Pipe smoke curled in the frigid air. The heat in his lungs the only warmth in the bitter night. Gordon sighed. The Batman wasn’t coming. He didn’t always come.
“Shut it down.” He ordered, and the rooftop was suddenly cloaked in darkness as the beam of the signal shut down with a soft sigh.
The younger officers went inside immediately, rubbing their hands and cursing the wasted time. Jim remained, staring out into the grimy cityscape. He wondered where his masked friend was, and what had kept him away this time.
“He’s out of town.”
Gordon almost dropped his pipe in surprise. He turned towards the voice.
Perched on the corner of the rooftop, legs dangling over the side and cape tucked around him, was a small, thin shadow.
The boy didn’t face him, even when he came to stand at his side. Gordon watched the two errant curls on his forehead bob in the wind.
“Then you’re on your own.” The reproach was evident in his voice.
At this, the youngster looked around. “I’m not patrolling.” He said, then smiled a little. “Not really.”
“I saw the signal. I couldn’t leave you standing out here on a bitter night like this for nothing.”
Gordon snorted, taking in the boy’s bare arms and legs. “At least I’m dressed for it.”
Something wiry twisted Robin’s lips. “The cape’s warmer than it looks.” He told him, “and I’m moving.”
Gordon glanced at the jumpline in his hands, ready for the boy’s near suicidal leap from the building. The first time he’d witnessed it, he’d almost been sick. Even a little body like his would make quite a splatter from this height.
Gordon shuddered, but the memory held him. “The daring young man on the flying trapeze…” He murmured, almost unconsciously.
Robin looked up. Looked right at him, eyes inscrutable behind the mask. So very young…
“Perhaps not.” Gordon said, wondering if he’d just insulted the boy, or maybe the Batman, or both, with his idle comparison. He sighed. “I just have trapezes on my mind today.”
Robin looked away, out at the darkened city. “Why?” He asked. There was no discernible catch to his voice, or in his body language, but Gordon could tell he really wanted an answer.
Well, the Batman may deem the boy old enough for adult horrors, but Gordon didn’t.
“An old case. A year ago tonight. Two aerialists…passed away.”
“Oh.” He still didn’t look around. “Any family?”
The sound of muffled sobs came back to Gordon, the image of another small boy that had lingered in his mind. “One.” He said shortly. Then straightened up. “You’d best get home, son. Before I decide to inform your…partner about your little visit.”
Robin set his shoulders, and Gordon couldn’t help wondering if the Batman, whoever he was, cared much whether his…son?…was out among the rooftops long after most parents curfews. Did he have school tomorrow? Probably. How did he cope?
“He should be back the day after tomorrow.” Robin said, standing.
Gordon didn’t need to ask who ‘he’ was.
“Can I…take a message?”
The detective smiled despite himself, but Robin knew that whatever Gordon had needed Batman for, he wasn’t about to go encouraging the boy by telling him. “No.” He said. “Good night, son.”
Robin nodded once. Standing there, cape flapping in the icy breeze, Gordon was once again reminded of the Flying Grayson’s bloodied and broken bodies lying in the sawdust, a year ago this night. He reached into his pocket for more comforting tobacco. One day he really would give up.
He looked up; sensing there was more the boy had come for. “Why did you really-” but he was alone. Gordon pulled his coat closer around him. “Damn. Now the kid’s doing it.”
Across the block, nearer than Gordon knew, Robin watched the faint orange glow of Gordon’s lit pipe. He pulled his cape around him closely and hunched beside a gargoyle. Despite the tired ache burning behind his eyes, he wasn’t ready to go home yet. Bed would offer nothing but sleeplessness and sweaty sheets. Alfred would have discovered his absence by now and guessed that Robin had disobeyed strict orders and gone out alone. And even though Robin knew Alfred would understand why, he wasn’t ready to face the elderly butler’s disappointment.
Or the emptiness of the old house since Bruce had gone away on business…or fled his young wards renewed grief at the first anniversary of his parents’ deaths. He didn’t know which.
No, he wouldn’t go back yet.
And besides, he couldn’t leave Gordon out here alone with his memories, could he?
That wouldn’t be fair…