Jim Gordon flips on the signal and waits, the way he always does when things get too rough. It happens too often.
He usually has to wait alone, but tonight's a little different. Sergeant Bullock has never liked dealing with Batman, and he's never going to turn the signal on himself. But this is his case -- twelve missing girls, all pretty, blonde, and adolescent -- and when Jim insists on getting in the big guns, he drags himself up to the roof, donut in one hand and rookie partner trailing along behind.
"When he shows," Bullock says to his partner in what he probably thinks is a stage whisper, "don't let him smell fear. He gets off on it."
She snorts, and Jim feels a little better about sending her out with a hardcase like Bullock. "The Batman's saved my life," Montoya says. "I know Gotham, and I know what he's about. I'm not afraid of him."
"You ain't met him yet," Bullock says.
Jim shakes his head and turns on the signal. He's never sure who's going to show up anymore -- Batgirl hasn't been around much, Robin has only been in the tabloids a couple times in the last months -- but at the end of the day, all they need is Batman. "I'm sure you've heard enough rumors," he says to Montoya.
She straightens up a little, getting consciously on-duty again. "Yes, sir. But I'm not --"
Batman's standing right in front of her. She says, "Dios mio," under her breath, so soft Jim almost doesn't catch it.
"It's Tetch," Batman says.
Bullock bristles. "We knew that. Fits the pattern -- the girls, and everything. But where's he hiding? What's he going to hit next?"
"The state chess championship is tomorrow night," Batman says. "The reigning champion -- and his eleven year old daughter -- are staying at the Hilton."
It fits. Jim clenches one hand into a fist at the thought of the danger the girl is in.
"What's chess got to do with it?" Bullock asks. He's getting red in the face.
"Why didn't I see that?" Montoya says, putting her head in her hand.
"What? He's into hats!"
"Room 738, Officer Montoya," Batman says.
She's already got a notepad out, and she says, "Thanks," quick and brisk, like she's already forgotten it's Batman.
He's gone, anyway.
Jim switches off the signal, leaving them all blinking a little. "I still don't get it about the chess," Bullock complains.
"You should've done your background reading on Tetch," Jim says -- even though he hasn't actually reread any Lewis Carroll since he read it to Barbara. "You were almost there, Montoya."
"Next time, sir," she says. "Next time we won't need to ask for help."
"I hope so," Jim says. "I really do."
There's a boy standing next to Batman with his hands on his hips and his legs bare, his hair curling over his forehead. He's way too young to be on the streets fighting crime, all of fourteen if he's even that old.
Jim really ought to call the Department of Family Services. It can't be impossible to find out who Batman is and stop him from endangering a minor.
Which leads to the question of why the Police Commissioner didn't say anything the first time Batman was endangering a minor, and however much he wants to say something now, it's too late by too many years.
Jim regrets, not for the first time or the last, that he's given up his pipe. It would, at least, give him something to do with his hands while Batman's standing there waiting to be told what the PD knows about Ivy's latest horror. He counts his blessings that he's doing this meeting alone. He gets through the details on autopilot -- smashed greenhouse, three units down for the count with itching hives, probably related to some nearly extinct lichens found in a vacant lot that's being built up or some damn thing.
The boy is fidgeting with his belt of tricks and tugging a little at his costume. If Jim didn't already know -- and he knows damn well -- it would give him away.
Before he's entirely done and it's time for them to evaporate, Jim raises an eyebrow at Batman. "We need to talk."
"Robin, meet me at R point forty-seven."
"Forty-seven," the kid repeats -- another giveaway, in case he needed it. "Gotcha." He jumps off the building with no grace, no style, no flair -- no, it's not that he's not graceful, and now he's on the next building over.
Jim shakes his head. "Tell me the boy's all right."
Batman frowns. "Robin is fine."
"Look," Jim says, frowning right back, "I may not dress up in a fancy costume, but I'm not blind. That kid's eight inches shorter than the last guy you had with you, and about twice as wide in the shoulder. Where's the real one?"
"With the Teen Titans," Batman says, grudgingly.
Jim folds his arms. "You know I have to take that on faith -- and --" he shakes his head again. "But he's okay?"
"The last I knew, yes."
He lets out a breath he wasn't sure he was holding. "Good. And -- you just called the talent agency for a new one?"
"Ivy's at large," Batman says.
Jim glowers at him. "I trusted -- the first -- Robin because I knew he was capable, but -- dammit, he had to have been at least eighteen. How can you go back to working with someone so vulnerable? Is he a hotshot detective or something?" Batman doesn't answer. Jim runs a hand through his hair. "Dammit. All right. Just tell me you put him through basic training."
He's talking to the air. Batman's gone.
"Don't let this one get hurt, either," Jim says under his breath. "Dammit -- dammit." Going back inside makes him feel like he's given up. The stairs are always so dark after the light of the signal, and now he's got the image of that kid -- really a kid, this one -- in his mind.
Where do you get a new Robin, anyway? He'd seen the first one fight, sometimes -- kid moved like a ballet dancer who'd learned martial arts, amazing and deadly. This new one had just stood there. Didn't ask questions.
Jim doesn't ask enough questions, either, and the ones he does ask don't get good enough answers. Times like this, he worries about the morality of trusting a vigilante.
If there was any other way to keep his city safe, he'd take it.
He's almost positive about that.
Ivy hit the local professional wrestlers' night with her coercion kisses, so when the police get to the corner of Grant Park where the last known Acianthus gothamen was spotted, three years ago and find the aftermath of Batman's work, there are a whole lot of burly guys lying around unconscious or woozy.
"Damn," Sergeant Bullock says under his breath, pausing by a pool of blood. It's too easy to identify its owner, who's passed out. There are three teeth in the puddle. Montoya looks so determined she's got to be queasy and just hiding it as hard as she can.
"Just get them restrained in case the chemicals haven't worn off," Jim says wearily, but he agrees with Harvey. There's more blood than normal for Batman. Maybe Ivy's victims were especially loopy -- or maybe it's the kid.
He's not sure which it is until he sees the new Robin fight three days later -- Penguin's goons, this time -- and he can catalogue every blow and how much damage it's doing. Unnecessary damage, because they're just perps. Not even mind-controlled perps, and if the kid gave them a chance, they'd get the hell out.
Two of them have broken hands. One of them isn't going to walk until his foot bones are reset, and maybe he won't be able to run after that.
Jim tries to bring it up with Batman, but when he says, "Got a minute?" Batman disappears.
"You need to rent a goddamn mailbox," Jim says to the open night.
The Police Benevolent Association's Blue Ball is not Jim's favorite night of the year. He feels like he's playing dressup in the tux and it's hard to breathe. More than that, he has to gladhand way too many people. The rich, the famous, the morons -- all of them want to shake hands with Commissioner Gordon.
Some of the rich and famous are so familiar they practically count as friends by now. Take Bruce Wayne, for example -- he's been to enough of these things that Barbara's on flirting terms with his kid. He's a nice enough kid -- kind of young for Barbara, but she can take care of herself, and she could do worse than Wayne's kid. He's a good boy.
Who, actually, isn't there. "Jim!" Bruce says with the overinflection of money. He's smiling and pushing some teenager forward. "Jason, this is Commissioner Gordon. He's really done a lot for the city."
Jason pushes a hand through his hair and offers his hand to shake reluctantly. There's something in his stance that's off -- not comfortable in a suit, not comfortable where he is, and not comfortable talking to Jim.
"Nice to meet you, Commissioner," the kid says, and he smiles.
It's more of a smirk around the corners, and not smooth enough. It makes Jim think of the pushers who yell 'pig' at him and sneer, the ones hard enough to key a black-and-white.
Everything about him sets Jim's teeth on edge. "How d'you do, Jason." He raises an eyebrow at Bruce over the kid's head, but Bruce misses it completely.
"I've heard a lot about you," Jason says. His accent is definitely Gotham-hard.
"I wish I could say the same," Jim says drily.
Bruce laughs. "Maybe another time. We're still making the rounds." He puts his hand on Jason's shoulder. "See you later," he says to Jim.
"Sure, Bruce." Jim shakes his head a little and goes to look for Barbara. While he scans the crowd for her shimmering blue dress, he works on how to explain to Bruce that his new ward -- son? -- isn't the same kind of kid as the last one. Jason has the stance and grin of a hustler, trying every angle.
Jim wants to not think this way about the boy, who's all of fourteen, if that, but he's seen the type enough times to know.
Barbara's talking to Detective Bard, a wineglass in her hand, but she looks up when Jim comes over and smiles. Sometimes he forgets how grown up she is and it hits him all over again, leaving him proud and a little scared. She's not his baby girl anymore. She asks, "How's the handshaking going, Dad?"
Jim nods to Bard. "Not bad. I was wondering if you've seen Wayne's kid around, actually, Barbara."
She blinks, then smiles crookedly. She doesn't look entirely happy about the revelation either. "You mean the new one?" Maybe she's picking up on the same vibe Jim's getting.
"No, the one that always makes puppy dog eyes at you."
Barbara waves off the tease and puts her arm through Bard's. "Oh, Dad, he does not."
"You can't fool your old dad that easy." Jim taps the side of his nose, and Bard chuckles nervously. "I can spot 'em a mile off. But you haven't seen him?"
"I don't think he's in town anymore." Barbara shrugs. "With his kind of money, he's probably off at Princeton or Yale or something."
"Yeah," Jim says. "Probably."
If Barbara could have gone that far away for college, if they'd had the money, maybe she'd have stayed out of Gotham. He loves the city, but it's not safe, and no matter how hard he tries, it never will be. Bruce Wayne can afford to get his kid out of town for good. He's one of the lucky ones.
Barbara even wanted to be a cop for a while. The thought still makes his skin crawl. At least taking after Wayne wouldn't put the kid's life in danger.
Jim spots the Mayor in the crowd. "I guess I have to go." He winks at Bard. "Take care of the prettiest girl in the room."
"Yes, sir." Bard grins back at him.
"Oh, Dad." Barbara laughs and offers him her cheek to kiss. "Remember -- shake hands, kiss babies. Not the other way around."
"Got it." He tosses her a mock salute, nods to Bard again, and goes to suffer through the obligatory dance with the Mayor's wife.
There should be more people who question the setup, but there aren't enough who know what's going on. The Batman liaison stuff is as quiet as they can make it, even while it's as obvious as shining a giant light into the sky. Only a couple people even know that there's a new Robin -- Bullock, Montoya, officially-unofficially, and most of MCU in a winking sort of way -- and they're not saying anything.
Or anyway they don't until Jim takes them out for a drink after Fries goes back to Arkham, again, and it's hot rum toddies for everyone. Montoya makes a face at hers and Bullock punches her in the arm. "What's the matter, you wanna margarita?"
Montoya rolls her eyes. "Not at all."
Jim gives Harvey a kick under the table. "You make me think I should go with Internal Affairs' recommendation for diversity training, Bullock."
"I know from diversity, Commish," Bullock says, shrugging.
"*Claro*," Montoya says. "You're a prick to everybody."
"Exactly." Bullock grins. "It ain't bigoted if it's everybody."
And it's not a problem, really, if it's not getting under his partner's skin, so Jim lets it go. "Good thing you're not the Commissioner, Bullock."
"I'll drink to that."
"And everything else," Montoya says. "But the Commissioner didn't just ask us here to watch your brain cells die, Harvey."
"No," Jim admits, "I didn't. Montoya, you -- well, you weren't on the force for very long when Robin disappeared."
She shakes her head. "I'd seen him around -- I mean, I grew up here -- but never up real close."
"Whoever that kid is," Bullock says, waving one thick finger, "he ain't Robin."
Jim drinks to have a second more to think. "Except he is."
"He's a damn streetfighter, Commish." Bullock shakes his head. "I seen how beat-up Robin left guys -- and how bad off they are now. He ain't Robin."
"But if Batman says he is," Montoya says, shrugging. "We can't just say he's wrong. He'd know better than we would."
"Maybe," Jim says.
Bullock shakes his head. "Not about this. I heard that kid talk. He could be one of them guys he leaves for dead, if he was dressed a little different. I don't see how we can trust him."
"Batman trusts him," Renee says. "And we trust Batman. Right?"
"Do we have a choice?" Jim asks.
They both look at him like he's supposed to know the answer.
Montoya comes halfway into his office with her notepad in her hand. "Sorry to bother you, sir, but I'm trying to figure something out." She jerks her chin toward the roof.
"Close the door," Jim says. "What is it?"
"It's been three weeks since I've seen Robin. Is this kind of hiatus, well, normal?"
Jim shakes his head. "The last time -- well, it was before this Robin showed up."
Montoya frowns. "So you think maybe he's training a new one?"
"I don't know. I just hope this one's all right." Jim tries to imagine himself asking Batman, flat out, and what he would have to do if he got a real answer.
"Maybe he went to work with the old one."
"Maybe." Jim taps his fingers. "Have the Teen Titans been recruiting?"
Renee makes a note. "I'll check, but I don't really pay attention to that kind of thing."
"Have you checked into the casualties at crime scenes where we had Batman's assistance?" Jim asks. "When this kid came, the grievous bodily harm spiked."
"Yes," Montoya says, and he remembers why she's on his shortlist, as young as she is. "There hasn't been any variance, statistically speaking, in the last seven months."
Jim lets out a breath. "Then maybe we just haven't seen the kid around."
Montoya gives him a look that he can interpret, even though he'd rather not -- she knows why he wants to know, and how much he doesn't want to know. "That's a possibility, sir."
"You'll keep an eye on things? Tell me if the statistics change."
She takes it as the dismissal it is and nods. "Yes, sir."
It's more than a year before there's a Robin on the roof next to Batman -- a year of trying to figure out how to ask without compromising everything, and a year of not asking.
Jim still can't take confirmation of what he knows, not and accept this new kid without trying to get a DNA sample so he can find the kid's parents and save him.
This one's even shorter than the last one. Jim prays it's not a correlation to his life expectancy.