kent said. "How is he going to be sedated, anyway? Since he reacts so violently to being touched."
"We never even thought of that." The usual procedure is to hold them down and sedate them if it's necessary, but if nothing else Wayne's fighting skills seem to be intact- not a situation he wants to put his officers into, especially since he's not sure Wayne will be as gentle with them as he was with Jim. Not that you can call giving somebody a bloody nose being gentle, but considering how much damage Wayne could have done… They have tranquilizer guns, he supposes, but it just doesn't seem right.
"Can I try?" Kent asks.
Well, if nothing else, Wayne won't be able to hurt Kent. It's something, at least, and maybe the Midas touch of Kent's alter ego will be able to make this transfer something other than a complete disaster. "It's against procedure…but yes. He obviously trusts you. Maybe he won't attack you."
After Wayne's transferred to Arkham, Jim doesn't get another spare minute to think about him. The Joker's escaped from Arkham- again; why does it seem like the more dangerous the criminal, the easier it is to escape from Arkham? And if Wayne ever recovers enough to think about escaping, will he be able to because he's dangerous, or not be able to because he's not a criminal? Fortunately, no matter how much it might seem that way, that's not actually the way Arkham works. In actuality, most of the worst offenders go into Arkham and never come back out; guys like the Joker are just an anomaly. It's not like they bribe their way out, for the most part- Joker's latest killing spree had started with his latest psychologist.
If there's one good thing about this whole mess, it's that it's the Joker who escaped. Not that he isn't bad enough, because he is, but at least he's easy to find, not like some of the other criminals locked up in Arkham. Much as he'd prefer not to rely on the vigilante, Batman's usually the only one who can figure out Riddler's riddles or the Mad Hatter's crimes' connection to Alice in Wonderland, and at the moment they're down one Batman, and no replacement Bats have popped up. Maybe when they turn on the signal…
Not even a minute after the light's turned on, Superman swoops in from the sky. It's dark, but not so dark that Jim can't see him coming from a long way away. Maybe he's just too used to getting the living daylights scared out of him by vigilantes popping out of the shadows rather than using more conventional methods of transportation, but it just seems wrong to see his approach. As if, since Jim's able to see him approach, he won't be fast enough to do what needs to be done. Jim's stomach churns with irrational fear. This isn't an omen; Batman had always been only human, so why shouldn't Superman be able to handle it? But he remembers the damage the Joker can do, and the all-too-human expression in Kent's eyes earlier that day.
When Superman lands, the detectives automatically look into the shadows for Batman. They've never caught him, but it's almost a reflex to look. Superman never comes to this city without accompaniment. "It's just me," Superman says. "Batman is…indisposed." Well, at least he's better at maintaining a cover story like this; that could mean anything, but the implication's clear: he'd be here if what he's doing wasn't more important, but he sent me in his stead. None of them, except Jim, even knows if the other Gotham vigilantes are still around, or what happened to them if they aren't. Even Jim doesn't know about Robin, whoever that is or was.
There's no time for wondering now. Jim pulls himself back together with an effort. "Joker's on the loose," he says. "He kidnapped a busload of kids going home from school and is demanding that Batman show." And of course Joker's the one who's the most fanatical about fighting Batman and not anybody else, just when he can't come. The first of many, Jim supposes, resigning himself to months- if not longer- of similar demands and retaliation when he can't acquiesce, until news finally makes its way through the loose community these criminals have made for themselves in Arkham. But it's not like they've got a choice; all they can do is hope that the Joker will be willing to accept a substitute.
"The Happy Time Factory on 5th and Loeb." Christ, companies should just stop encouraging these madmen with names like that. Doesn't doing blatantly stupid things like that drive their insurance premiums through the roof? Jim hesitates, then adds, "Are you sure you can handle it?"
"Yes," Superman replies. It's obvious that he thinks he can handle it, and he does have a lot of experience with this kind of thing…
Jim nods, giving his permission for Superman to operate in Gotham- however useless that is since there's nothing Jim could do to stop him. Maybe Superman's simply seeking his permission as the next best thing to Batman for permission to operate in the city. And then Superman's gone and the feeling in the pit of Jim's stomach only gets worse. Well, at least he'll survive whatever happens. I don't think Wayne could stand to lose another friend.
The explosion only proves his gut feeling right, and when he sees Superman fly away soon afterward, without staying for rescue efforts or to hand the Joker over to the GCPD Jim knows that none of those parents are getting their children back alive. The only thing he can do now is hope that Gotham hasn't broken another hero. They're running low on them, these days.
The situation's as bad as he'd expected: a bus full of schoolchildren…no longer a bus full of schoolchildren, thanks to the Joker. It takes a lot to turn Jim's stomach after all the crime scenes he's been to, but this scene's enough to do it, and he's not alone. He's one of the few who manage to avoid throwing up, but it's by virtue of not eating dinner rather than the cast-iron stomach a couple of the MEs and CSIs have. It's a bad scene, even for Gotham. The puddle of vomit in the corner attests to the fact that even Superman has his limits. The CSIs know to lose that particular piece of evidence; none of them particularly want to find out who any of the vigilantes are and maybe have them stop helping. Not before they cross the line, anyway, and Superman's about as far from crossing the line as it's possible to get when you've got as much as power as he does.
Damn. He'd hoped that maybe, just this once, Joker would accept a substitute for Batman. Not that he relies on Batman to catch the criminals for him, but things always seem to go more smoothly when Batman's involved. Without him, there tend to be a lot more casualties, and his body count isn't exactly low in the first place. The Joker's always had more of a fixation on Batman than even the rest of Arkham's inmates. He doesn't blame Superman for the Joker's actions; the killer clown would have done the same thing if the GCPD had moved in on him rather than Superman. It doesn't make things any easier, though.
In Gotham, news crews gather as soon as there's something to report; some of the best reporters are on at night, ready to report everything as soon as it happens. It seems like everything interesting happens at night, but maybe that's just a trick of his perception. At least they respect Superman enough that they won't blame him for not being able to stop the Joker, not like they would if it had been Batman or the GCPD who had gone in. Judging from the tone of the crowd, there's not even going to be the usual nasty articles about the GCPD relying on vigilantes. It's a nice change, even though there's nothing else nice about this situation.
Jim can't be certain, but based on the evidence he can reasonably assume that all but one of Gotham's vigilantes are dead. He already knows that the remaining one is unable to help. Joker's just as bad as ever, won't accept a substitute, and they've once again lost track of him. And Superman's just seen the Joker kill a busload of children, while completely unable to stop him.
Gotham's survived a lot over the years. Sometimes in the past it's seemed like more than one city could endure, but Gotham's always survived.
But here in the dark, with no comforting presence in the shadows or movement on rooftops for his eyes to catch, it's hard to see any way for Gotham to survive this.
The next day is anything but calm. All anybody can talk about is the Joker, Superman, and Batman's absence, and Jim has to meet with the Mayor to reassure him that the GCPD is still doing their jobs. The Joker might not make a peep all day (probably just waiting for night, Jim thinks; it would be nice if the Joker would just give up his life of crime, but he didn't expect it to actually happen), but the same didn't hold true with the rest of Gotham's criminals. It's just another day on the job, but in Gotham that doesn't mean it's easy.
In the evening, he catches a glimpse of the local news, which covers Wayne's condition with little fanfare. Well, at least the Joker's taken the spotlight off of that situation. By the time the press moves on from the Joker, Wayne will be old news, not worth their time. As far as he's concerned, anything that makes things a little bit easier for Kent is a good thing, especially since- to be perfectly honest- the man looks like shit at the press conference.
He wishes they could quit picking at the open wound that is the lack of Batman, but there's no way out of turning the signal light on that night without admitting what he knows. His detectives are detectives- no matter how little he tells them, they'll figure out everything he has. Even though he trusts them, he wouldn't do that to Wayne or Kent, not without their permission- and that's one thing he won't be getting. At least he keeps the crowd down to just himself. He's not even sure if Superman will show up tonight.
"Commissioner." Jim almost leaps out of his skin. It's bad enough when he's expecting it, but he'd thought this was impossible. Or…was it? Had he gotten it wrong? Was Batman somebody other than Bruce Wayne? But no. The voice was a deep growl that sounded like it hurt to use, but it wasn't- quite- right. And what he can see of Batman's face looks wrong, but familiar.
"You're not him," he says, unable to keep the question out of his voice. Maybe his memory's playing tricks on him, and this really is the Batman he knows. It's hard to be sure with so little evidence.
It takes a while for Batman to reply, and when he does the voice is off even more than it was before. "No. How did you know?"
"When he gave me a bloody nose it all just fell into place. I've only seen one person make that move before." He knows who's behind that mask, now. It's not too hard to figure out when you have all the clues. "You're his friend, then?" Batman groaned a little. "Members of the GCPD are hardly incompetent, despite what the papers may claim." He can feel the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth; he doesn't get the opportunity to one-up superheroes very often, and it's surprisingly fun.
"I never thought you were," Batman says. "He's always had the highest respect for you, even if he isn't the best at displaying it."
"That's the understatement of the century," Jim snorts. Batman had- occasionally- said things along those lines to Jim, but they'd been rare. He'd always thought that was the best he was ever going to get. He's never dreamed about validation of Batman's respect for him, but if he had, learning that Batman had told Superman about it would have been beyond even the wildest dreams he could have had. Batman had never been the most demonstrative of people. It had always seemed to take a great deal of effort on his part to express any positive emotion.
"So did you only figure it out because you know where he is, or can my acting use some work?" Batman asks. "I need to convince the Joker."
"You can't be seriously thinking about going after him after what happened last night!" Please, let him leave this one to us, Jim begged mentally. They needed his help, but at what cost was that help coming? Maybe they wouldn't manage as well without his help, but Jim wasn't sure he could stand to see Gotham chew up and spit out another person who was just trying to help.
"I have to." Determination is written in every line of his body. "I don't think he'll play any nicer with the police than he did with Superman."
For the first time, Jim can see the possibility of this working. That determination's the same thing he's seen in every one of the vigilantes who have graced his rooftop. They might have died too soon, but for a time they'd all done what needed to be done, for Gotham and for themselves. "First of all, you should get rid of that expression, or any expression which can be seen through the mask."
If a year ago somebody had told him that he'd stand on the rooftop of the MCU and coach Superman through a perfect imitation of Batman, he would have thought they were crazy. Why would Superman ever pretend to be Batman? How could somebody so different possibly expect to succeed at that task? He would have sworn that Superman couldn't act, and especially not well enough to fool the Joker. He would have been wrong.
Jim Gordon doesn't believe in a lot of things, but this is one thing he does believe in: that together, they can pull this off.
It's not an easy decision to make. Even after the cat's out of the bag on both sides, breaking all of the illusions they've so carefully maintained all around, it's still hard to break out of the habits he's formed. He's so used to keeping Batman and Bruce Wayne separated in his mind- even if he hadn't allowed himself to consciously acknowledge that he was doing so- that he doesn't even realize that he's thinking of Clark Kent and Superman and the new Batman as three different people until it suddenly strikes him. But that kind of separation is ridiculous. They're all the same person, who knows that he knows, even. Maybe he can't shout that little fact from the rooftops, but he's allowed to know, now, at least in his own head.
And why should he stick to the old patterns? The past few days have seen a tidal change- from the outside everything looks the same, but to him the world is completely different.
Before he can stop himself, Jim finds himself in his car driving to Wayne's mansion.
Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Maybe there was nothing Jim could have done to change any of this, but there's no way to find out now. And maybe, just maybe, changing this one thing- forming a relationship not based entirely around meeting on rooftops and talking about crime- can make a difference for the future.