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They Grew Up Young

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When Bruce is thirteen his parents die. The killer isn’t caught.

Gordon blames himself.

*

When Bruce is fourteen he adopts Cat, or he thinks he does.

“You can’t keep her like a pet,” Gordon points out. Alfred had called him over. The Waynes can afford to keep Selina Kyle, and it’s obvious that Alfred wants to nurture Bruce’s charitable tendencies as opposed to his . . . uncharitable, violent ones. It’s also just as clear that Alfred thinks that Cat needs something more to her upbringing than a butler and a big spooky house.

If you ask Gordon, Alfred thinks that Master Bruce also needs something more, except Bruce won’t have it. Bruce emphatically will not have it, and Alfred is so loyal that it’s warping him.

“She’s not a pet,” says Bruce, in his always stilted, always uncomfortable way. “She’ll be my friend.”

“She needs help,” Gordon says.

“The police?” Bruce sneers, and it’s this strangely formal, pseudo-British sneer. He learns too much from Alfred.

“A family,” says Gordon.

Bruce goes cold, and Gordon knows he’s fucked it up. He always fucks it up with this kid, who pretends he is so strong but is so prickly, so very prickly and fragile on the inside. “We are her family,” Bruce hisses.

Gordon blames himself.

*

When Bruce is fifteen, he steals the Bentley.

Alfred calls Gordon and freaks the fuck out in his understated British way. There are a lot of uses of the word ‘bloody’.

Gordon finds Bruce on I-9. Gordon hadn’t taken a squad car when he'd left the precinct (he wasn’t really thinking straight), and it takes a while for the Bentley to pull over. Bruce is driving like a bat out of hell.

“Bats don’t live in hell,” Bruce says.

“Not the point,” says Gordon.

Bruce rolls his eyes. He’s gotten less formally polite these days in favor of growing more defiant, but he’s still stiff around other people. He rolls his eyes as though he’s seen other people roll them, and has practiced how it’s done.

Bruce practices many things.

“I get why you’re doing this,” Gordon says.

“Enlighten me.”

“You want attention.”

“Ha!” Bruce’s laugh is one harsh bark; his eyes are like wet pavement with headlights glancing off them. “Attention? I don’t want attention. I don’t want anyone to pay attention; where do you think I’m going?”

“Upstate,” Gordon says, and Bruce freezes.

“I’m not getting Cat,” says Bruce.

“Good,” says Gordon. Cat’s been in and out of juvie since Gordon met her, but Bruce refuses to acknowledge she has a problem with violence or that Wayne Manor is not the single best home for her in the entire world.

Bruce refuses to acknowledge almost as many things as he practices.

“This has nothing to do with her,” Bruce goes on. “She’s made her own choice.” Bruce’s eyes drift down the length of Gordon in that unsettling way he has. “If you’d believed in her, it could be different.”

“I believe in Cat,” Gordon says, helplessly.

“Not enough.” Bruce turns away, angling his face in a way perfectly calculated to prevent Gordon from seeing any weakness in it. “It’s never quite enough with you, is it.”

“If you didn’t want anyone to pay attention, why’d you steal the Bentley?”

Bruce shrugs. “It was there.”

“You want me to tell you it was wrong?” says Gordon, moving closer. Bruce is still giving him that slanted profile, the one that looks all the more vulnerable because it hides. “You want me to arrest you? You want me to take you to juvie too?”

“Oh, no, you can’t do that. I’m special.” It’s said with a kind of bitter resentment.

“I could.” Gordon comes closer still.

Bruce looks up from under inky lashes. “Want to use the handcuffs?”

Gordon stops dead. “It’s your car.” His mouth feels dry. “I can’t arrest you.”

“Pity,” says Bruce.

“You don’t need to steal a car just so you can be told no, Bruce,” Gordon says. He resists saying, I’ll tell you no whenever you need me to, because it sounds wrong. It sounds so wrong. It sounds—

Bruce’s shoulders are spiky for another sharp, suspended moment, and then they sag. “Is Alfred pissed?”

“Alfred’s furious. C’mon,” says Gordon. “Gimme the keys. I’ll drive you home.”

They get in the Bentley and drive home.

*

When Bruce is sixteen, he gets kicked out of school.

“It’s lousy,” says Bruce.

“Have you been reading Salinger again?” says Alfred.

Gordon can’t remember who Salinger is. He knows Bruce reads Nietzsche and Alfred thinks it’s bad.

“Salinger’s a pussy,” says Bruce.

Gordon also can’t remember when Bruce became the sort of child who talked that way.

Apparently, Alfred can’t remember either, because he snaps, “Watch your bloody mouth.”

“You should talk.” Bruce sulks. “Isn’t bloody a bad word where you’re from? Or is it ‘fucking hell’? I can’t remember; maybe I haven’t read enough Harry Potter.”

“Harry Potter is sodding normal.” Obviously this is part of a continuing conversation. Alfred’s been at this for hours; Gordon can tell by the tightness of his mouth. “I just wanted you to read something besides the manifestos of bleeding psychopaths—”

Mein Kampf isn’t a manifesto,” says Bruce. “It’s the crazed ramblings of a sadistic lunatic.”

“Then why were you bloody reading it?”

Bruce just shrugs. “Education.”

“Alfred. Why don’t you go . . .” Gordon tries to think of something that is not condescending, such as lie down, or a stereotype, such as make tea. “Talk to the school again,” Gordon says. “Let me talk to him for a while.”

“Oh yes, please, handle me.” Bruce bares his teeth, and Alfred glares.

“Be polite,” Alfred snaps, and then because he must be exhausted, he makes a mistake he’s long since stopped making. “Thomas Wayne would have—”

“Oh yes.” Bruce’s lips pull back farther. “Tell me all about Thomas Wayne.”

“Alfred,” Gordon says, keeping his voice low.

Alfred leaves, even though he really wants to stay. Alfred just wants so badly for Bruce to be happy; Gordon thinks it kills him just a bit every time that Bruce says or does something that proves just how deeply troubled he is. Bruce has to know that. Sometimes Gordon thinks that Bruce hurts Alfred on purpose as a cautionary tale, that Bruce loves Alfred so fiercely that he never wants Alfred to be hurt by loving someone, then losing them. Bruce doesn’t understand that that’s not how it works.

Bruce doesn’t understand a lot, so Gordon sits there in the drawing room with its grand, damask curtains, the Persian rug, the divan in the corner. There are other pieces of furniture Gordon doesn’t even know the name of, and the shadows grow longer and longer.

Gordon can pinpoint the exact moment when Bruce begins to grow antsy.

“Well, Detective Gordon, aren’t you going to ream me out?” says Bruce.

“No,” says Gordon, and they go on sitting.

Another minute passes. “Are you going to tell me I did this just so you can tell me I’m a bad, bad boy?”

“No,” says Gordon.

“Are you sure you don’t want to?” Bruce stands up, and somewhere between fifteen and sixteen, his awkwardness has become grace.

Bruce takes yoga and dance and spin and kick boxing and karate and akido and jui jitsu and such a random assortment of body exercising classes that it should not come as a surprise, but it does. He’s in a high school prep uniform—the jacket’s off, the waistcoat is open, his tie is loose.

“Are you sure you’re not going to tell me I’m bad?” Bruce says, when he’s walked over to Gordon’s chair. “I think sometimes you want to.”

“No.” Gordon looks up at him, but he can’t make out Bruce’s face in the shadows. Neither of them turned on a light. “You’re immature,” says Gordon, “but you’re not bad.”

Sometimes Bruce will lash out when Gordon least expects it, and there is something terrifying about Bruce in a rage. Once when he was thirteen he began shaking so uncontrollably that he didn’t stop until Gordon held him. He held him and held him and held him, and thought that Bruce would break himself in two.

Bruce also hates to be called immature, so Gordon waits to see whether Bruce will fly off the handle, or mope.

Bruce mopes. Deflating, he turns away.

“So you aren’t going to say anything?” Bruce asks.

Gordon turns on the lamp beside his chair. “Were you really kicked out of school for reading Mein Kampf?”

“What?” Bruce looks surprised. “Oh. No. I beat up Harvey.”

Bruce doesn’t mean Bullock. He means Harvey Dent, one of Bruce’s classmates at Rosford High, the richest private prep school in Gotham. Gordon had become familiar with Harvey through Bruce’s deep abiding hatred of him, because Harvey was malicious and horrible enough to be good-looking, popular, and smart, with two surviving parents.

“The rich, pretentious douche-bag?” Gordon says, because that’s how Bruce usually describes Harvey.

“I know I’m rich,” Bruce says peevishly.

“What did he do this time? Win class president and bake everybody brownies?”

Bruce throws himself into one of the high, wing-back chairs he favors. “He’s already class president.”

“So,” Gordon says. “He insulted Cat.” Cat had been out of juvie a good solid four months, and for once she hadn’t gotten in any trouble Gordon knew of. Until now.

Bruce scrubs his face with his hand.

“Is that it?” says Gordon.

“I don’t know,” says Bruce.

“You know Cat isn’t even supposed to be in that school,” Gordon says. “It’s an all-boys academy.”

“I know.”

“It’s private property.”

“I know.”

“She’s already on notice—”

“I know. I know!” Bruce drags his hands over his face, and he looks so young. He sounds so young. Sometimes Gordon forgets.

“So, what did Harvey say to her?”

“He said—he said she could be anything she wanted.”

Gordon waits. “And?” he prods, when there’s nothing more forthcoming.

“And—and it’s not true,” Bruce said. “She was fucked from the beginning. You see that—surely you see that. It’s the whole system. The entire structure of society. It’s entirely fucked, and you can’t—you can’t just work within the system—like you, just some schmuck who barely makes a difference.”

“I make a difference,” Gordon says, because he believes it. He has to believe it, but whenever Bruce talks like this it leads to things he’d rather not think about at all.

“But Cat can’t,” says Bruce. “An ex-con? In Gotham? Without me, she’s on the street, turning tricks. She said so herself. And it’s not like I can do anything either; I can’t be anything I want. Did you hear Alfred? I’m always going to be Thomas Wayne’s son, and there’s no choice. There’s no free will. Not in this world. Probably not any other.”

“So you got in a fight with Harvey Dent.”

“It wasn’t a fight.” Bruce sags in the chair, one arm listing over the side. “I said I beat him up.”

“Because he believes in free will,” Gordon says. “Just trying to get this straight.”

Sagging farther down, Bruce mumbles something.

“What?” says Gordon.

“I said he kissed her.”

A feeling of relief so powerful swims through Gordon that it takes effort not to let it show on his face. He’s been afraid Bruce is warped entirely—that he’s the one who’s warped him. “Gotcha,” is all Gordon says, keeping his voice quite serious.

“I don’t care,” Bruce says moodily.

“Are you upset he kissed Cat? Or that he kissed someone?”

Bruce looks miserable. The contrast of his black hair and white face, the slant of the shadows, makes him seem sharp but also small. “Just what are you implying?”

“Nothing.” Gordon stands up. “Good job standing up for your moral philosophy, son, but I think you lost. You could’ve chosen not to beat up Harvey. That’s free will. You ask me, you got what you deserved.”

“No,” says Bruce. “I deserve to get expelled.”

Gordon frowns down at him. Bruce’s posture is appalling, really; Alfred would have a fit. “I thought you did get expelled.”

“I can’t get expelled.” Bruce’s voice is snide. “I’m Bruce Wayne. You just wait, three days from now, I’ll be reinstated. Some idiot on the board will kick up a fuss, because I’m Thomas Wayne’s son, and I have a trust fund.”

“Right,” Gordon says, because that’s probably true.

“We’re all fucked.”

Bruce huddles in his chair, and even if he has grown graceful, he still hasn’t grown into all his limbs. He’s full of a charged, nervous energy that often makes Gordon reluctant to touch him; there’s a part of Gordon’s brain that always screams that he’s twisting him, warping him still further. But the counter-argument is almost always stronger: no one touches this child, no one but Alfred.

Gordon puts his hand on Bruce’s face, angling it up. He runs his thumb along Bruce’s jaw. “We’re not fucked,” he says. “The institution is fucked, and the systems are fucked, and the laws are fucked, but we are not fucked. We’re individuals, and we can make our own choices. You can be whoever you want to be. You get to choose.”

Gordon takes his hand away, and Bruce slumps back in the chair. Gordon goes to get Alfred, but Bruce calls after him.

“You realize that’s just a construct of elitist American determinist bullshit, don’t you?”

Gordon goes to get Alfred.

*

When Bruce is seventeen, Cat’s accused of murder.

“You can’t see her,” Gordon says, when Bruce shows up at the precinct.

“The fuck I can’t,” says Bruce, and tries to push past him.

“You really can’t.” Gordon clamps his hand down hard on Bruce’s shoulder.

Bruce’s eyes slant down to the hand, then back to Gordon. The gleam in those green eyes is intense, dangerous, and Gordon knows that Bruce is thinking about hitting him. Gordon thinks that Bruce has often thought about hitting him, but Bruce never has and Gordon likes to think Bruce never will. Bruce has problems with violence and anger management; Gordon doesn’t deny it, but Bruce has also worked very hard to control it. Bruce would never really hurt anybody.

Gordon goes to bed at night praying that it’s true.

Bruce has a good inch on Gordon, now, and he still takes all those fancy fighting classes. If Bruce tries to take him down right now, it’s going to get bloody before Gordon stops him.

“She’s been accused of a capital offense,” Gordon says, making his voice softer. “No one can see her right now except a lawyer.”

Bruce grits his teeth. He’s wound too tight, practically thrumming with an inner rage; any second he’ll explode.

“Bruce,” says Gordon, and moves his hand to the back of Bruce’s neck.

Bruce jerks out of his grasp. Then he turns on his heel and walks away.

*

Gordon gives it three hours. Checks on Cat—not much to be done there; she’s not talking. Gordon doesn’t even know if she really did it; he doesn’t question that she could, but Cat wouldn’t kill without good reason and one of them is fierce loyalty. Gordon can count on one hand the people Cat is loyal to, and one of them is Bruce. With the way Bruce has been digging into Moony’s business lately, Gordon wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce is involved after all. He generally is, when it comes to Cat.

The whole thing’s a fucking mess.

Gordon drives out to Wayne Manor but stops at the line of trees, long before the house. He gets out of his car, walks into the woods. Bruce has been coming out here since he was a kid. Once, when Gordon saw him coming back to the house covered in dirt, scrapes, and dead leaves, Gordon asked what he did out there.

Spelunking, Bruce had said, in his haughtily sarcastic way. Gordon hadn’t asked again.

Dead branches crack under Gordon’s boots. Stopping when he gets to a little clearing, Gordon looks around, the space faintly lit by a gibbous moon. There’s no one there. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his pea coat. “Bruce,” he says. His breath is visible in the brisk autumn air.

“How did you find me?” Bruce says.

Gordon whips his head around. Bruce hadn’t been there a moment before; Gordon’s certain. But that’s just Bruce’s way, and Gordon should be used to it by now. “I know you come here sometimes,” Gordon says.

Bruce angles his face away. “I fucked her.”

“No, you didn’t.” Gordon comes closer.

“I fucked her,” Bruce says, and the low, feverish intensity with which he says it makes Gordon think that for a second, Bruce must mean something else.

Gordon’s never really been able to categorize Bruce and Cat’s relationship—Bruce acts like Cat’s savior, but more frequently, Cat saves him. Bruce never denies it, either. At times, Gordon thinks Bruce worships her, but there’s also no denying that he judges her. However you look at them, they’re twisted around each other, twisted in every single way except the sexual. As far as Gordon knows Bruce has never touched her; as far as Gordon knows, Bruce has never even wanted to.

“I fucked her,” Bruce says again.

“Snap out of it,” Gordon says.

Bruce bares his teeth at him.

“You’re not helping her right now,” says Gordon. “You’re not helping anyone. If you’re too angry to see straight, you lose sight of the goal.”

Bruce’s expression hardens. “I’m going to get her out.”

“Right,” says Gordon. “If you’re going to prove her innocent, you’ve got to tell me what you know.”

“Prove her innocent?” Bruce’s voice drips sarcasm.

“Yes.”

“With this pathetic excuse of a justice system?”

“With evidence,” says Gordon.

Bruce opens his mouth, then closes it. A lurking gleam lights in his eye. “Evidence,” he says, and his voice has turned thoughtful.

Gordon doesn’t like it. “And the truth,” he adds, just for good measure.

“Certainly.” Bruce waves a hand, but it’s dismissive. He’s preoccupied.

“Bruce,” Gordon says.

“Detective,” Bruce says.

It’s the farthest Gordon’s ever felt from him and he can feel Bruce slipping slipping slipping into an abyss Gordon doesn’t understand; he can’t even see it but he knows it’s there. He knows that Bruce was always clinging to the edge.

“Listen to me,” Gordon says.

“I’m listening,” Bruce says, but the words are empty. Bruce is somewhere else.

“Whatever it is you’re thinking,” Gordon says, “don’t.”

“Oh, I won’t. Not to worry. I had an idea, but it—went away,” and Bruce is a terrible liar, but only if you know him. It’s the voice he uses for the press, the one he used for the professors at the prep school, the one he made up for everyone who thought they knew who Bruce Wayne was. That tone has only recently reached credibility—easy, pleasant, nice—but Bruce has been cultivating it for years and years.

“Don’t lie to me,” Gordon says.

Bruce even smiles. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Jim.”

Gordon slams him into the nearest tree. “Don’t,” he says, and he’s got Bruce up against the tree, hand fisted in his shirt, snarling in his face like Bruce is one of the criminals Gordon’s always tried to protect him from, but Gordon doesn’t know what else to do. “Don’t,” Gordon says again, and shakes him. “Don’t you fucking lie to me, Bruce. You always wanted me to tell you no, make you stop—well, I’m fucking doing it. I’ll arrest you if I have to, Bruce.”

Bruce’s black eyelashes drift down. “I guess you want to use those handcuffs on me after all,” he says, sounding sort of breathless. “I always thought you did.”

“Dammit, Bruce.” Gordon steps in, giving him no room. “This isn’t one of your games.”

“I was always serious.”

Bruce’s pale face is flushed red, and he might even be telling the truth. Gordon has never been able to tell. He’s always known, a tickle in the back of his mind, but suddenly and forcefully, Gordon knows for sure: there’s something wrong with Bruce. There’s something wrong with growing up in a Gothic manor with nothing but a butler for company—in particular a stringently loyal butler who loves you beyond reason. There’s something wrong with becoming master of a fortune and a mansion at the age of thirteen, master of someone who sees himself as your servant but also technically your guardian. There’s something wrong with the ghosts of the Waynes, the way they are in every room and every hall and every school and every building and every street in Gotham Bruce will ever walk.

There’s something desperately, cloyingly wrong with it, but Gordon’s never been able to quite say what. He still can’t say it.

“Just tell me,” Gordon says to Bruce. “Tell me what’s really going on. Let me in, Bruce.”

Gordon loosens his grip, bit by bit. He’s still got his hands on him, but he’s just holding him, not forcing him.

Bruce tilts his head, and Gordon can see the vapor of their breath mingling. He can taste it.

“Jim,” Bruce says, and it sounds different.

It sounds wrong.

Gordon steps away. “Does it have to do with Fish Moony?” he says.

Bruce swallows hard.

Gordon resists the urge to pace, to put more space between them. “I know you were looking into her gang,” Gordon says. “I know Cat would do anything for you. You would do anything for her. Was it something to do with the digging you’ve been doing?”

The armor builds up piece by piece—first in Bruce’s shoulders, which straighten, still narrow now but likely not for long. Bruce just keeps growing. Next it’s his jaw, which hardens, and his eyes, which grow slowly lifeless, like there’s a wall between the retina and what’s behind them. Gordon can see it happening but he doesn’t know how to stop it; he can stop it; he can’t do anything but stand there, at a meticulously safe distance.

“Son,” Gordon says, and his voice breaks. “Just tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” says Bruce.

“I know you were looking into Fish Moony.”

“And I know what you did to Clayface when he tried to kill me.” Bruce’s eyes are galvanized steel, and Gordon swallows hard. That was nearly three years ago, and it isn’t something Gordon’s proud of. He’s always thought Bruce hadn’t figured it out. He’s always hoped Bruce hadn’t figured it out.

“Let’s go the precinct, shall we?” Bruce says. “I’m sure we can both tell stories.”

“Bruce—”

“I don’t need you to protect me any more, Detective Gordon.” Bruce brushes past him, heading in the direction Gordon had come. “I’m not a little kid.”

“I’m trying to help,” Gordon says.

“And look at all the difference you’ve made.” Bruce just keeps walking, and then his tall dark figure melts into the night.

*

Two weeks later, several new pieces of evidence appear that exonerate Selina Kyle, and open wide the case against Fish Moony. The way to find it doesn’t come to Gordon’s desk, of course; it comes to Bullock. Gordon tries to trace it but he has no luck. Most of the evidence is legitimate, except the GCPD should have needed a warrant to find it all. They never do get a warrant, but Bullock just keeps following a subtle series of clues and the case just clicks into place.

War finally breaks out between Falcone and Moony, and Moony dies in the crossfire. The one bogus piece of evidence—the piece that should have cleared Cat—goes up in smoke.

Cat’s found innocent by a jury of her peers, and then she disappears.

*

When Bruce is eighteen, he leaves Gotham City.

It’s late, and Gordon’s had another long night poring over case files at the precinct. He wants to come home and have a beer and fall asleep in front of baseball or a nature documentary or some dumb movie about robots; he doesn’t care what, but when he jiggles the lock and kicks the door in, Bruce is sitting at his kitchen table.

It passes for a kitchen, anyway. Things with Barbara are . . . complicated. They’re always complicated, they’ve only been married just two years, and they just needed . . . a break. They’re taking a break, so Gordon got an apartment in the inner city near the precinct, and Barbara’s still in the penthouse apartment downtown. They should move. They should get a house. They should have a kid, get a dog, white picket fence—but first, they’re taking a break.

“You can’t just break into people’s apartments, Bruce,” Gordon says, and tosses the keys on the counter. He’ll wonder where they are, later. Everything’s a mess, and he just feels so fucking exhausted.

“You call this an apartment?” Bruce says.

“I can barely get in with a key.” Gordon roots around in his refrigerator. He still wants that beer, and by now he’s just accepted the fact that somehow this weird and creepy fucked up kid is a part of his life—an important part of his life—the most important part of his life—forever. It’s one things Babs isn’t happy about, among many. “What’d you do, come through the ceiling?”

“You should have better security,” Bruce says.

Gordon pops the top off the beer using the edge of the counter. “Yeah,” he says, and toes his shoes off. He goes into the living room, where the television sits on a cardboard box, but he forgot—the TV’s broke.

“Anyone could get in here,” Bruce goes on, following him. “It’s easy.”

“Uh-huh.” Gordon takes his socks off, puts his feet up on the box, then holds the cool bottle against his head.

“Maybe I should invest in a security company.”

Bruce is always saying shit like that since the bank freed up his money. It happened when he turned eighteen. He officially became independent, and then he started talking—just talking, everything he’s going to buy, everything he’s going to throw his money at, everything he’s going to own. He always uses the same light, ironic tone, and it’s bullshit. It’s all just bullshit.

Bruce already has a plan. He knows exactly what he’s going to do and it’s intricate and complicated, something far more clever and fucked up than Gordon could ever plan, something far more clever and fucked up than Gordon could ever guess at. Bruce already knows exactly what he’s going to do with his money and his time and his life, and it has very little to do with Gordon.

Gordon rolls the beer bottle against his forehead.

“Headache?” Bruce says. He sounds almost sympathetic.

Gordon takes the bottle away. “What do you want, Bruce?”

“I’m leaving Gotham.”

Inexplicably, pins prick behind Gordon’s eyes. “Why?” he says.

Bruce shrugs. “Meet new people. See new things. Maybe I’ll take up new hobbies.”

“Hobbies.” Gordon sips his beer. The pin pricks go away.

“Spelunking,” Bruce suggests.

“Huh.” Gordon sips more beer.

“What will you do?”

“What?”

Bruce gestures vaguely at the apartment. “Are you and Barbara getting a divorce?”

“No.” Gordon brings the beer up to his lips again.

“So you’ll just keep breaking your back bringing a crippled version of justice to a city that doesn’t want it and can’t handle it.”

“Something like that.” Gordon brings the beer up to his lips, but brings it down before taking another sip. “I’m thinking about growing a mustache.”

“Don’t.”

“Why not?”

“Just—don’t.” Bruce sits down on the couch with him. “I would stay,” he says eventually.

Gordon tips the beer back and pours it down his throat. He doesn’t want to hear what Bruce is going to say, but he can’t seem to move. He can only seem to swallow, and Barbara says that’s a problem too. You let them stick it to you, Jim. You let them feed it to you and you take it; you just swallow it all down.

No one had ever accused him of being weak before Barbara, but she’s right. She’s always right. She’s stronger and braver than he is; she wants to tear down all the systems, instead of work within them. She’s just like Bruce that way, only less fucked up.

“I would stay if you told me to,” Bruce says.

Damn. Gordon’s out of beer. He puts the bottle on the floor. “I’m not going to tell you to,” Gordon says.

“Why not?”

“You’re a grown man,” Gordon says. “You make your own decisions.”

Bruce is studying him; Gordon can tell. With his strong, angular face, his thick dark hair, Bruce is becoming a very handsome man. Gordon’s careful not to look at him too much. “You could make decisions for me,” Bruce says.

“No, I couldn’t.”

“But you could,” Bruce says. “You’ve always been a good man.”

“You want me to be your moral compass.”

“You always tried to be before.”

“You never listened.”

“Maybe it would be different now.”

Gordon gets up off the couch, paces away, turns back. “What do you want from me?”

Bruce doesn’t look small and vulnerable now. He’s not all awkward angles, long limbs. He’s grown into himself; his jaw has a fine shadow of stubble. He looks—he looks—

Gordon isn’t looking.

“I want you to tell me what to do,” Bruce says.

“Why?” Gordon says, and suddenly he’s furious. “Why, because you’re afraid of what you’ll do otherwise? Because you have a plan, and it scares you? Bruce, you’re going to do it anyway. You’re going to do it no matter what I say, because that’s what you’ve always done, and there was never anything I could do. There wasn’t a single thing I could do.”

“You could have stopped me,” Bruce says.

“How? How was I supposed to stop you? You wouldn’t listen—you never listened.”

Bruce stands slowly. “You said I had a choice.”

“You do! I mean you don’t. I—” Gordon pinches the place between his eyes and he doesn’t know. He isn’t smart enough. He’s never been clever enough for Bruce Wayne and his problems, Bruce Wayne and his Mein Kampf, Salinger or whoever, moral universalism or whatever he wanted to call it, the construct of American determinism.

Bruce used to go on these three hour long rants about Kant and Emerson and Gordon didn’t know who the fuck Kant was, and all he knew about Emerson was that it was some guy on a pond, until Barbara told him that was someone else.

Jesus fucking Christ, Gordon’s just so impotent and furious when it comes to Bruce. Someone handed him a tiny fucked up mastermind and what was he supposed to do; what were he and Alfred supposed to do? None of them were prepared for this. There was no way to prepare for this.

“You have a choice,” says Gordon. “What I meant was, you already chose.”

“Maybe you can change my mind.” Bruce starts coming closer.

“No.” Gordon backs up. “I can’t.”

“Can’t, or won’t?” Bruce is too close now, but Gordon won’t back up any more. He has to tilt his head to look up at Bruce.

“Don’t put this on me,” Gordon says. “Whatever choice you’re making—it’s yours. You decided long ago.”

Bruce sways a little, but desn’t touch him. “Someone decided for me.”

“No.” Gordon’s the one that touches him, puts his hand on the back of Bruce’s neck, just like he used to, brings his forehead down those two inches until it touches his own. “You made yourself who you are, and—I’m proud. I’m proud of who you are.”

Bruce tries to pull away, and Gordon holds on tight.

“Whatever you do, whatever you become,” Gordon says. “I didn’t say it enough, but I’m proud of you. I’ll always be proud of you.”

“Jim.” Bruce puts a hand on Gordon’s face, and Gordon pulls Bruce’s head down and tilts his up until he can press a rough kiss on Bruce’s brow.

“I love you like a son,” Gordon says, and lets him go. It’s the only time he’s kissed him, the only time. Maybe that’s been the problem all along.

“Right.” Bruce pulls back, straightens.

He always does that, when people mention fathers.

“You’ll be alright,” Gordon says, because he doesn’t know how to go beyond that rough display of affection. It almost felt like too much.

“I think I will,” Bruce says.

That night he leaves Gotham City.

*

When Bruce is twenty-five he comes back to Gotham, but he isn’t Bruce any more.

Gordon blames himself.