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Sacrifices (Backwards and in High Heels)

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Barbara Kean took a sip of her almost cold and certainly disgusting coffee, looking out at her city from the roof of the MCU. The shattered remnants of the floodlight lurked near the edge like an accusation. She hadn't gotten around to ordering anyone to remove the wreck. Either nobody else had the nerve, or it had become a symbol of vengeance and broken faith. Maybe both.

She didn't know when she'd fallen into the habit of coming up here to think. The MCU was just tall enough for the wind to get fierce -- blowing loose strands of hair into her mouth and eyes no matter how ruthlessly she bound them back, lashing autumn rain through her clothes even under the shelter of the stairwell overhang, drilling the scent of smoke and the echoes of screams deep into her blood and bones. And it wasn't like she had anyone to talk to up here. Not anymore.

But still, when she was worried she sought the sky. The darkness. The wind. And the city.

Gotham unfolded in front of her, almost quiet now as two AM approached. Nightlife didn't run round the clock on weekdays, and even petty criminals had to sleep, particularly on miserable, storm-wracked nights like this. Human limits and a thin network of beat cops were all she had to keep things in check now that the Batman wasn't an ally of the law.

Or at least not an ally she could acknowledge.

Kean wouldn't admit it to anyone, but she missed the meetings she and that bastard used to have, despite the condescension and mind games no man ever seemed able to put aside when dealing with a woman who dared to take power in what they thought of as their own brutal playground. She missed the adrenaline of skirting the soft edges of the law. She missed the planning, the thrill of the chase, and most of all the satisfaction of knowing, at the end of the day, that she -- that they -- had made her city a little bit safer. That they had made Gotham better. Together.

But Gotham never gave anything away without exacting a price.

They'd all had to sacrifice. Dent had been a decent man, under the angry bluster and the entitled charm. He'd lost his sanity, his morals, and his life. Dawes had been an idealist, but practical with it -- the kind of woman Kean hoped her own daughter might grow up to be. She'd died helpless, a fighter turned into a victim, her strength and drive nothing but fuel for a madman's fire. The Batman had always had something broken under his armor, driving him out every night like fire at his heels. He'd forsaken that obsessive quest, surrendered the right to be seen as a hero (however misguided), and taken on everybody's worst nightmares as if they were truth, playing scapegoat for an entire city.

Well, Commissioner Barbara Kean -- bitch, witch, ice queen, hysterical broad, Barbie-doll, Garcia's Girl Friday, Batman's whore -- knew a little about that. She raised her terrible coffee in a silent toast to the shrouded sky, knowing the bastard would never see and never understand even if he did.

She'd sacrificed too. And who was to say which loss weighed most in the scales of judgment? Lose your life. Lose yourself. Lose your family.

At least she knew they were still alive. At least they were still close, even if that situation wouldn't last much longer.

Jim had been very clear about that.

I knew I was marrying a cop, and I could live with that. The fear, the worry, not knowing when that knock on the door would come and I'd see your partner looking at me with pity. I knew it would be hard, but at the end of the day that was the woman I fell in love with. That drive is what makes you who you are, and you were worth it. You were always worth it. So I endured.

And the knock came. And I survived. For the kids. For your memory.

Honestly, Kean couldn't blame him. She'd made her family suffer and cry so that thousands of other families in the city -- people who didn't know about sacrifices, people who should never have to know -- wouldn't suffer ten times worse. Whatever it took to stop the Joker, whatever it took to keep Gotham from turning on itself and burning alive, she would do it. She had done it. She would do it all again.

The worst part was that they might have saved their marriage even after that. It would have taken work from both sides -- patient, heartbreaking, soul-baring work -- but they could have. Only Garcia named Kean as the new Commissioner, and now that chance was out of her reach. Because of her city.

She didn't have time to save everything. So she'd made her choice.

I survived. But I can't do this anymore.

I've always known I was second in your heart. It hurt, but I taught myself not to mind. You didn't marry me, no matter what words you said in the church. You took me as-- as your mistress, your lover on the side, the pretty young thing who smiled and gave you a fantasy haven from the cares of real life. Gotham was always your real partner, your one true love. Now the city won't allow you any time for me and the children.

And then there's him.

Don't deny it, Barb. We're not second or even third in your heart anymore. You care more about the Batman than about us. And I know he saved us -- I know what he paid for Jimmy and Babs -- but he's still a vigilante, still a stranger, still outside the laws you've spent your life upholding. I know you don't look at him that way, but there's more than one shape to love. I have eyes. I can see how you jump to follow him whenever he appears.

If it were about romance, I might have fought against him to win you back, but you don't see him as a man. You see a symbol. You see a weapon. And what chance do I have against someone who shares your love for Gotham, for this city that eats its children alive? What chance do I have against someone who eggs you on instead of holding you back?

He was right, damn him. Jim had a gift for finding the heart of a situation and putting it into words nobody could misunderstand. That clear sight and his compassion made him a brilliant teacher, the kind generations of children looked up to and remembered. Those qualities were part of what had drawn Kean to him in the first place, how he saw her whole and entire and accepted all the pieces instead of picking and choosing. The world told her she could seek justice or be compassionate, that she could want a family or have ambition, that she could be a good cop or a good woman. Jim told her she could be whatever she wanted and he would stand by her side no matter what. No limits.

Except that wasn't true. Kean was born and raised in Gotham, shaped by its rules. She should have remembered that everybody and everything has a limit. Even Jim. Even love. This past year she'd found his line. Then she'd crossed it.

Jim hadn't left, not yet. But they both knew it was over. They still went through the motions for the kids' sake. They ate breakfast together whenever possible, even if they didn't quite meet each other's eyes. Jim tried to hold dinner for her when she was stuck late at work -- on the nights she came home at all. They backed each other's discipline and allowance choices, traded off who drove the kids to school, kept a joint bank account, filed the same shared tax return. But it couldn't last.

They were treading water, knowing they had lost the heart of their bond and silently grieving it together. But someday soon, Kean knew she'd get a call from Jim saying he was leaving, saying he was taking the kids and moving to a kinder place. Someday she'd come home and find nothing but a house filled with the dry paper rustle of half-forgotten memories and the fallen husks of broken hearts.

Or there might come a day she didn't come home at all -- this time for real.

I'm sorry, Barb. I know you are too. We never wanted this, never dreamed it could happen.

But the truth is, it's over. It's been over for a long time; it just took a shock to make us notice that our love had hollowed out and flown away.

I know what they'll say -- that you're a failure as a wife, as a mother. That you're heartless, that you cheated on me with the Batman, that a woman who can't keep her own life together has no hope of keeping Gotham safe. Don't listen to that poison. You're still the woman I fell in love with, still as beautiful and strong and brilliant as ever.

It takes two to tango, like they say. Maybe you stopped leading me, but I stopped following too. I let the city steal you by inches, even before the Batman and the Joker came.

And even now you're not alone. I don't know how much comfort Gotham can be -- I never did understand what draws you to this godforsaken place -- but the city will never leave you. It will take all your devotion and never tell you no.

That's more than either of us could promise. That's more comfort than you've left for me.

"I'm sorry, Jim," she whispered to the wind and the cold city lights. The dregs of her coffee were bitter and dark, slightly gritty with the residue of badly strained grounds.

"Commissioner Kean."

Reflexively, Kean whirled to face the intruder, Styrofoam cup crumpling in her left fist and her right hand diving into her trench coat pocket to grab her keys for lack of a better weapon. She didn't always wear a gun these days, too isolated from the street and penned in by secretaries and politicians. But even heels and a skirt couldn't take the beat cop out of her bones.

"One day, I'm going to shoot you," she said, lowering her hand as the shadows coalesced into a human figure.

"Armor," the Batman said.

Kean couldn't see him clearly -- the rain and the darkness cloaked him even more thoroughly than his enveloping cape -- but she thought his mouth might have twitched in a tiny spasm that, on any other man, might have grown into a smile. Smug bastard. As if people couldn't just aim for his unprotected face. But trust a man not to think of the obvious.

"Every defense has a weak point," she said, masking her still racing heart with an even voice. "What do you have on D'Amelio and his gang?"

As her ally began to report, Kean closed her eyes for a second and sighed. Jim was right, as always.

She wasn't alone.

And Gotham still had hope.