This is the picture that runs on the front page of every newspaper in Gotham the next day: Bruce Wayne, his jacket gone and his sleeves rolled up, holding on to Barbara Gordon. His hands are streaked with blood, one held up to ward off the photographer, the other cradling the back of Babs’s head as she sobs into his shoulder. In the right lower corner, there is a puddle of blood soaking into the thick carpeting at the Gotham Music Awards. It is only disturbed by a hand, barely in the frame, clearly part of the body which has bled out on the floor.
Barbara would know that hand anywhere, but for everyone else, the headlines make the picture clear: “Police Commissioner Gordon Gunned Down In Heist Gone Wrong, Penguin Still On the Loose.”
By the time the papers hit the stands, the headlines are false. The cops had cornered the Penguin in a warehouse by the docks, and the whole building had gone up in flames, the Penguin still inside. The report will eventually say that a spark from the Penguin’s umbrella gun had ignited flammable gases, and she’ll know that the cops are lying, and she won’t care. Babs will only care that she spent that night in the hospital under observation. That it wasn’t her in that warehouse. That she wants vengeance and she’ll never have it.
They try to keep her in the hospital another day, as there is no family for her to go home to, but Bruce swoops in and gets her out of there. She’s not sure if she’s more shocked that Batman is Bruce Wayne, or that she was right about Batman’s identity. Its sort of hard to be shocked right now. To much of herself is taken up with the unrelenting grief for her father.
Bruce and Detective Bullock argue in the hallway while she pulls on a clean set of clothes. Alfred is a miracle worker it seems, and he'd detailed someone who knew her well enough to know she'd want her most broken in jeans and an oversized Gotham High hoodie on a day like today.
As if there had ever been a day like today before.
Jim Gordon assumes his partner has brought him to the river to kill him. That’s what happens in Gotham, and Harvey Bullock is as much a Gothamite as anyone. Gotham is mobsters, and corrupt cops, and buildings that literally have skeletons in the basement foundations.
When Harvey pops the trunk to reveal Oswald Cobblepot, Jim is relieved and pissed off and terrified all at the same time. So this is what it’s going to be to be a cop in Gotham. Kill a man dead for a mob boss and leave his body in the river.
Jim can’t make that choice, no matter how much Harvey talks about war in the streets, talks about Barbara. He can’t let Cobblepot go, either, no matter how much the man begs, promises to be his slave for life, warns of a great, oncoming war.
Instead, Jim Gordon pushes Oswald Cobblepot into the river and shoots over his head. It’s the only way Jim can think of to save their lives.
He walks back to Harvey, trying not to shake. No one will ever know, Jim tells himself. Not that Cobblepot is alive, not that Jim supposedly killed a man today.
Jim is wrong, of course. Gotham knows everything, and no good deed can go unpunished.
Barbara doesn’t have to listen at the door of her hospital room, Harvey Bullock is yelling loud enough for her to clearly hear every single word. “Over my dead body,” and “one of ours,” are the highlights of his rant.
Harvey is a good guy, mostly, but Bruce has twelve lawyers in the hallway with him. Harvey was never going to win this fight. It didn’t matter that he and dad were partners once, that they had come to love each other like brothers. It doesn’t matter that Harvey was hurting almost as much as she was. Barb’s made a choice, and even if she regrets it later, it’s her choice. No matter if Harvey will never understand.
“Detective Bullock,” comes the Mayor’s growl through her hospital door. She wants to be surprised that the Mayor came down to the hospital for this, but who is she kidding? Bruce Wayne isn’t just money, isn’t just industry and manufacturing and economic growth. Bruce Wayne, more than anyone else, is Gotham, no matter how hard he plays the club scene or how many women are hanging off his arm.
She pulls the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head and the cuffs down over her hands, and tries not to hear what goes on outside the door.
Finally the voices relent, Bullock cursing as he strides away. There are quieter voices after that, then none and when she sticks her head out the door, Bruce is standing there alone. “Ready to go?” he asks.
She gives him her best side-eye, but just says, “Yeah.”
They go down to the basement, and out through a back door. “There are photographers at the front,” Bruce explains, and she just nods, and lets him usher her into the back of the town car. Alfred is in the driver seat.
They bring Jim into booking in cuffs. Renee likes making a scene. She’s enjoying this, just a little, and that ghost of a smile is making Jim yell. They should be on the same side. All Jim Gordon has ever wanted to do is clean up the GCPD, purge the corruption and the mob money and the traded favors. He knows that that’s what Montoya thinks she’s doing, bringing in a dirty cop, one of the few she can get to.
Jim doesn’t let himself wonder if she’s doing this for Barbara, if she still loves her, if she thinks putting Jim away will keep Barbara safe.
They all freeze when Cobblepot appears, with a timing so perfect as to be staged. Jim wonders how he found out. Montoya and Allen aren’t ones to spill to dirty cops or the mob. Cobblepot’s network must be wider than Jim ever suspected.
Harvey lunges at him once he realizes what Jim has done, that Jim has never been aboard, and that he’s put Harvey up on the chopping block, too, with his refusal to play the game. If they weren’t both in cuffs right now, Harvey would probably kill him. But he is, and Allen pulls him away easily enough, as the Chief starts talking.
“You can’t very well accuse Detective Gordon of killing a man who is standing before us very much alive, Montoya,” she says. Forty minutes later Jim Gordon is a free man again.
Barb goes running in the morning. Ran and ran and couldn’t stop, until Bruce had silently paced her, ran beside her until she couldn’t breathe anymore. She’d limped back to the manor, but she hadn’t leaned on him. It hadn’t been enough.
After, Alfred had hugged her tight and herded her towards a shower. He had food waiting for her when she’d emerged from her room, hair still damp. It’s all her favorite, tempting her to eat more than a bite. Alfred is the one who does that sort of research. He’s the one who wants to see her walk back out into the world. He’s the one who invokes the memory of her father, like he lost something precious, just like her.
Bruce is the one who brings her further down into the night. Barb’s always assumed Batman had a base of operation somewhere, and it makes sense that Bruce would want somewhere close at hand, somewhere to run to when he needed it. She supposes she should’ve figured it was going to be a cave; it’s on theme, and Batman does seem to love that sort of thing. The cave under the manor, however, is a bit of a shock, and its sheer size is amazing. Bruce brings her down to his cave on the second day, when the manor is just too much and she can’t handle the stillness anymore
“I did a bit of spelunking as a kid,” Bruce offers. “Found the caves by accident.”
“Pretty good accident,” Barb says.
There is more equipment here than in the gym Barb trains in, and her father had spent more than they could really afford on her coach. Not that Bruce Wayne has those sorts of problems. He pretty much has access to anything money could buy, and he isn’t one to spare any expense, not when Batman is involved anyway.
“Babs, “ Bruce says, trying to catch her attention as she stares.
“Oh, I, it’s what I called you when you were a baby. You were too young to remember, but you and your father lived in the manor for about a year,” he says, a bit sheepishly.
“It’s a good name,” she says, all the while thinking maybe if she doesn’t have to be Barb for a while this will hurt less. “You should call me that.”
Jim gets Montoya and Allen to bring him to the manor, bullet wounds wrapped up tightly, and the mob on his heels. He’s not sure when Alfred became his backup, but he’s the only one he trusts with this. Montoya and Allen can do the detective work, but it’ll be Alfred who has to handle all the fallout from Jim’s choices. He doesn’t want to bring this to the Wayne door, but he’s made promises, and he will keep them even if he dies in the process.
Alfred has to help him into the manor; Jim’s none too steady between the bullets and the drugs. It’s funny how comforting it is to lean against Alfred, let his warmth soak into Jim’s side.
It would be nice to stay here. Nice to feel safe for a moment. He can’t though.
Bruce is the only one willing to point out that Jim is going on a suicide mission, the only one who demands an explanation. He’s barely the child Jim calls him, barely. He’s in his pajamas, and he should look too young for all of this, but instead he’s clearly the lord of the manor, and the rest of them, in their suits, are the ones out of place.
“You can hardly walk,” Alfred points out, but he’s saying so much more. Alfred offers his help, more help than he’s already given, and Jim knows in that moment if he somehow survives this Alfred will give to him the steadfast loyalty second only to what Jim has seen him have for Bruce. Jim can’t take the help, has to do this on his own, but that doesn’t mean he’ll forget.
“I’ll be fine,” Jim lies, and Alfred lets him get away with it.
Jim offers his hand and Bruce wraps his arms around him instead. It’s the first time in this whole thing that Jim thinks about backing out, thinks about what dying will mean. Not for him, Jim is prepared to die for this, but for Bruce. Bruce doesn’t need another dead body in his menagerie.
He goes; he has to. Somehow he picks up Harvey on the way, no matter how crazy he thinks Jim is. Jim’s pretty sure walking into Falcone’s house with automatic weapons is the real selling point for Harvey. Blaze of glory and all.
In the end, Falcone lets them walk away. Jim doesn’t understand, doesn’t know why. He should be dead right now. Dead and buried in a shallow grave with Barbara and Harvey. Instead he goes back to the Clocktower penthouse, Harvey goes back to work, and Barbara runs to Renee Montoya.
After, Alfred invites Jim over. For Bruce, of course. Jim doesn’t call Alfred on his motivations, even when he clearly checks Jim for new injuries as soon as he’s in the manor’s front door.
Bruce isn’t cutting himself, anymore, isn’t burning himself. He’s just running. Jim’s not sure it’s any better. Running until he can barely stand, and still refusing food. It’s just as self destructive.
There’s an anger deep in Bruce, and Jim wonders if it was there before his parents died. Who Bruce would have been if they’d survived. Now there is anger and determination and a thirst of vengeance that Jim can’t slake. There’s a tragedy in the making if Jim and Alfred can't some how derail Bruce's anger.
The only thing Jim knows about traumatized children is being one himself. Honest DAs don’t last long in Gotham, no matter how good they are. He’d taken his anger at the corruption in the system, at his father’s death, and he had gone to war. He doesn’t want Bruce to have to do the same. But Jim’s never gotten over it, never not been angry. Never lost the need to throw himself at the worst problems, the unsolvable situations, never cared too much how he spends out his life, as long as it’s for a good cause.
He doesn’t want that for Bruce, but he doesn’t know how to stop it either. He can’t even stop himself.
Barb’s not ready to be here, behind this podium, every flashing camera reminding her that her father is dead. Bruce is talking, but she’s only half paying attention, wishing Alfred was sitting beside her. He claimed it wouldn’t be proper, as if every single person in Gotham didn’t know he was basically Bruce Wayne’s father.
It makes a bit more sense when Barb starts listening to what Bruce is saying. “Jim Gordon found a traumatized, grieving little boy, and he promised to help.”
It’s another story all of Gotham has heard, but not a single person moves to interrupt. “He wrapped me up in his coat, and then he did every single thing he could do to catch the man who murdered my parents. And that would have been enough. He would have fulfilled his duty and more if he had stopped there. But that wasn’t Jim Gordon.”
Bruce looks down at the podium, and he suddenly seems younger, and so much more vulnerable than she knows him to be. “Jim Gordon stepped up, and in doing so, he helped raise me to be the man I am today. His loss is the loss of a friend, a mentor, a member of my family. His loss is like losing a third parent.”
“When I was in need, Jim Gordon stepped up to do the things my father no longer could. And so now, in the wake of his tragic murder in the line of duty, I can only do what his example calls me to. I must now step up and do for his daughter what he did for me.”
It’s like being hit with a wall of light, a thousand flashes all going off at the same time. For the second day in a row Barbara Gordon is going to make the front page of every paper in Gotham.
It’s been four months since the arrest, four month since Zsasz, four month since he’s last seen Barbara, and when he does, Jim doesn’t know where to look. She’s been crying, and he wants to wipe away her tears with the pad of his thumb, like nothing ever happened between them. Except the evidence of her growing stomach belies that. She’s been with Montoya, and how Renee could have kept that secret, he doesn’t know, but that baby growing inside Barbara is his. He’s going to be a father. It makes his knees weak and his heart soar, and he doesn’t know what he supposed to be doing at all.
“I was four weeks when you were arrested. I took the test after they took you in,” Barbara says. “She’ll be born in September.”
“A girl?” he asks, and reaches out to lay his hand over his daughter.
“You’re going to have a daughter,” she says again, and Jim wraps her in his arms. He hasn’t asked if she’s staying, hasn’t asked anything at all. He doesn’t want to hear those answers, not if he can help it.
He’s supposed to go to the manor tonight, but Barbara is here in his arms, and he’s going to be a father. It’s like his whole world has shifted on its axis, and it takes him a week to return to the real world.
Selina’s still at the manor now that Alfred has taken a shine to her. She’s is better at convincing Bruce to stop, to enjoy the moment, to leave his self-imposed training behind. For that Alfred will feed her a thousand meals, and Jim will look the other way. Bruce still goes running, but Selina dogs his heels, throwing acorns at him, and making sure he stops long before exhaustion forces him to. They actually play, a thing Jim Gordon never expected from either of them, grown up too young as they are.
“Your missus came back?” Alfred asks, as he and Jim sit on the patio and watch Bruce and Selina play a demented version of tag.
“Yeah,” Jim says. “She’s four months pregnant, a little girl.”
“Good on you, mate.”
“I asked her to marry me. We’re just going down to the JP, but she said yes.”
Jim knows the smile Alfred gives him is hiding things, can guess at what they are, but the situation is too delicate to touch even gently, and so Jim lets it pass.
Barb is wrong. The picture of her standing beside Bruce at the podium, his hand on her shoulder makes the front page of almost every paper in America and several foreign papers as well. It’s an internet sensation, even if Alfred is doing his best to keep her away from the comments.
They’re ugly, and she only sees the things Bruce allows her to see or can’t stop her from hearing. She doesn’t even want to speculate on what’s being censored by the Cave’s computers. Everyone wants to say something. Some of them hate her father, still mad about the way he cleaned up the GCPD or the way he’s kept them on the straight and narrow since. Some of them hate Bruce, hate him for his money or his fame or his playboy life. Some of them just seem to want to print their flithiest fantasies, things Babs hadn’t even considered.
Either Bruce wants to fuck her, or her father fucked him, or she was one of Bruce’s wild oats that her father covered up for him. The only thing more rampant than the sexual innuendo is the speculation on how Bruce’s will is going to change. She’s his heir now, the heir to Wayne Enterprises, the heir to Gotham itself, maybe.
“You aren’t old enough to be my father,” she mutters at Bruce when he takes the paper from her.
“That would be a bit precocious,” he says, and goes back to his breakfast.
When she can't take it anymore she pushes Bruce to train. For a moment, if she runs fast enough, fights hard enough, she can forget. This, he seems to understand instinctively.
Batman finally lets her out on patrol with him the night before her father’s funeral. She suspects they both need the distraction, need to be as far away from the memory of Jim Gordon as they can get.
Bruce has souped up her costume. Leather jacket, sturdier boots, a lot more kevlar. It feels strange, another new thing in a life too full of them, but she knows looking at Alfred’s face as Bruce hands the new costume to her, that this is how Bruce shows his affection.
Once she is kitted out, Alfred gives her a quick hug. “I think your father would be proud,” he says, and even if they both know that Jim Gordon would’ve been angry, terrified and absolutely against the idea of Batgirl, Babs hugs back.
“Come on Batgirl,” Bruce says, with as close to a smile as Batman ever gets. “Gotham needs us.”
“Mr. Gordon, what is your daughter’s name?” the nurse asks Jim, trying to keep his attention away from the room where his wife is bleeding out. They pushed him out, closed their ears to all his begging.
There are doctors running, and Jim knows how bad that is.
“Mr. Gordon,” the nurse says again, and even though all Jim wants to do is be in that room yelling at those doctors to save her, he answers, “Barbara.”
Barbara can kill him later when she stops trying to die, but it’s the only name he can think of right now, and if the worst happens … well, Barbara is a pretty name.
It seems like it takes an eternity, but they get Barbara stabilized, and eventually the nurses hand him his baby girl. “Hi, Barb,” he says. “I hope you won’t mind I gave you your mother’s name. She’s a pretty amazing woman, and I think you will be, too.”
A week after Barb is born--and boy is Barbara still mad about the name thing--Jim takes her to the mansion. Alfred had called, hinting that Bruce would like to meet the new addition, but Jim suspects that Alfred wants to make sure Jim will be coming back.
Bruce just wants to buy the baby everything. Alfred manages to talk him out of thousand dollar cribs and strollers more complicated than a space shuttle. Instead baby Barbara gets a stuffed bear, a trust with enough money to cover tuition at Yale, and a nickname: Babs.
Jim grew up with enough money to keep food on the table and not worry about a few extras, solidly middle class. He’ll never really understand the kind of money that Bruce and Barbara take for granted. Barbara’s parents buy them half the things Bruce wanted to and Alfred refused him, so Jim’s not sure it was worth the argument that clearly had echoed through the manor. Not that Barbara is interested in letting either Bruce Wayne or Alfred Pennyworth have a part in their baby’s life. She hates that he’s promised Bruce what seems like an impossible thing, hates that Jim won’t let it go. He doesn’t know if she knows about Alfred, but if she does, he suspects she hates that, too.
So Jim says he’s taking the baby for a drive, and Barbara should take the time to nap, but he goes to the manor every time. Bruce perches on the couch, and ever so carefully holds the baby. Jim is certain Barb is the first baby he’s ever held, but Bruce is pretty entranced once Barb grabs his finger and holds on tight.
Alfred doesn’t even need that. Jim can tell he’s been bumped down Alfred’s priority list, but since it’s by his daughter, he doesn’t much care. There is no one he’d trust more with her life.
Eventually Barbara catches on, and Jim’s visits decrease and finally end all together. Bruce doesn’t really understand why Jim stops coming around, doesn’t get why his visits to the manor upset Barbara. Bruce, Jim knows, just wants a family, and it kills him that he can’t give that to the kid, that he let him get his hopes up.
Alfred reports on Bruce’s newest death-defying tests. He’s developed a keen interest in spelunking which drives Alfred spare. They still talk, and some days Alfred comes by the station. They all know the situation is untenable, but Jim’s plan is to just keep holding on until he can’t anymore.
Her father’s people don’t understand why Babs wants to stay with Bruce. Any cop on the Force would take her in. Her father is their hero, and she is an orphan, and cops protect their own. Even Bullock offers to let her stay with him. They don’t understand. They don’t know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, that he’s her partner. Even if he wasn’t, he understands what it is to watch a parent’s life bleed away while there is nothing you can do. It’s not something she would have ever wanted to have in common with another human being, but at the moment, it is one of the very few comforts she has.
Even before he’d regained his memory, Bruce had tried to protect her. He’d wrapped an arm around her, and put his other over her mouth, kept her from screaming as her father’s blood slowly rolled toward them. She would’ve launched herself at the Penguin, unarmed, with no plan other than going straight for his eyes. She would have died, too. There are some days wishes she had.
Maybe if Bruce hadn’t forgotten, maybe if she’d been faster, and stopped Penguin from blowing up the boat the night before the awards, maybe then her father would be alive. Except, what could Batman have done? It was all so quick, over before she ever really knew her father was in danger. She tries not to blame Bruce, and does an even worse job trying not to blame herself.
It has only been a week, but Bruce has been there on every one of those days. Sometimes they train, sometimes they do research, sometimes they just sit and wait, but he’s always there. Barb wonders if it’s because he’s guilty, guilty that he’d lost his memories, the he hadn’t stopped the Penguin, that the cops got to him before they could. Mostly she thinks it’s because he remembers how horrible this is, having to wake up every day and remember your parent dying all over again.
Even that pain he risks for her. “Your father was the only person who talked to me like a person the day my parents died,” he tells her, deep in the Batcave, where they hide the emotions on their faces in the comfort of the shadows. “He kept coming back, too. When he learned that the man they had arrested first was framed. Even when he had no news, nothing to comfort me with, he still came and sat with me.”
It's something he can't be Batman for. Only Bruce Wayne can help, and it's clear that it's not something Bruce is used to. They've always been Batman and Batgirl, crime fighters. They've never been Bruce and Barbara, orphans, before.
Barbara leaves him holding Barb and drives away forever. At least this time she’s not headed for Montoya. She goes to Columbus, where her parents live, and she lets him know she’s safe. It’s the last he hears from her before he’s served with divorce papers. Barb is six months old, and Jim Gordon has no idea what to do next. So he lets his brain work on autopilot and ends up at the Wayne manor. How the manor became the place his brain takes him, he doesn’t know, but Alfred takes one look at them, and ushers them inside.
He lets Selina hold Barb. It’s not like she’s going to run away with her, and Jim is exhausted. Barb isn’t sleeping through the night at any frequency and most of the time she just screams. “I miss your mom, too,” he tells her, but nothing makes her stop.
Surprisingly, it’s Bruce she stops crying for. Bruce is happy to walk her up and down the manor halls, make to bounce her up and down forever. Selina is more likely to dangle shiny things in front of Barb’s face.
“We might as well call it the Wayne Family Home for Wayward Children,” Alfred says to him over breakfast the next morning, but he’s smiling when he says it, and he takes to Barb like she’s his own.
Jim still has to go to work. Harvey is surprisingly not terrible about the whole thing.
“My dad ran out on my mom. The parent who stays, that’s the good parent,” Harvey says with a shrug.
Jim wishes that he and Harvey could have been new to Gotham together. Harvey is on his side now, but it’s not the same. He still punches suspects in custody, still has the instincts of a dirty cop, even if he’s trying for Jim.
Maybe, just maybe, if Jim can make Harvey into an honest cop, the rest of the department will follow.
In the limo on the way to the cathedral, Bruce says, "Your father couldn't stand with me at my parents’ funeral, but he came and he stayed after."
It’s funny how she’s learned more about her dad now that he’s died than she ever knew before. Babs wonders if its because she wasn’t paying attention before, when she thought he’d always be around, or if he’d been careful not to let her know.
Her father’s funeral is a state event. The mayor is there, and every cop in the city. There are horses and muffled drums and a sea of tears. She doesn’t cry. Not where the entire world can see her. They hand her his flag at the end, and a thousand people give her their condolences as she clings to it. Bruce’s hand on her shoulder keeps her steady until everyone is gone. Until it’s him and her and her father lowered down into ground.
She sits cross-legged at the edge of the grave. Babs had thought she would have something to say, some words that she could use, but there is nothing. She never got to tell her father about Batgirl, never got to tell him that he was her hero, too. That she wanted to keep her city safe, just like him. He’s dead now, though, dead and in the ground, and all her words are too late, too little. So she sits.
It feels like hours. She thinks Bruce stands guard, shooing away anyone who would interfere. She sits with her father one last time, and the wind on her face feels, just for a moment, like his laugh, his hug, his warmth. It’s a chilly wind, though, and when the gust dies down, she is alone and cold and it is time to go.
Bruce is there when she goes to stand, and she takes his offered hand. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t break her quiet, but he pulls her in, and holds her again for a moment, before taking her hand and leading her from this place.
After, there is food and whiskey and cops, each one with a story about how Jim Gordon saved their lives, how he took down the bad guys, how he did what had to be done. They tell her over and over that he is a hero, their hero.
Renee Montoya wraps her in a hug so tight Babs wonders if her ribs will be crushed with the force of grief. She only lets go when Bullock peels her away, and then she clings to him instead. Barb has never heard Renee says a kind word to Harvey, but they stand there together, and their pain is palpable.
“Your father,” she says from Harvey’s arms, “surprised me by being an honest man. He sacrificed so much for that, for me. More than I deserved.”
None of them speak to Bruce, though a few cops nod in his direction. Babs told the cops that he’d saved her life, but Bruce had spun that story to make himself sound babbling and inept in the press.
They leave before the heavy drinking begins. Babs knows it will happen. She remembers her father coming home from these things before, the pain blurred for a moment by alcohol and comradery.
Renee offers her spare room once again, and whispers her promises to take on all of Bruce’s lawyers if that is what Babs needs.
“No,” Babs says. “He understands, and I know it seems weird, but he loved my father, too.” Renee nods knowingly, and lets her go, before turning back to the wake.
Babs meets Bruce by the door, and he sets a hand between her shoulder blades before leading her outside and back into his car
Babs is just learning to walk, and Jim is spending more of his time at the manor than at home. Bruce adores Babs, and sometimes Alfred’s cooking is the only non-fast food Jim eats all week.
Babs has a crib at the manor now, a crib, and a stroller, and diapers and clothes. There are bottles and formula and baby food jars in the kitchen, and stuffed animals everywhere. Once it was clear that Jim was more or less staying, Alfred let Bruce go hog wild.
Jim and Alfred set the crib up together, cursing good naturedly at the terrible instructions. Bruce had planned to have all the furniture assembled on site, but that Alfred had vetoed. Jim Gordon’s change of residence is still under the radar. So Selina and Bruce play with Babs and Alfred tries to figure out why there are pieces left over, and Jim just realizes that he finally feels like he’s home.
Later, when Bruce and Babs are asleep, Alfred raises an eyebrow and Jim follows him to his room. It’s not grandiose like too much of the rest of the manor. Simple and serviceable, like Alfred is still a Royal Marine, and not a butler and the foster father of a young boy, and a teenage girl besides.
Jim has been so lonely, and Alfred must be lonelier yet, and so his touch feels like absolution, like acceptance, like coming home. It doesn’t matter if Alfred’s hands are calloused in a pattern that screams gun to Jim’s instincts. It doesn’t matter that Alfred is the one pushing him down on to the bed, that Jim is the one letting him.
Alfred pushes inside him and Jim buries his face in the pillow, desperately attempting to muffle the noises he makes. They are so far away from Babs and Bruce and Selina, but he still needs to be silent, to have this part of his life not touch the rest. Here they are Alfred and Jim, and there is nothing else, none of the things that are pressing in and attempting to destroy their worlds. Here there is just the stretch and burn of Alfred inside him, the rough kindness of Alfred’s hands on his shoulders, the smooth cotton of the sheets below him.
Alfred is loyal to Bruce in a way Jim can’t quite grasp. It’s a thing he’s only ever seen in foxholes, and even there, only rarely. It’s the thing that makes men run in front of bullets, makes men take stupid risks. Alfred is loyal to Jim, too, and it is close, but not the same thing. Jim knows that Alfred will always choose Bruce, over and over again, no matter what. And if, in choosing Bruce, Alfred can choose Jim, he’ll do that. Bruce will always come first, though. Jim won’t begrudge him that.
“You are thinking much too loudly,” Alfred says. “Stop it and go to sleep.”
And so Jim does.
Grief is boring. This is what Barb learns. Grief is painful, and unrelenting, and most of all boring. She doesn’t know how Bruce used this to turn himself into Batman. Maybe revenge is easier to use than grief. There is no one for Barb to catch, to search for until she pushes herself into a Batgirl shaped hole and forgets the rest. That’s what Bruce did, not that he did a particularly good job of it. No matter how much he wants to be Batman, he’ll never shake Bruce.
Sometimes, when the grief gets too bad, Alfred tells her stories over tea in the kitchen. He’s always there, waiting, like he knows what she needs. “I tried to teach your father to fence once, when Master Bruce was very young. Your father was very good at a great many things, but fencing never was one of them.”
There is love in Alfred’s voice, affection and amusement and loss, but no matter how painful it is for him, he keeps telling her stories.
Being on Gotham’s rooftops helps almost as much as sitting with Alfred in the kitchen. Babs feels a little more in control, a little less desperate to find something to hit, a little less likely to spin out. Crime in Gotham hasn’t stopped because Jim Gordon is dead. It’s been a month, and it seems like all the big names are testing the waters. Between Jim Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot, they’ve left a huge hole in the fabric of Gotham.
She’s patrolling the East End when she sees him. The green and purple that the Riddler favors lights him up like a spotlight on Gotham's dark streets. The Riddler has alway been a little bit ridiculous mixed with a whole lot of terror. It makes it worse somehow, wondering if she’ll laugh.
Batman still isn’t happy to let her patrol independently, but he’s three blocks over dealing with some loose ends. Babs knows she’d not supposed to engage. Especially not someone in a mask.
Suddenly The Riddler puts his hands in the air, like he’s surrendering. He must have seen her crouched up on the eaves.
“Your father said thank you,” he says. It’s the most straightforward thing she’s ever heard him say.
Babs nods, and Nygma melts into the night, leaving her just as confused as if he’d brought out one of his usual riddles. .
Selina runs away on a Monday morning, just after Jim leaves the manor for work. She’s sixteen now, and has stayed longer than Jim ever thought possible. Stayed even after Joe Chill stood trial and she damned him with her testimony.
Jim’s not living at the manor anymore. Babs can talk, can even form sentences that other people can understand, and it wouldn’t be good for anyone if he’s caught. That part Bruce had understood, even if he hadn’t liked it. Jim still sleeps over some nights, and he had last night because Alfred had cocked an eyebrow at him and suggested Master Bruce was missing Miss Barbara. Alfred never suggests that Mr. Pennyworth might be missing Mr. Gordon.
“You could stay,” Bruce says sleepily, when Jim goes to check on him before turning in for the night. “You and Alfred, with me, and Selina, and Babs. It’s legal now in Gotham. I know Alfred says people wouldn’t like it, but that shouldn’t matter.”
“It does matter, though,” Jim says, at a loss.
“That’s what Selina said, too. She says we were never a family, and I’m stupid to think so, because family always goes away,” Bruce says without looking at him.
“Selina doesn’t,” Jim says, and the stops, not having the words for the way Selina was abandoned, the ways Selina has kept herself alive and human. “The thing is, family, real family, they don’t want to go away. They have to sometimes, because we can’t control everything, but no one wants to leave their family.”
“I think Selina wants to leave,” Bruce says. “She keeps talking about it, about seeing the world, doing things that are cooler than hanging around here with me.”
Jim knows this too, knows Selina is going to run someday, that it’s going to crush Bruce, that there is nothing to be done about it. “You aren’t wrong, but when Selina leaves, it won’t be because she doesn’t want to be your family. It won’t even be because she’s never coming back. She just has to deal with some stuff.”
Bruce nods, but in that ways that makes it clear he doesn’t accept what Jim is saying, and will have a marshalled a better argument in the morning.
When Alfred calls him to tell him Selina is gone, Jim isn’t surprised at all. He puts his head in his hands and sighs. Harvey doesn’t even ask anymore, just drags him out on a call. Nygma tags along because the Chief wants him out of the building, and Jim doesn’t have a good reason to say no to him, and Harvey can’t make one up fast enough.
Edward Nygma is a funny little man, that’s what Jim has always thought anyway. He’s smart, lightning fast mind and even brilliant on occasion. He’s helped Jim and Harvey close more cases than Jim can count, but he’s always been a little too pleased to be presented with a new crime, with his own cleverness.
So Nygma sits in the back seat and hums a bit to himself, looking at the passing scenery, as Jim ends up telling Harvey that Selina has finally run again. “She can take care of herself,” Harvey says, and Jim knows he’s right, but that doesn’t stop a man from worrying.
Jim has no idea what Selina is doing at the scene, but he sees her out of the corner of his eye up on a fire escape. He doesn’t think anyone else would notice; she’s very, very good at what she does. Hiding in plain sight, moving without drawing attention. It’s only because he’s seen her do it so often that Jim notices her at all.
Jim nods in her general direction, but makes no move towards her. If Selina needs to run, he’s never going to be able to stop her, never going to talk her down. He has to let her run and hope she’ll come back.
So Jim goes to work the scene, and doesn’t turn to see if she nods back.
It’s a simple B&E, and once the owner describes the culprit, Jim knows exactly what Selina was doing at the scene.
“Blondish, a girl I think,” the owner says, face still red from yelling. “I would’ve never seen her either, but for that stupid cat. Guess it’s not so stupid now.”
Jim hopes she’s long gone by the time he gives the description to the beat cops. Fled and free somewhere no one will look. It won’t be the manor; this is her way of letting him know not to look for her. Telling him this time she’s leaving for good.
He goes outside, Harvey suspiciously dogging his heels, to give the description and start the manhunt when he hears the ruckus.
“I caught your Cat,” Nygma says, arms wrapped around Selina, a strand of pearls in his hand. The glee in his face is cruel, and Jim knows the moment he sees them both something bad is going to happen, something he’s not going to be able to stop. “She’s been a bad little kitty. Easy enough puzzle to solve, she’s not a very smart cat after all. I could do better.”
Nygma’s been even more erratic in the last few weeks, ever since he and Kristen broke up over the video game they’d been designing on the side. Jim doesn’t know the details, just what had been screamed across the GCPD’s break room, but either way Nygma’s mad and on edge.
Selina fights, as Nygma tries to hold her. Kicks, and twists, and finally rakes her fingernails across his face. “Kittycat has claws,” he says as he lets her go, blood dripping down her face.
“And don’t you forget it,” Selina calls over her shoulder as she runs. Nygma takes off after her, and Jim runs too. They lose Selina in High Town, up a fire escape and over a roof, and she keeps on running. It doesn’t stop Nygma from running though. He keeps going, weaving between the crowds. Jim loses him on the edge of Chinatown, there and then suddenly not.
It’s the last Jim Gordon sees of either of them for a long, long time.
Catwoman stops them on a rooftop near Robinson Park. She waves Batman away and he actually goes. Babs will never understand what exactly is between the two of them, but she knows Catwoman isn’t the same sort of villain as the rest of the people they fight. Batman would’ve never given the Joker an inch to talk to her, let alone gone and swung over to the adjacent roof top. The lecture she’d gotten just for talking to the Riddler from six stories away had been epic.
“Your father saved my life once when I was very young,” Catwoman says, and Barbara just stares at her. “And again when I was a bit older.”
Catwoman laughs at the dismay on Babs’s face. Even the cowl can’t hide that.
“Don’t worry, I’ve known Brucie’s secrets for ages, I won’t spill yours either. I owe it to your father, if nothing else.”
“It’s not that,” Barb says. “It just seems like everyone knows who I am.”
“For those of us who’ve been around Gotham long enough, knew your father and Bruce back in the day, some things are very, very obvious. There aren’t so many of us left though. Me. Eddie. The Penguin,” Catwoman says.
“The Penguin?” she asks. Babs needs to know this, and Bruce isn’t talking.
“Oswald Cobblepot. He was a low level mobster, carried around that umbrella all the time, so Fish Mooney’s pretty little head wouldn’t get wet. Your dad saved his life, but it was complicated. I don’t know all of it. Just some things I overheard at the time, some things I learned later,” Catwoman says.
“He knelt down and talked to my dad while he was dying,” Babs says. She hadn’t told Harvey that part, or Renee either, and she hadn’t had to tell Bruce because he’d been there with her.
Catwoman grimaces, then shakes her head, clearly putting her thoughts together before answering. “Your dad always believed that people could be better. He always wanted them to try, at least. And Cobblepot always thought your dad was his friend, once he saved his life, even when they couldn’t see eye to eye on anything. I suspect Oswald didn’t mean for him to die. Not that that matters much now.”
“Oh,” is all Babs can say. There is a whole life out there that her dad lived without her. Friends and enemies and adventure that Babs will only hear about when someone else decides to tell her. She can’t ever go and ask him what it was like to be a rookie on the Force, or what it was like to go to war, or why her mom left and never came back, even when she was dying. She can’t ask him why he saved Oswald Cobblepot, and she can’t ask him why the Penguin killed him.
“If you ever need anything, Babs, anything at all, I will be there,” Catwoman says, and Babs believes her. She leans down and kisses Babs on the cheek, and holds her for a moment.
“Anything,” she repeats as she pulls away and springs off the building, grappling hook crunching into the opposing roof top.
Babs doesn’t wonder at Catwoman calling her Bruce’s pet name until she’s standing alone on the roof, and she keeps her silence as the Batmobile winds its way through Gotham’s streets.
“What was that about?” Babs asks Bruce once has stripped off his cowl in the Cave.
“An old debt,” is all he says.
Bruce has a plan, one he’s not telling anyone, not even Alfred. Jim knows this, because it’s the only thing Alfred has talked about for months. Bruce not talking has never stopped Alfred before, and Bruce should know better.
Bruce is more agitated than Jim has ever seen him, pushing himself harder than he ever has. He hates himself for thinking it, but Jim almost misses the days when Bruce was just running himself into ragged exhaustion.
It doesn’t help that Selina is gone and shows no intention of ever coming back. Bruce has been waiting for her for five years now. Five years and thousands of dollars spent searching, but she is gone like she never was there at all.
Jim had put out a BOLO, pulled in old favors, done the footwork himself, but he doesn’t have anything more to show for it than Bruce does. He stays away from the manor more and more after that, Bruce growing angrier every day. It’s not good for Barb, not good for anyone.
“I’m leaving,” Bruce announces. He’s waited for one of the rare days Jim is at the manor.
“Very well, sir,” Alfred replies. “For what climate shall I pack?”
“No packing, Alfred. You aren’t coming with me.”
“It’s my job to come with you, Master Bruce.”
“It’s your job to do what I need, Alfred.”
If looks could kill, they would both be dead on the floor. Jim suspects that’s why he’s here, that both sides wanted a witness, a neutral enough party, and Jim is the only one who could do this.
In the end, they both walk away, the matter tabled, but not settled. No part of the manor is on fire and none of the vases smashed, so Jim is willing to call it a victory for the moment.
Alfred recruits Jim for a last minute intervention, but Jim knows there is nothing he can say to make Bruce stay. Bruce is training for his own private war, and even if he isn’t about to go don Army greens the way Jim did, a mission is still something Jim recognizes.
All that running had led to weight lifting had led to martial arts, and Bruce is as fit as most of the guys trying out for Special Forces. He’s been training the best he can for a long, long time, and Jim and Alfred both know he’s going to find someone who can teach him more.
“You know he’s just worried,” Jim says to Bruce later.
“He always worries,” Bruce says.
“It’s his job,” Jim says. “I worry, too.” Jim worries all the time. He worries about Bruce and his quest, he worries about Selina, gone five years now, but never long from his thoughts, he worries about Barb growing up far too fast for him. He even worries about Alfred.
“I have to do this, and he can’t come with me,” Bruce says.
“You don’t have to. Look at me, Bruce, you do not have to do this. You are choosing to do this; don’t lie to yourself about it. Maybe it is the best choice, maybe it’s the choice you are going to make no matter what anyone says, but you have to know it’s a choice.”
“I’m leaving, but Alfred should know, I’m coming back.”
“You need to tell him that yourself,” Jim says, glad for the confirmation, thankful for that small mercy.
Jim never hears the particulars of the talk, but he knows it happens, watches Alfred put on a brave face as Bruce packs. Watches him make Bruce’s favorite treats, any small hold he can take advantage of it. In the end Bruce still leaves, but he hugs Alfred first, and Jim too, before he goes. “I promise I’m coming back,” he says, right before he ducks away into the taxi he had insisted on.
“We will be here, Master Bruce,” Alfred says, making a promise for both of them.
After, they go back into the manor, and Jim coaxes food into Alfred. It’s backwards--Alfred is always the one feeding Jim--but everything about this day has been backwards. So they eat, and once the dishes are clean, Alfred gently leads Jim back to his room.
They don’t do this much anymore, but they are both in pain. Scared for Bruce, sad for all the things they couldn’t protect him from. It’s more nostalgia than passion.
They are tender with each other, none of the explosive passion of their initial meetings. Here in the spartan room beneath Wayne manor, where Alfred has always seemed to live, he lets Jim touch him until they can both fall apart.
They go in front of a judge on Tuesday morning, and forty-five minutes later, Bruce Wayne is her guardian. It’s nothing compared to the sea of cameras that meets them after, nothing like Harvey’s glare as he pushes the media back, nothing like Renee’s concerned frown.
“Are you a Wayne now? Who will inherit Wayne Industries? Are you fucking her?” all get screamed in her face. The camera flashes are blinding, and she reaches out for Bruce. The tabloids are still speculating lurid sexual things, but everyone else cares about the money. This time, though, he answers. “Barbara Gordon is now, in all things, legally my daughter, and thus is my heir,” Bruce says, his voice flickering towards Batman. He stops for a split second, and the Brucie’s best grin spreads across his face. “Of course, I’m sure there is the perfect Mrs. Wayne out there, and our children will, once we have them, inherit right alongside Barbara. Not that I’m quite ready for a Mrs. Wayne yet. There are so many lovely ladies to interview for the position.”
Babs only just manages to stop herself from rolling her eyes right there in front of the camera. He’s explained about keeping his identity secret, but she thinks this is the dumbest way of going about it. She had figured it out after all, back before the world turned upside down. She’d figured it out when he didn’t even remember being Batman.
But Brucie is what Bruce is going with, and so Brucie makes an appearance at a club downtown with Vicki Vale. They’ve been on again off again as long as Babs can remember. Vicki had been the first woman Bruce had been seen with, back when he first returned to Gotham. Familiarity doesn’t make the paparazzi any less fond, and Alfred and Babs sit together and watch the two of them on E!.
They look wealthy and in love, or at least lust, and what else can the cameras want?
Babs is just hoping not to have to duck the cameras tomorrow morning. Bruce has tried to keep everything he can the same for her, but her public school isn’t really equipped to deal with the security nightmare she now poses, and so Bruce’s alma mater it is.
Gotham Academy is a terrible place, and Barb almost wishes she’d let Bruce talk her into private tutors. It would have been a terrible move from a PR standpoint, but at least then she’d only have to deal with the media.
Her classmates are worse. They are all terribly wealthy, but no one is the kind of wealthy that Bruce Wayne is. That she is now. Except they all know how to be rich in a way she suspects she never will.
“Ignore those losers,” Kate Kane says with a smirk. Kate is the only girl she likes in the whole school. She doesn’t care that Babs is wealthy now, doesn’t care that she didn’t used to be. The Kanes are the only competition the Waynes have in Gotham, after all, and so it doesn’t matter.
She’s working on doing just that one afternoon when Poison Ivy finds her.
“Your father helped kill my father,” Poison Ivy says without introduction. “But then he cleared his name. And he was always kind to my plants when he could be. There are very few men like that.” She doesn’t seem all there, like she’s listening to something Babs can’t hear, or maybe she’s just on the good drugs, but whatever it is, she doesn’t seem like a threat, not at the present. Bruce will freak out of course, and she figures school security will go a little crazy when they find out, but there isn’t anything she can do about that, not right now.
Kate comes full speed around the ivy encrusted brick corner, and only stops when she sees Ivy.
“Who is that?” Kate asks, and Babs doesn’t answer. She doesn’t know how to tell someone that her father is mourned by the super villains of Gotham, doesn’t know how to say he mourned for them, too.
When Babs turns back to Ivy, to let her explain, she is gone.
“I don’t know,” Babs says with a shrug.
“Let’s go out tonight,” Kate says, easily forgetting about the awkwardness of a minute ago.
“I don’t know,” Babs repeats.
“Come on, it’ll be fun, and you of all people need fun,” Kate says, grinning.
“All right. I’ll have to check with Bruce, but yeah, okay.”
In the club the music wraps itself around her, buoys her up, lets her spin and spin. Kate laughs as Babs spins, holding her close and then letting her fly away before bringing her back in. She hasn’t felt like this in so long, it’s hard remember that she can be happy.
She’s home early enough to go on patrol
“You shouldn’t listen to all of Master Bruce’s stories,” Alfred says to her the next afternoon. Bruce is fast asleep. They had tangled with Two-Face the night before, and he has to go to another gala tonight. She’d be asleep, too, but Bruce insists on her going to school. “Your father may not have ever admitted it, but he always knew who Batman was. They used to have screaming arguments about it. That dent in the wall in the second floor sitting room, that was Bruce throwing a statuette at your father. He meant to miss of course.”
“‘Barb, vigilantism doesn’t fix anything.’ He said it a thousand times, but he still bought the Bat Signal,” she says.
“Well, he did love Bruce,” Alfred replies.
“He really must have,” she says.
The conversation stops there, stalled by Bruce’s appearance and the look on his face.
“Barbara,” he says, and he’s never, ever called her that, not once in all the times she remembers. “The Penguin isn’t dead. He must have rigged the warehouse himself, to cover his escape. He …” Bruce trails off.
Penguin isn’t dead. It just keeps rolling through her brain, no matter what else she tries to think about. The Penguin is alive. The Penguin killed her father, and he’s still alive.
It takes Jim exactly a week to figure out who Batman is from the first time he sees him in person. He’s not stupid, and even if Bruce has been gone for five years, he’s still Bruce, no matter what he wants to be.
“This is suicidal,” Jim says, and kicks himself once the words are out of his mouth. He remembers those days right after Thomas and Martha Wayne had died, remembers Alfred asking for his help, remembers Bruce’s burned skin and the endless running. Is it too much to ask that Bruce be safe and happy? Is it too much to wish for no more scars on that little boy’s body?
“This is the mission,” Bruce replies. It doesn’t matter what stupid costume Bruce puts on, Jim will always know. “You of all people know what it is to have a mission.”
“I know what it’s like to go to war,” he says, carefully not saying Bruce’s name.
Jim tells people he doesn’t know who Batman is. There is a universe out there where it is possible, if not probable that the caped crusader isn’t Bruce Wayne. Isn’t the little boy Jim wrapped in his coat, the little boy who held his daughter’s hand as she learned to walk. Bruce has never admitted to it after all, not exactly. It would take someone far stupider than Jim Gordon to believe that though.
So they fight without names when Bruce is in costume and don’t speak at all when he’s all dressed up in a tux.
Babs goes back to gymnastics practice, even though the thought of winning a gold without her father there to see it makes her stomach turn. Practice seems pointless, even as she turns and twists her body in ways most people will never do. She’s taken too long off to really have a hope of qualifying anyway. She keeps it up because she can use it in a fight. She trains with Bruce, too: Krav Maga and Jiu Jitsu and things that don’t have names, but Bruce doesn’t flip like she does, isn’t a gymnast.
“I bet you can’t even do a back handspring,” she says teasingly one night as he complains about how flashy she had been taking down a set of thugs at the docks.
He detaches the cape, but doesn’t bother removing the cowl before executing a back handspring. It’s not quite aesthetically perfect; he’s got all the wrong muscles for it, and he’s too tall besides, so the judges would have taken style points even if they would have had to concede its technical perfection. Still, the sight of it is enough to set her laughing.
She catches herself, she hasn’t laughed in front of Bruce in a long time, Bruce who has his own grief. It seems wrong to do so now, not when her father is dead. But its been almost been a year now, and Bruce just smiles slightly.
Jim Gordon’s dead, and the Penguin isn’t, so Barbara Gordon keeps training.
They patrol almost every night. Batman trusts her now, knows her training will hold in a way he didn’t back in the beginning when they were just meeting on rooftops and back alleys. Mostly they deal with low level thugs, guys who work for guys who wear masks. More and more though, he lets her come out when he takes down the bigger targets. It takes more work, more surveillance, more planning, but she’s good at those things, too. It’s not just about flipping and kicking after all, and Babs has a good brain for the bigger picture.
They catch sight of the Penguin off Crime Alley, but the time isn’t right, not yet, and Batman holds her back.
“Vengeance is a hard thing,” Batman says on the rooftop of Wayne Tower. The gargoyles all have twisted faces, angry and uncaring, but Babs still loves it up here. Would stay here where nothing can reach her, not even her anger, not if she doesn't let it.
“It doesn’t always get you what you want, or make you feel what you think it will,” Batman says.
“The Penguin deserves to be in Arkham,” she says. “I know I’m angry, I know some days I wish he was dead, but I signed up for the no killing part just as much as all the rest.”
Batman nods, and they return to the night.
The killers keep getting stranger and stranger, like Gotham is twisting herself into some noir horror.
In Jim’s day, the mob ran Gotham. Falcone and Marconi and their associates killed with guns and baseball bats and occasionally, cement shoes. Now even the mob’s gotten odd.
Oswald Cobblepot’s been the Penguin for years now, running the remains of the mob out of his club. Falcone’s men and Marconi’s men and the men Cobblepot brought in himself, they all answer to the Penguin.
Oswald had thought they were friends, had seen Jim saving his life as a sign of approval. Jim doesn't know how Cobblepot hadn't seen what every other mobster eventually seemed to be able to, that Jim wasn't buyable or bribable, that he was here to clean away the corruption, not to just kowtow to a new mob boss in hopes that the mob would rein in its own violence.
Oswald Cobblepot had talked about a war once, had told Jim he wanted to stop it, but it’s Oswald Cobblepot that brings the war to Gotham. Splinters the mob into angry factions, each fighting for a tiny piece of turf, before he steps in and sweeps them all into his grasp.
Gotham may seem to demand corruption and create worse when her children stand in her way, but Jim Gordon is going to keep on fighting, because after all this, he still believes Gotham can be a better place.
The signal takes a huge chunk of his personal paycheck, but Jim doesn’t feel good about using departmental resources on this one. It kills him to admit that Bruce is doing the city good, that Batman is. That the GCPD needs the help.
Oswald Cobblepot took Marconi out years ago, and Falcone is long dead too. These days the Penguin has very little competition. He brings drugs and girls into the city, runs the gambling and the gun trade, does as he pleases, and Jim can’t get solid evidence of any of it.
GCPD tries to shut him down, but he’s mostly untouchable. It kills Jim a little to tell Bruce, but he’s always been willing to sacrifice his pride when needs be. So he puts Bruce on the case, and Bruce rigs it so Jim is there to see him take the Penguin down.
Jim watches as Batman finally gets Penguin with a right hook, and the man crumples to the ground. This time, there’ll be enough evidence to put Cobblepot away in Blackgate where he belongs.
“How about the circus?” Bruce asks her.
“The circus?” Barb replies.
“It’s in town and Lucius brought by tickets,” Bruce says.
“With the suggestion that I haven’t been seen in public recently enough?” she says more than asks.
“That may have been the subtext.”
“Fine, let’s go. As long as I don’t have to talk to any reporters,” she says.
The circus is a riot of colors and people, fast in a way that makes Babs smile. There are people blowing flames into the sky, people with tigers and lions, people tumbling and flipping about the space. She wonders if she could have done this in another life. If something had gone differently.
Babs loves gymnastics, loves hitting the vault just right and flying through the air, trusting her body to do what she tells it to do. Swinging through the skyscrapers of Gotham with her grapple is almost as good.
“Watch the trapeze. These people make what we do look clunky,” Bruce whispers as the Flying Graysons make their appearance. They aren’t up yet, just preparing for their entrance, but it’s clear that this is what Bruce is most looking forward to.
A little boy, maybe three, gets his picture taken with the acrobats as the elephants clear the main ring, and Bruce ignores everything around them in anticipation. Barb wonders if he wanted to fly as a little kid, too. If he still does, even with all the grapples and the batplane at his disposal.
Finally the lights dim and the ringmaster takes center stage. In the low light she can see the Graysons climb up the trapeze, ready to fly across the ring. They are bright in their green and red and yellow, like fancy birds about to preen. The little boy with them is tiny, but he is smiling so wide she wonders if its his first time allowed to perform in front of a crowd this large.
As the ringmaster’s patter dies down, the spotlights swing up, and the Flying Graysons all wave to the crowds down below. Bruce tenses in anticipation beside her, but Barb can’t look away as the woman and man take ahold of the trapeze bars and the little boy keeps on waving.
For a moment, everything is perfect. The Graysons are flying and it is beautiful.
When it comes, the crack seems like the loudest thing Barb has ever heard.
The spots go out, but she can still see them, lying broken on the tent floor. She looks over at Bruce, wondering if there is something they should, can do, but his eyes aren’t on the bodies at all. His eyes are on the little boy who just became an orphan, all alone at the top of the tent staring down at the bodies of his parents.
They make Jim the Commissioner in the spring. He takes the job because someone has to, and keeping corruption out the the GCPD has been what he’s spent his entire career working toward.
He’s barely home, and with Barb eyeing an Olympic medal, neither is she. She’d been thirteen for the last one, and not quite ready, but next year will be her year. Until then there are morning practices and evening practices and weekend practices.
Jim is a little worried Barb is sneaking off to see some boy, or maybe some girl. She’s not skipping practices, just staying later than usual, or “going out with friends” after. He doesn’t want to stop her from having a life, gymnastics already takes up so much of it, but he also doesn’t want her to do something stupid. Jim Gordon is a cop; he’s seen a lot of kids do a lot of stupid things.
So when he’s offered the tickets, and asked to make an appearance by the Mayor, Jim doesn’t decline, even though he wants to. He’s never really moved on much from the music of his high school years, and the pop music teenagers listen to these days just make him want to shake his head. Still, this way Barb can have a fun night out to blow off a little steam, and he can keep an eye on her the whole time.
“I have tickets to the Gotham City Music Awards,” he says to Barb, just back from practice, eating pasta and boiled chicken just like her nutritionist likes. Feeding an aspiring Olympic athlete is about the same as feeding a hungry teenage boy or two. Even he doesn’t try and keep up with her on days she’s been in the gym for six hours or more.
“Really?” she squeals. It’s the most enthusiasm he’s gotten out of her in a while. Snark and sarcasm are her usual modes of communication now that she’s old enough to be cool. Today, though, today Barb throws her arms around him and says, “I love you, dad!”
It’s been a year since they laid her father in the ground, and here she is, standing beside Bruce in another cemetery. This time a tiny boy child is clinging to his hand, and it’s his parents dead and in the ground. It feels oddly similar, like something she just can’t shake. Gotham eats her best and brightest, leaving behind a trail of orphans. Jim Gordon couldn’t stop it, couldn’t bring Bruce back his mother or his father. Bruce can’t stop it either, can’t return her father or Dick’s from their graves.
Gotham loves its orphans, and it seems to her the city will kill anyone it has to to get them.
They take down the Penguin a month after Robin first comes out into the field with them. It should feel like something, watching the cops put the man who killed her father in cuffs, but Babs is tired and empty and can’t bring herself to feel any satisfaction at all.
“I never meant,” he starts to say to her, as the cops push him into the police cruiser.
The Penguin ends up in Arkham, deemed unfit to stand trial. Babs is pretty sure that’s his lawyer’s doing, he seems just fine to her. It’s the job, though, and Bruce let them man who killed his parents live, and so she’ll do the same.
And Babs will live, too. She’ll fight crime with Batman and Robin. She and Dick will teach each other more fancy flips, and more than once Dick will try one off of the chandelier in the main ballroom. Dick will grow up and so will she, and there will be Jason, and Tim, and Stephanie, and even Damian. Bruce will be Bruce, even when he is trying to be Batman. Alfred will smile fondly at them, and sneak them cookies when they really need them, and sometimes he’ll tear up, just a little bit, and tell her her father would be proud of her.
Jim hates these events, full of drunken celebrities and indolent aristocrats. He hates having to come to them, but the Commissioner does things that desk cops don’t have to, and Barb had been so excited to be here.
The red carpet is full of people Jim doesn’t recognize, but Barb clearly does, and she whispers excitedly to him about the latest teen idols and pop stars, as he keeps an eye on his officers.
Even Bruce is here, a woman on each arm, playing harder at being Brucie than he usually does around Jim.
“Commissioner,” Bruce says in greeting, and Jim rolls his eyes. It’s never good when it comes to titles between him and Bruce, and he wonders what kind of fight Bruce is planning on tonight. Apparently, none. Bruce doesn’t even make it past the introductions before being called away.
Twenty minutes later, Jim is wondering if Bruce knew that the Penguin was going to be here, except there is no Batman in sight, just screaming Gothamites, all trying to flee in every direction. The Penguin has a plan for that, blocking all escape routes, his goons herding people into the center of the room. Something else must be going on here. The Penguin doesn’t come out for thefts like this anymore. The Penguin runs the mob, and the mob has guys for this.
No one remembers that the Penguin was just a man once, one that Jim pushed into a river to save his life. No one remembers when Oswald Cobblepot held Fish Mooney’s umbrella and ratted to Don Marconi. Fish Mooney is long dead, and Cobblepot’s just another of Gotham’s weird villains, besides.
Jim moves when he realizes that Penguin is going to pull the trigger, that this robbery is going to be a massacre. So many people have died in Gotham since Jim Gordon saved Oswald Cobblepot’s life, and Jim can’t ever make up for that. He can step in front of Cobblepot though, distract him. It’s funny how Jim’s kept the man’s attention all these years.
Jim is shocked when the bullet hits his chest. He expected Oswald to spare him; he expected Cobblepot to shake a finger at him, have his goons shake him up, maybe. That’s how it’s always been between them, no matter how mad Cobblepot got. But now here he is, bleeding out on the purple carpeting of the Gotham Music awards, a bullet in his chest.
Oswald looks almost as shocked as Jim feels, kneeling down next to him. Maybe this is how they were always going to end, tangled together by the muddy waters of the Gotham river until one of them killed the other permanently.
“You always were a stupid man, Jim,” Oswald says. “You weren’t supposed to get shot like this.”
“Had to stop you,” Jim manages to say. “It’s my job.” His mouth is full of copper, coating every word he manages to say.
“A good cop to the last,” Cobblepot says, his hands tangled up in Jim’s shirt.
It hurts to breathe, and he doesn’t have the strength to keep his eyes on the Penguin anymore. He can feel Oswald’s lips press against his forehead, murmur an apology into his skin, before he rounds his minions up and heads out. Whatever the Penguin came here to do, he doesn’t seem to care about it anymore, almost as shocked by the bullet in Jim’s chest as Jim is.
Jim’s head lolls to the side, and that’s when he sees Barb, Bruce Wayne wrapped around her, one hand over her mouth, holding her back. That’s his baby; she’d scratch out the Penguin’s eyes if she could reach him. Bruce is his too, no matter what he’s been doing with his life these past years. Bruce may be ignoring him for pretty girls and hardened criminals, but he’s also saving Barb’s life. Holding on to her like he used to do when she was a baby, and he was still young enough to love her.
He wishes he could reach them, hold them close. There are so many things he wants to say. He needs them to know he loves them, fiercely, completely. They do, he knows they do, but he wants desperately to say those words again. Wants to make sure.
But Jim Gordon had thrown Oswald Cobblepot into the Gotham River to save both of their lives, and in Gotham, no good deed goes unpunished, and so Jim Gordon fades away while his daughter and his son watch, and that has to be enough.